KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s the birthplace of Kansas City. Columbus Park or the River Market has long been associated with Kansas City’s Italian community.
A new wave of immigrants has changed the face of the area.
The Italians and the Vietnamese are two different cultures from completely different parts of the world who happened to end up in the same place. As some people are finding out, they’re not so different after all. Italian immigrants came to Kansas City to escape oppression in their country.
“From the 1900s to the 1930s this was always called Little Italy by the media, by everybody in the city,” said Terence O’Mally, author of Black Hand Strawman. “It was just called Little Italy and that is because it was predominately dominated by the Italians.”
Local author Terence O’Mally says by 1920 there were about 10,000 Italians crammed in the area. Those Italian immigrants opened businesses. Some of the businesses stand today like Lasala’s on 5th Street. It wasn’t long ago that a different type of business operated in the area.
The first Vietnamese wave to arrive included 30 families. Qua Tran was in his 20’s at the time and said he’d never experience snowfall. Like many immigrants, he felt completely lost.
“I didn’t have no relatives and I tried, I learned all my life,” Tran said. “I’d like to pursue my education, but I had a lot of problems with English at that time.”
Tran learned English at Park University. He’d find his bilingual skills would come in handy later on at the Holy Rosary Catholic Church in the neighborhood. His fellow Vietnamese immigrants were already Catholic and started filling the pews on Sunday.
“I notice how many people were Vietnamese in the church and reading that part in English, except the old people could not understand,” said Father Joseph Vicentini with Holy Rosary Church
So, Father Vicentini got a Vietnamese Bible and says there was even mass in that language where Tran himself translated.
The mesh of cultures in Columbus Park was happening not only in the church but also Vietnamese restaurants and businesses began popping up down the street from the Italian ones.
The Italians weren’t the first group of immigrants to land in the area. Experts say there were Germans, Irish, Cubans and African Americans. Now, there is new development happening in the area. There’s no guessing who will call it home years from now.