Mexican-American family has nearly 100-year-old roots in Johnson County

Published: Sep. 21, 2023 at 7:46 PM CDT
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JOHNSON COUNTY, Kan. (KCTV) - They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and the story behind a portrait on display at the Johnson County Museum is of a first-generation Mexican-American family who planted roots in Johnson County and created a legacy.

“I always tell my kids, your grandparents both came from Mexico and I say look what they accomplished,” said first generation Mexican-American Eladio Valdez.

Valdez has a century-long lineage in Johnson County. His father, also named Eladio, immigrated to Kansas from Mexico around the 1920′s to escape the Mexican Revolution. He was recruited to work for the Sante Fe Railway as a laborer doing janitorial work.

Although he never learned English and didn’t have a formal education, he says his father didn’t let this slow down his work ethic.

“I never remember him ever missing work, that was a big priority to him,” he said.

Later on he met his mother who served as a stay at home mom raising him and his five siblings. They grew up in the Argentine neighborhood of Kansas City. Valdez followed his father’s footsteps as a laborer eventually working his way to an apprentice where he learned how to maintain and repair rail equipment.

He says although he takes pride in where he worked and developed a support system, it wasn’t always easy.

“Because we were Hispanic, we did have to start below like everybody would come in as an apprentice or a journeyman but we had to wait for our chance to get there but it worked out,” he said.

His nephew is part of the last generation to work for the railway, now known as the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway. His children went on to study at the University of Kansas becoming the first in the family to go to college.

“We were fortunate that all four of them, my son, my three daughters, they all have their degrees,” said Valdez.

His son Eladio says it was the hard work of his predecessors that set him up for success, and he’s passing the baton to the next generation.

“There’s so many opportunities they don’t know what to do and yet all we have to do is look at our past and say well if my dad did that for me what do I need to do, not just for me, but for my kids,” he said.

Today a portrait of the Valdez family is featured at the Johnson County Museum as part of its Trains exhibit, highlighting the history of the railroad.