Hispanic Heritage Month: José Gonzalez
José R. Gonzalez was born on Sept. 30, 1931, in Laredo, Texas, to Mexican-American parents. He enlisted in the Marine Corps with three friends when he was just 17. He served honorably in Korea and Vietnam, earning a Purple Heart. He met his wife, Mercedes Jordan, while stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá. One of his last assignments before retiring was the Marine Corps Finance Center here in Kansas City. He and Mercedes liked Kansas City so much they stayed, with José going to work for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
José volunteered at many community and cultural events. He formed lasting relationships with Hispanic community activists and organizers. With colleague Rebecca Jaramillo and friend Ninfa Garza, he organized a parade down Southwest Boulevard that ended in a fiesta in 1982. This celebration during Hispanic Heritage Month became Fiesta Hispana, moving to Barney Allis Plaza the next year.
José continued to serve his community on boards and commissions throughout the 1980s and ’90s. Notably, he was recognized by the Missouri Arts Council and received the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Kansas City’s Humanitarian of the Year award. In 1997, the Kansas City Council recognized José with a proclamation honoring his efforts to preserve Hispanic culture and heritage.
José died in 2003, but Fiesta Hispana remains a mainstay in Kansas City’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.
- Hispanic Heritage Month