Hispanic Heritage Month: Rita Cortés
KCPS is continuing our celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month with a profile of one of our own Board members, Rita Cortés.
Rita’s Hispanic heritage comes from her grandfather, Carlos Federico Cortés, who grew up in Guadalajara and came to the U.S. in the late 1920s to pursue his education. While in California, he met Rita’s grandmother, the daughter of Jewish immigrants from Austria and what is now Ukraine. They came to Kansas City and married. Carlos worked in the family construction business for most of his career. In the 1970s, he and other Mexican-American businessmen founded the Kansas City chapter of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Growing up in a Jewish household in Kansas City, Rita remembers attending celebrations and community events at the Guadalupe Center with her grandfather. Carlos encouraged his granddaughter’s love of politics, taking Rita to local political events, including the 1976 Republican National Convention, where she met President Ford and future President Reagan. Rita studied political science in college and worked on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. before going to law school. She practiced law in D.C. before returning to Kansas City in the mid-1990s. She has run and owned a local construction company, been a partner at a law firm and served on the boards of many nonprofit and professional organizations. Currently, Rita is executive director of the Menorah Heritage Foundation. She has represented Sub-District 1 on the KCPS Board of Directors since 2019.
Rita’s engagement with the Hispanic community has largely focused on the business community, particularly through support of the Hispanic Chamber and its leader, Carlos Gomez. She is proud that the Hispanic Chamber still gives the Carlos F. Cortes Humanitarian of the Year award in her grandfather’s honor. Although Rita’s generation was discouraged from speaking Spanish in order to assimilate, all the kids in the next generation of her family have studied Spanish from a young age. All but the youngest are bilingual, keeping Carlos’ memory and traditions alive.
- Hispanic Heritage Month