Argentine District In KCK Gets Its Zumba On

Jan 8, 2016

Editor’s note: The video below, produced by KCPT Television, kicks off a five-part series called “Crossing to Health” that will run next week starting Monday. The series, by Heartland Health Monitor reporter Alex Smith, explores the health disparities between Wyandotte and Johnson counties and what’s being done to close the gap.

Watch this video about how one neighborhood in Kansas City, Kansas, is trying to get its citizens to become more physically active. 

David Vega Sr. calls Wyandotte County’s Argentine District in Kansas City, Kansas, “God’s country.”

Dave Vega and his wife, Millie, are longtime residents of the Argentine District in Kansas City, Kansas.
Credit Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

The decades-old community drew thousands of Mexican immigrants beginning in the 1920s to work in the area’s railyards.

Vega's father was one of those immigrants. Vega himself was born a couple of blocks from where he lives now in Argentine and served in the U.S. Armed Forces in World War II. When he returned home, he owned and operated a gas station.

But when he tried to sponsor a 3&2 baseball team, the league refused to allow his team of Mexican kids to join.

“So I attended some of the Kansas 3&2 meetings and they would turn me down,” he recalls. “I couldn’t enroll my team.”

Like those kids, many Hispanics in Argentine still have trouble getting exercise – but it’s not because of discrimination. Rather, after decades of economic decline, Argentine has few places to exercise or programs to support it.

Statistics show about 4 out of 10 residents of Wyandotte County are physically inactive. The county has some of the worst health outcomes in Kansas, and in 2010 the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s County Health Rankings rated it dead last for factors influencing health.

Monica Mendez, of the Latino Health for All Coalition, says many of the county’s neighborhoods, Argentine included, are overdue for a change.

“As a priority, we need as part of our lives to be physically active,” she says.

About a year ago, community leaders launched a health program combining fitness and nutrition at the Argentine Community Center.

“We went into the streets to recruit people,” says Zumba instructor Diva Esparza. “We basically used every means possible to let the community know we had this program available for everybody.”

The program has been a resounding success. There’s a long waiting list and some participants say it’s their only exercise outlet.

“It’s a process,” Esparza says.

This article was produced as a project for the Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism and the National Health Journalism Fellowship, programs of USC Annenberg's Center for Health Journalism.

Alex Smith is a reporter for KCUR, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team. You can reach him on Twitter @AlexSmithKCUR