As Connie Palacioz looked around the working area of Builders Concrete & Supply, she shook her head.
"It all looks so different now," Palacioz said.
Her family lived on the east end of a brick building that ran parallel to First Street in housing the Santa Fe Railroad provided for its Mexican workers. The houses, along with a church, clinic and communal restrooms, were known as the Ranchito.
Palacioz' parents, Jose and Guadalupe Cuellar, came to Newton when she was 2 years old. Her father worked for the Santa Fe Railroad in Peabody before being transferred by the company to Newton.
At 92, Palacioz can still make the trek from where she used to live as a girl down to where her father was employed.
"I used to walk from the Ranchito clear down to the rail mill where my dad worked to take him lunch," Palacioz said.
Jose Cuellar was brought to the United States from Mexico as a child and learned English by playing with neighborhood children.
"My dad didn't know how to read or write, but he talked English fluently," Palacioz said. "The Santa Fe heard he was fluent and they put a telephone on the Ranchito."
After receiving a call from a foreman named Bruno, her father would then tell the other men they needed to go and clear the tracks.
Palacioz also remembers her neighbors coming to their apartment to make calls.
"That phone, anybody could use it. It wasn't our phone," Palacioz said.
When Father Joseph Munoz wanted a way to bring in money for Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church and the Ranchito community, Palacioz' father organized the construction of a wooden platform.
"In those days, the Mexicans from the Ranchito were poor," Palacioz said. "We didn't have a hall like we do now."
The platform was set up every Sunday afternoon for bingo, an activity her father managed. It was also brought out for dances and fiestas, giving the enterprising residents a chance to sell items to the crowd.
Palacioz remembers going to each door of the Ranchito, asking for donations of a head of lettuce or a pound of cheese so that her mother, along with Mrs. Avila and Mrs. Rosales, could make tacos and tamales.
"Those three ladies would cook and we would sell them there at the platform. ...We used to make them out of scratch," Palacioz said. "It's easy to make the tamales now; you can buy the flour already prepared, but we had to grind it."
Father Munoz also bought a bottle of cologne with an atomizer from Woolworths and gave it to Palacioz with instructions to spray each of the boys who came to a dance.
"They paid me five cents," Palacioz said. "I was kind of embarrassed, but I did it."
Participating in church activities was a big part of Palacioz' childhood. She recalls the choir was made up of four girls — herself and her sister, along with two girls from the Castillo family.
"Emily (Castillo) could play piano and we would sing the Mass," Palacioz said. "I'm still in the choir. I never did quit. Of course, it's so different now. We have microphones."
When Father Munoz' mother wanted to visit Mexico, he asked Palacioz and her sister to go along. Her mother wanted the girls to have new clothes, so they went to Montgomery Ward, where Father Munoz aided Mrs. Cuellar in getting a credit card.
"Coming down after he had co-signed, he had a heart attack and died right there in Montgomery Ward," Palacioz said. "He was only 53, but I thought he was old. ...We were shocked and I was scared. We never got to go to Mexico, but my mom got her credit card."
While she remembers a few teachers who did treat her well, Palacioz' school years were marked with prejudice from the start.
"When I enrolled in kindergarten at McKinley, the teacher there couldn't pronounce Consuelo — she just put 'Gladys' and I went with that name up until high school," Palacioz said. "I wanted my real name on my diploma."
Palacioz' nephew, Anthony Cuellar, heard many family stories of how things were for the Mexicans in the 1940s and 1950s.
"I remember uncle Jay telling me about third grade; going to the skating rink. There was this class party – one of the girls had a birthday party. He shows up and they tell him, 'you can't go in here,' but he said the mother of the girl came over and told them, 'no, he's coming in or we're taking the party somewhere else.'''
Some students would ridicule their Mexican classmates.
"We had to hide it when we ate our tortillas because they would make fun of us," Palacioz said. "Even in high school, they were prejudiced."
Though she was short, Palacioz learned to stand up for herself.
"I did defend myself lots of times. One afternoon my dad put on a show on that platform. I boxed the boys and I beat them," Palacioz said. "I think everybody was rooting for me because I was a girl."
Palacioz learned to be a beautician, becoming the first Hispanic business owner in Newton. Her brother, Russ, would mark another first — opening a sewing machine shop on Main Street.
"Not all the white people were prejudiced — but the majority of them (were)," Palacioz said. "Some people, I think they're still a little bit bitter. I'm not bitter like I used to be. I've gotten over that, but it is true that we suffered a lot because of that discrimination."
Dick Allen of Builders Concrete & Supply said the company bought the land on which the Ranchito sat in 1956 and the houses and church were eventually torn down. Two small sheds still remain, though they have been moved from their original positions. The foundation of one Ranchito housing unit is the only other remnant of where dozens of Mexican families used to live.
"We couldn't go everywhere because they were so prejudiced. It was really bad. That's why we stayed in the Ranchito and had all our things there. It was just like a little town," Palacioz said.
To learn more about the Ranchito, visit the Mexican American Collection with photos and interviews at the Harvey County Historical Museum and Archives, the Newton Public Library or the Mennonite Library and Archives at Bethel College.