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Three events to explore Mexican-American fast-pitch as cultural resource

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Ben Chappell’s interest in Latino/a culture began when he was a student at Bethel College and has most recently extended to his study of Mexican-American fast-pitch softball.

Chappell, an ethnographer and associate professor of American studies at the University of Kansas, will give two programs and moderate a panel on the broad topic of softball as a cultural resource, Sept. 20–21 at Bethel.

On Sept. 20 at 3 p.m., Kauffman Museum will host Chappell’s presentation “Hecho in America con Mexican Parts: Fast-pitch Softball in Mexican America” as part of its regular Sunday-Afternoon-at-the-Museum series, which is free and open to the public.

Sept. 21, Chappell will speak in convocation on “Ballplayers in Mexican-America: Softball as a Cultural Resource” at 11 a.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium in Luyken Fine Arts Center.

That evening at 7 p.m., also in Krehbiel Auditorium, Chappell will moderate a panel of community members who will share memories of the Mexican-American fast-pitch softball tournament that takes place in Newton every year around the Fourth of July. The tournament is the oldest of its kind in the country.

These events are also free and open to the public. All are connected to the special exhibit at Kauffman Museum, “Root for the Home Team: Building Community Through Sports,” on display now through June 5, 2016.

“Root for the Home Team” brings together stories of sports and community from the Newton/North Newton area. Photos and artifacts tell of success through adversity, international friendships and sports passed on through generations.

Rachel Epp Buller, Bethel College associate professor of visual art and design, curated “Root for the Home Team.”

The Kauffman Museum exhibit is connected to a statewide initiative on sports and community, sponsored by the Kansas Humanities Council in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution’s “Hometown Teams” exhibition currently touring Kansas.

Ben Chappell, Lawrence, is originally from Ohio and is a 1993 graduate of Bethel College and the University of Texas at Austin.

He developed an interest in Latino/a cultures after taking travel courses to Mexico and Central America while he was at Bethel. He then focused on Mexican-American studies in graduate school through the Américo Paredes Center for Cultural Studies at UT-Austin, where he earned a doctorate in anthropology.

Chappell’s research focuses on popular institutions and aesthetics in everyday life. His first book was Lowrider Space: Aesthetics and Politics of Mexican-American Custom Cars (University of Texas Press, 2012), an ethnography of lowrider car customizers and the policing of urban space.

He is currently working on a book about Mexican-American fast-pitch softball tournaments, which are local traditions going back at least to World War II in a region running roughly from Kansas City to Houston.

Regular Kauffman Museum hours are 9:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Tuesday–Friday, and 1:30–4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The museum is closed Mondays and major holidays. Admission to the special exhibit “Root for the Home Team: Building Community Through Sports,” as well as the permanent exhibits “Of Land and People,” “Mirror of the Martyrs” and “Mennonite Immigrant Furniture,” is $4 for adults, $2 for children ages 6–16, and free to Kauffman Museum members and children under 6. For more information, call the museum at 316-283-1612 or visit its website, or Facebook page.

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