After the pandemic postponed her research trip, Yazmin Gomez, the 2020 Linda and Richard Kerber Travel Grant recipient, finally made it to IWA! Linda Kerber, May Brodbeck Professor in the Liberal Arts and Professor of History Emerita, and her husband Richard founded this grant to help researchers, especially graduate students, travel to the Iowa Women’s Archives. Thanks to the Kerbers, IWA can award $1000 every year to a promising researcher like Gomez, whose work would benefit from travelling to Iowa and using IWA’s collections for an extended period.
Gomez, graduate student from Rutgers University is focusing her dissertation research on the labor and educational activism of Latinas in the Midwest. Her work has been years in the making. As an undergraduate at Marquette University, she enrolled in the Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Program, aimed at helping first generation students and students from underrepresented groups prepare for graduate school. It was her first taste of independent research and archival work. By the time she’d finished her senior thesis, “Viva La Raza, Viva Las Latinas: Late 20th Century Female Activism in Milwaukee’s Latinx Community” she knew she wanted to keep studying Latina activism at Rutgers.
At IWA, Gomez is seeking to broaden the scope of the research she did on Latina activism in Wisconsin to include a larger picture of the Midwest. She believes that the region, though it has a smaller Latinx population than other areas of the US, has greater internal diversity within its Latinx communities that has created a unique situation for activism. She’s particularly interested in the intersection of gender and race among the Latinas she has studied. “They weren’t exactly Gloria Steinem, women’s liberation feminists, their activism was community-based,” Gomez said. They were focused on things like unionizing and expanding the role of women in established organizations like the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).
She’s also finding connections to other civil rights activists and battles. The oral history of Mary Campos, whose work on behalf of Latinx people in Iowa earned her a place in the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame, introduced her to a wider web of activism. Campos worked for a Dr. Griffin, the husband of civil rights activist Edna Griffin, known for her fight to desegregate Katz Drug Store in Des Moines. Reading Griffin’s FBI file, Gomez found a familiar story in how female activists of the mid 20th century were underrated. Even the government agents assigned to trail Griffin didn’t understand why they were following “just a housewife.”
Aside from the connections to her own research, Yazmin Gomez has enjoyed finding personal items in the collections she’s seen mixed in with community activism. While learning about Cesar Chavez’s visit to Iowa, she might see a graduation cap and tassel, photographs of a first communion, or her favorite, a newspaper clipping about a local man who grew a potato that looked kind of like an elephant. By encountering items like these in the Archives, Gomez has been able to spend the last two weeks in IWA immersing herself in the lives and community networks of Latinas over 50 years ago. She’s excited to take what she’s learned back to Rutgers as she moves closer to a PhD.
Are you interested in applying for the Linda and Richard Kerber Fund for Research in the Iowa Women’s Archives? We will be accepting applications again next spring. You can keep tabs on the deadline and learn more on our website.
This post by IWA Graduate Research Assistant Heather Cooper is the ninth installment in our series highlighting African American history in the collections of the Iowa Women’s Archives. The series ran weekly during Black History Month, and will continue monthly for the remainder of 2020.
In honor of Latinx Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15), this post draws attention to an individual and family history that sheds light on the intersection of Black and Latinx experience and activism in Iowa.
In recognition of his lifelong activism for the causes of labor, education, and civil and human rights, Ernest Rodriguez was inducted into the second Iowa Latino Hall of Fame in 2018. Beginning in the 1950s, Rodriguez helped to organize the Davenport council of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). In the 1960s and 70s, he served on the Davenport Human Relations Commission, served as director of the Area Board for Migrants, and as coordinator of the Spanish Speaking Peoples Commission. As a union organizer and advocate for workers’ rights, he co-chaired the Quad City Grape Boycott Committee to support the nationwide boycott of California table grapes led by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. Although Rodriguez identifies strongly with his Chicano heritage, his own experience growing up in an interracial family undoubtedly informs his broader commitment to fighting against the racism, discrimination, and inequality shared by Latinos, African Americans, and other minorities in Iowa and the U.S.
The Ernest Rodriguez papers are part of a rich set of collections in the Iowa Women’s Archives (IWA) that include letters, speeches, diaries, photographs, and over eighty oral histories documenting the experience of Latina women and their families and communities in Iowa. A large selection of that material is available in the Iowa Digital Library. These collections also inform the IWA website, Migration is Beautiful, a digital humanities project that “highlights the journeys Latinas and Latinos made to Iowa and situates the contributions of Latino communities within a broader understanding of Iowa’s history of migration and civil rights.” IWA also holds the papers of Ernest Rodriguez’s older sister, Estefania Joyce Rodriguez, who was also a member of the Davenport LULAC council and a great chronicler of her family’s history through the preservation of photographs.
Ernest Rodriguez was born in 1928 in the predominately Mexican settlement known as “Holy City” in Bettendorf, Iowa. His father, Norberto Rodriguez, was raised on a small ranch in the State of Jalisco, Mexico; his mother, Muggie Belva Adams Rodriguez, was an African American woman born in Balls Play, Alabama. Both migrated north and, eventually, to Iowa in pursuit of new opportunities in the 1910s. Following the death of her first husband, Muggie Adams ran a boardinghouse in the predominately African American town of Buxton, Iowa, catering primarily to “miners and Mexican laborers who worked as section hands on the railroad.” It was there that she met Norberto Rodriguez, who she married in 1920. The couple and their growing family settled in Bettendorf, Iowa in 1923.
Ernest Rodriguez was part of an extended interracial family that included his mother and father, eight siblings, relatives in Mexico, and the families of his maternal aunt and uncle, Monroe Milton Adams, Jr. and Adaline Adams (known as “Aunt Tiny”). Rodriguez described his mother as being “of a very light complexion with mixed African American, White, and Native American Indian bloods.” Growing up in Iowa, Rodriguez recalled the way his mother’s cooking blended all of these cultures. She made Mexican rice and fideo, cornbread and cobblers, chitterlings, posole, and “fried Indian bread.” This she fed to her family, as well as to the needy men and women that came their way during the Great Depression. Both Ernest and Estefania Rodriguez recalled their mother’s generosity and the fact that “She never looked down on anybody.” Witnessing her struggles with poverty and racism, they both saw her as a model of independence, determination, and perseverance.
The Holy City barrio where Ernest Rodriguez was born was a working-class, mostly Mexican community which offered sparse accommodations to workers in the Bettendorf Company’s foundries. Although most of Holy City’s residents were Mexican immigrants by the 1920s, a few Greeks and African Americans also lived there. Latinos and African Americans shared many experiences in Iowa, including racial stereotyping; limited employment opportunities that often relegated men to the most dangerous, low-paying work and women to domestic service; housing discrimination; and segregation in churches, movie theaters, barbershops, and schools. When the Rodriguez family moved to Davenport, Iowa in the late 1930s, they immediately faced a petition campaign organized by white residents who wanted to drive them out of the neighborhood. Rodriguez recalled,
I remember that it was then I began to really know what prejudice and discrimination meant, because I felt it all around me. The kids in the neighborhood were all white and when they got mad at you, they [hurled racial insults]. As I grew older I found out that there were certain places you couldn’t get a job because of employment discrimination. Certain taverns and restaurants you avoided for the same reason. You were more likely to be stopped for questioning by the police. It seemed that a disproportionate number of minorities were arrested and convicted for crimes than whites. This is true today.
Although much of Ernest Rodriguez’s activism has focused on issues that impact Chicano communities in particular, he has also operated from an understanding of the shared oppression faced by all minorities living under systemic racism. Rodriguez was a Chairman and leading member of the Minority Coalition, which he described as “a banding together of organizations such as NAACP and LULAC whose aims are to work for the betterment of the black and Chicano (Mexican-American) Communities.” He challenged the racism and classism that undergirded the education system, not only for ESL students, but for all “Children of minority groups [who] are victims of discriminatory middle-class thinking.” As a leader in LULAC Council 10, he nurtured a strong relationship with Davenport’s League for Social Justice and the Catholic Interracial Council as they worked to combat racism and demand equal access to housing and employment. And as a member of the Davenport Human Relations Commission he worked to address “race discrimination in housing, employment, and education” and developed a police-community relations program meant to challenge the racist treatment of Chicano and African American citizens by police in the Quad Cities. Rodriguez was also an early feminist, noting in a 1970s radio broadcast that Chicano women, like African American women, faced “the double discrimination of race and gender.”
Even after he retired from his position as Equal Employment Manager at the Rock Island Arsenal in the 1990s, Ernest Rodriguez remained active in the Davenport LULAC council and regularly wrote opinion pieces published in local newspapers about racial justice. He stands as an example of the power of community activism and the impact of local leaders who relentlessly work to promote social justice at the local, state, and national level. Ernest Rodriguez’s life and activism also illuminate the longstanding presence and contributions of Latinos and African Americans to the Hawkeye state, as well as our long history of racism.
Latinx history is Iowa history.
Black history is Iowa history.
The ongoing fight for racial justice is Iowa history.
Omar Valerio-Jimenez, “Racializing Mexican Immigrants in Iowa’s Early Mexican Communities,” Annals of Iowa, vol. 75, no. 1 (Winter 2016): 1-46.
Janet Weaver, “From Barrio to ¡Boicoteo!: The Emergence of Mexican American Activism in Davenport, 1917-1970,” Annals of Iowa, vol. 68, no. 3 (Summer 2009): 215-254.
July 12th was the kickoff for the 2016 National LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) convention. Janet, assistant curator here at the IWA, attended the conference to promote “Migration is Beautiful,” a new website featuring vignettes, oral history interview clips, memoirs, letters, and photographs from the IWA’s Mujeres Latinas Project.
The new website highlights the experiences and contributions Latinas and Latinos have made to the state of Iowa. It also hosts an interactive map that shows the migration of Latinos through Iowa during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Recently, Hola Iowa, a news outlet focusing on Latinos in the Midwest, featured a vignette and photos from the Migration is Beautiful website.
We are very proud of Janet, and can’t wait to hear more about the convention when she returns!
Season’s greetings from the Iowa Women’s Archives! This is the time of treats and parties. Seen below are photographs of children in the 1960s – partaking of all the joys of holiday parties.
These images come from the Iowa Women’s Archives LULAC (League of United Latino American Citizens) Council 10 records. Active since 1959, LULAC Council 10 has made great progress in advocating for the human, civil, and labor rights of the Latino communities in the Quad Cities’ area from the very beginning of its history. In the 1960s, Council 10’s priorities included education and activism that led to fair housing and inclusion, as well as cultural and social programming like its annual holiday party featured here. Notable achievements from the 1960s era included working with other activists to secure fair housing legislation, raising money to support scholarships for further education, and advocating for a full-time director of the Davenport Human Relations Commission. Iowa LULAC members worked with other civil rights organizations to form the Quad City Grape Boycott Committee to support the boycott of California table grapes led by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.
Today, LULAC Council 10 continues to advocate for social justice and enjoys a wide range of social activities. For the coming election year, Council 10 has created initiatives to encourage political involvement, such as mock caucuses to educate voters on the unique political involvement privileges that allow Iowans to shape their parties’ agendas. One of just five Iowa chapters of LULAC at its inception, Council 10 is now one of 11 chapters in the state. The Iowa Women’s Archives’ LULAC Council 10 records span the years from 1959 to 2009.
See the finding aid for more information at IWA’s website.
As part of its project to document the history of Iowa Latinas and their families, the Iowa Women’s Archives preserves and makes accessible the records of the LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) Council 10 of Davenport, Iowa.
Mexicans arrived in Iowa as early as the 1880s, and by the 1920s boxcar communities had grown up near railroad yards in towns such as Fort Madison, Davenport, and Bettendorf. During the mid-20th century, second- and third-generation Mexican Americans fought for civil rights through organizations such as Davenport’s LULAC Council 10, founded in 1959 and still going strong today.
Pictured here is a LULAC Christmas party from the early 1960s, showing a blend of traditional activities such as pinata games alongside an early example of what has become an internet phenomenon — the “Scared of Santa” photo.
This JFK Memorial Edition of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) National Newsletter is preserved in the records of LULAC Council 10 in the Iowa Women’s Archives. It commemorates President Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy’s attendance at the LULAC banquet in Houston on November 21, 1963. Jacqueline Kennedy addressed the audience in Spanish on this first visit of any U.S. president to a national Latino organization.
LULAC Council 10 was one of several councils to pay tribute to the late president in this newsletter. Members of LULAC from across the country expressed their condolences in this letter:
Sorry, Mrs. Kennedy
TO: Mrs. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy FROM: Members of Lulac
Dear Mrs. Kennedy:
Add to the millions of words of sorrow that have been written to you in every language on earth our humble expression of sympathy at the loss of your husband.
We will never forget John F. Kennedy, who conquered the hearts of the world and did more during his lifetime to preserve peace than any man in history.
We offer this edition of the Lulac News, official publication of the League of United Latin American Citizens, in memory of your husband, the first U.S. President ever to become an honorary member of our organization.
He was our president, our friend, and we loved him. As we shared happiness with you in Houston, Texas on November 21, 1963, so now we share your grief.
In honor of the 20th anniversary of the Iowa Women’s Archives, we have mounted an exhibit in the North Exhibition Hall of the University of Iowa’s Main Library. The inspiration for this exhibit came from the many visits made to the archives by families and friends of donors. Earlier this year, Sam Becker brought his grandchildren to the archives to look at the papers of their grandmother, Ruth Salzmann Becker. As they learned of her narrow escape from Nazi Germany in 1938, Ruth Salzmann’s story became one of the migration paths featured in the exhibit.
“Pathways to Iowa: Migration Stories from the Iowa Women’s Archives” seeks to acknowledge the donors of the precious letters, photos, diaries, and memoirs that make up the collections preserved in the Iowa Women’s Archives. At the same time, it seeks to re-frame our understanding of Iowa history. Beginning with the migration path of Iowa’s first people, the Meskwaki, it integrates the familiar story of European settlement with a lesser known history of African American and Mexican migration in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.
For the past seven years, through its Mujeres Latinas Project, the archives has worked to preserve the early history of Mexican migration to Iowa. We chose to highlight these materials in this exhibit because it is a history that has been hidden for too long. The Iowa Women’s Archives wishes to thank all of those who shared their stories with the Iowa Women’s Archives. A special thanks goes to the members of the Davenport League of United Latin American Citizens – LULAC Council 10 – who have done so much to preserve and bring to light the rich history of Iowa Latinas, their families, and organizations, and donated their records to the Iowa Women’s Archives so that others could learn this important history.