Below is a reflection from Micaela Terronez, Olson Graduate Assistant, on a recent talk about her interest in the Mexican barrios of the Quad Cities at a local community gathering in Davenport, Iowa. She will be giving a version of this talk at “Workers’ Dream for an America that ‘Yet Must Be’ Struggles for Freedom and Dignity, Past and Present” March 30th 9:00 – 3:30 in Rm 101 Kollros Auditorium Biology Building East.
On October 28th, I spoke at the Cook’s Point/Holy City Reunion, a community gathering of former residents and descendants of two former Mexican barrios in the Quad Cities – Holy City in Bettendorf and Cook’s Point in Davenport. I was honored to speak at this reunion because a primary reason for my current professional path stems directly from my interests in the barrios of the Midwest. When my ancestors migrated from Mexico in the early 20th century, they resided in Cook’s Point and La Yarda in Silvis, another barrio community on the other side of the Mississippi River in Illinois. Starting at an early age, I developed a curiosity for these communities from hearing the stories of my family members and marveling at old photographs adorning the walls.
I learned that life was difficult. For example, one of the first stories I heard about segregation and systematic racism did not derive from my history books, but from my own family history. In 1952, when Cook’s Point was cleared for industrial development, my great-grandparents and others had great difficulty locating a place to call home. Few landlords and white residents wanted Mexicans in their neighborhoods. My ancestors instead purchased land in the west end of Davenport where they built several homes, and cleverly named the neighborhood Ramirezville — after the surname of the family. I also learned of the tight-knit communities, however, where friends became more like cousins, and where cousins became more like siblings. While honoring culture and memory, it was these stories that inspired and encouraged me to explore history as a student.
I rarely learned this history in school. Why were these rich stories given just one small paragraph of my history books? One reason is a lack of knowledge and access to these experiences. As an undergraduate in college, this lack of scholarly work developed my interests in Mexican American histories and encouraged me to begin a research project on the local barrio neighborhoods of the Quad Cities. I began my research in the archives, but honestly figured I wouldn’t find much. Local Mexican migration was not a topic in the classroom, and I had never really heard of an archive dedicated to documenting these stories. So, you can imagine the shock I had when I came across the collections in the Iowa Women’s Archives through a simple Google search. My search directed me to the Mujeras Latinas Project, an initiative that began in 2005 to document Latina families and their lives.
As I was combing through the resources online via the Iowa Digital Library, I stumbled across a familiar name – Mary Terronez. I remembered my Aunt Mary (a sister of my grandmother) as a strong woman with wide-rimmed glasses, always sitting in the living room with a walker or cane nearby. I learned from her papers, however, that she was also an incredible activist and teacher within the Quad Cities community. I quickly realized then that I had stumbled upon the history of my people, a history that I was eager to know more about and explore. For the first time as a student, I saw history reflected back at me, and it was this experience that I wanted to create and facilitate for others within my community.
As a prospective graduate student in the School of Library and Information Science at UI, I was interested in the Iowa Women’s Archives because of the collections highlighting these barrios and other underrepresented communities. Fortunately, I have been able to work hands-on with these collections, while learning more about and participating in the inner workings of community engagement with archival materials. With the Cook’s Point and Holy City Reunion coming up, I developed a slideshow of photographs from Cook’s Point and Holy City that are currently preserved in the archives. I collaborated with fellow student worker, Shirley Ratliff, in searching the digital library once again for photographs of the barrio communities, an assignment that we both enjoyed. Ratliff noted that,
As a Latina immigrant, it was as beautiful as enlightening to see the history of other Latinos who immigrated to this country just as well many generations ago. Being part of the project was a great way to discover and learn more about their experiences, to read their stories and look at their pictures reflecting the challenges of those days as well as the good times they shared with family and friends, was mostly inspiring. Every time I take part in a project like this and come across other stories from people like me, it gives me the little push I need to keep going! For this reason, each time, is very meaningful.
The slideshow provided an opportunity for members of the community to reminisce about their lives and their ancestors in the barrios. For example, many of the photographs captured work, family, religious, and artistic experiences in the community. For Ratliff and myself, it also gave us an opportunity to empathize with barrio life and to learn more about the daily lives of migrants and their descendants.
As I searched within the photographs in my Aunt Mary’s collections, I also came across a photograph with several familiar faces, and well – me! In a tiny pink dress with white patent leathered shoes, sat myself as a toddler on the lap of my mother. It’s not every day that you find yourself in the archives, but to say the least, it brought a smile to my face and reminded me that the archives is a place of many surprises. The photograph also allowed me the opportunity to reflect on my connection to this community and history once again.