River of Steel, River of Sweat
Early Mexican-American Community in Muscatine, Iowa
by Micheal Hutchison
This paper was originally submitted as part of a Master's program in History at the University of Iowa in 1988. Although it has been excerpted in other publications, it has never been published separately.
The first non-Indian to see the Mississippi River was a Spaniard, Hernan DeSoto._1 He claimed the valley of the river for the Spanish crown in 1541, and it remained under Spanish rule for some two hundred years. The river brought the first non-Indian to settle on the site of Muscatine, a man named Casey who cut wood and sold it to passing steamboats.2_ Over the years since, the river has brought to Muscatine the raw materials for its industries and carried away its produce, delivered passengers to swell its population and taken them off on their travels.
There are other rivers that have been as important to the community, however. In 1855, the railroad arrived, tying Muscatine to cross-country destinations._3 It was a river of steel, and it spread far beyond the bounds of the Mississippi valley. Its arrival was celebrated, extensively reported in the local papers, and seen as the beginning of an era of growth and prosperity for Muscatine.
To the Anglo residents of Muscatine, both of these rivers, the one of water and the one of steel, are visible, and their contributions are acknowledged. But there has always been a third river, unrecognized and invisible. It is a river of sweat.
Many of the men who constructed the steel river were Mexicans, building their way out of the southwest._4 Some stayed in Muscatine to keep the steel river flowing._5 Along the channels that they built and maintained, other Mexican workers have moved north to Muscatine, sometimes in a trickle, sometimes in flood, occasionally receding for a time, but always there. These Hispanics have worked the railroads, built the factories and staffed them, picked and processed the crops. Their river of sweat has watered the truck crops and propelled the merchandise as surely as ever did the more visible Mississippi. Yet, to the general population of Muscatine, the Mexicans are newcomers, intruders. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate the depth and duration of the river of sweat.
To attempt this is to run counter to the prevailing wisdom in the community. The prevailing view in Muscatine is that there were no permanent Hispanic residents until the middle of the 1960s, and that these were migrant workers who found a way to stay through the winter. Even the advent of the migrants is dated by most to the early 1950s. A corollary to this perception is the view that Hispanics are a disruptive factor in what was until recently a stable and uniform community.
This prevailing wisdom is expressed in interviews with long-time residents of various ages who are for the most part in agreement that they cannot recall ever knowing of the presence of Hispanics in Muscatine until recently. Robert Zoller, who has lived in Muscatine since 1922, says that he never knew a single Mexican until the 1960s. This has special weight since Zoller worked as a postman from 1948 to 1984, seeing most parts of Muscatine at first hand.6_ George Oveson, another lifelong resident, says that there were to his knowledge no permanent Hispanics until 1963. Oveson served as a teacher in the public schools from 1949 to 1985._7 Kristine Conlon, also a teacher, was raised and attended school in Muscatine, and has taught in Muscatine since 1973. She comes of an old-time Muscatine family, and can remember no Hispanics in town except as migrants until 1966._8
The dominant paradigm is also seen in the local street directories, which seem to have almost universally missed Hispanics until recently. Samples from the newspaper for various months and years show that only criminal reports on migrant laborers appear before the early 1970s._9 Even those who purport to be informed on minority affairs in the community usually think of the Hispanics in terms of the seasonal migrant influx and the Migrant Committee._10 As this paper will show, there has been a long and durable Hispanic presence in Muscatine, a community with stability, growth, and persistence. Why, then, has this community been invisible for so long?
First, there is the question of numbers. Until comparatively recent times, the Hispanic community was a small one, not comparable in size to those of the Russian Jews, the Germans, the Irish, or the Italians and Greeks. Even blacks were a larger and better known presence. Because of the multiplicity of ethnic communities, the small Mexican one simply was not identified. Also because of its small size, the Mexican community was not able until recently to establish an identifiable neighborhood, nor was it able to support ethnically oriented businesses in the way that many of the other groups could. All of these size-related factors certainly must have contributed to the lack of recognition that kept the Hispanics of Muscatine invisible.
The present view of Hispanics in Muscatine is largely due to the effects of continuous immigration. It is well documented that any new immigrant group will encounter negative reactions from the dominant culture until the new group has had time to acculturate. However, in the case of Hispanics all over America, there is an continuing in-migration, which has two allied effects. The first is that there is a constant supply of new non-acculturated immigrants with visible cultural and linguistic differences for local reaction to focus on._11 This constant replenishment of the cultural reference leads in turn to an exceptional degree of cultural persistence among less recent immigrants.
The result of these factors is a vision of Hispanics that combines newness and negative response, a response which is often applied equally to the descendants of Muscatine's oldest Hispanic settlers as well as genuine newcomers. This set of stereotypes is based in large measure on a lack of understanding of the long history of Hispanic settlement in the area. Thus it becomes desirable to investigate this immigrant community, and attempt to correct that lack of understanding.
Any examination of immigrants must answer a certain set of questions. The first of these deals with the reasons for immigration--what are sometimes called "push" and "pull" factors. Again, it is necessary to ask when and in what numbers the group arrived. Finally, what was the nature of the community that the immigrants established, if any?
During the period from 1876 to 1910, Mexico underwent massive economic and social change. This was the time called in Mexico the Porfiriato, the administration of Porfirio Diaz, when Mexicans were exposed to a huge influx of foreign investment capital and tremendous growth of industry. At this same time, traditional patterns of land tenure were being destroyed by an insatiable demand on the part of large landholders for more space to grow export crops.12_ Because of this process of latifundia, many small farmers found themselves without land and had to seek other livelihoods. Additionally, this was a time of accelerated population growth in Mexico, creating increased competition for already scarce land and jobs. Industrialization was unable to provide adequate room either for the new population or for the new landless. While many of the dispossessed and the unemployed traveled toward mushrooming urban centers in search of work, a simultaneous development offered a new alternative.13_
Growth of the population and economy of the Southwestern United States paralleled the extension of the railroads into the area, opening up new markets both for Mexican exports and for Mexican labor. In fact, a good deal of the labor used in creating those railroads was composed of Mexicans and Mexican Americans._14 This was at a time when railroads were also spreading through Mexico, making it possible for people from long distances to make their way to the relatively prosperous United States. The central plateau of Mexico, which suffered from a special lack of available farm land, provided a large part of the laborers who entered the U.S.15_ Many of these found their ways first to jobs in the northern parts of Mexico, then across the border16_
Many of the workers came directly to the U.S. from northern Mexico. Some writers have identified this period as one when the northern part of Mexico temporarily was closer to the United States than to Mexico City._17 It is also well to recall that in 1900, the southwest had only belonged to the United States for a little over 50 years, and there was a great deal of cultural overlap at the border. Thus, Mexicans coming to the southwest United States encountered few cultural, and until 1917, few legal barriers. It was in 1917 that a literacy test and an $8 per head entry tax were imposed. These probably served merely to increase illegal immigration.18 The lure of better wages, or indeed any work at all, served to bring hundreds of thousands to the U.S., even without the work of the ubiquitous contract labor recruiters who not only met and hired Mexicans at the border, but also reached deep into the interior of Mexico to find them.19
If loss of land and lack of jobs helped to push many to cross the wide-open border, and if transportation made the process easier, an added incentive came with the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution in 1910. This series of conflicts, begun as an attempt to displace Porfirio Diaz, devolved into a nationwide power struggle, occasionally spilling across the border as in Francisco Villa's 1916 raid on Columbus, New Mexico.20_
Lasting until 1921 by the accounting of most historians, the Revolution killed hundreds of thousands of Mexicans and displaced many thousands of others.21_ The ebb and flow of the military fortunes of one side or the other might expose any given locality to frequent outbreaks of violence, driving thousands from their homes, while the dislocations of the economy caused many thousands more to search for some new security. When a group set out from home, they would often toss a coin, with the question, "¿al capital, ó al norte?" ("to the capital or to the north?") It would have been truly remarkable if some had not sought the safety of a neighboring nation. Before, during and after the Revolution, their routes north led to the major crossing points at Brownsville, El Paso, and Nogales .
It is clear from the record that the time of the revolution was a period when Mexicans came to Iowa. One can look, for example, at the growth of the state's Mexican born population as revealed by the Iowa census. This shows a rise from 21 in 1905 to 616 in 1915, and a jump to 2,597 in 1925.22_ It also is during the first years of the Revolution that Hispanic names appear in the birth and marriage records at the Catholic churches of Muscatine, and they appear rather suddenly._23 Prior to 1910, there are no entries for Hispanics in these records. From 1910 on they not only are present, but increase rapidly.24_
Figure 1 HISPANIC MARRIAGES AND BIRTHS IN MUSCATINE_ YEAR MARRIAGES BAPTISMS
1910 0 1
1911 0 4
1912 0 1
1913 0 0
1914 0 0
1915 0 1
1916 0 1
1917 0 0
1918 2 0
1919 2 0
1920 1 6
1921 0 3
1922 0 3
1923 1 0
1924 0 2
1925 0 1
1926 0 3
1927 0 0
1928 0 1
1929 1 2
1930 0 0
1931 0 0
1932 0 1
1933 0 0
1934 0 0
1935 0 0
1936 0 0
1937 0 0
1938 0 0
1939 0 1
1940 0 0
It is worth noting here that during the same period that Mexico was undergoing these upheavals the United States had for the most part a stable and growing economy, and was at peace except for our brief participation in World War One.25_ This was a time when immigration from Europe was only beginning to recover from the war-time shutoff and already feeling the pinch of new restrictive laws, which did not apply to the countries of Latin America.26_
In the Muscatine area, employment possibilities were numerous and the labor market wide open. Railroads were under construction from the 1850s onward, and Mexicans who had begun by working on lines in the Southwest found themselves moving on to do the same work in a colder climate. The Rock Island Railroad, Muscatine's oldest and most important, employed as many as 3,000 Mexicans and Mexican Americans in 1930.27_ While it is presently impossible to document exactly when the first Mexicans went work for the C.R.I.& P., the M.& M., and the Milwaukee roads in the Muscatine section, certainly they were present in the Muscatine area by 1911, if not much earlier.28 According to Joe Vargus of Muscatine, his parents came to the Muscatine area to work on the rails in that year, and found other Mexicans there before them.29_ While he says that there were never very many Hispanics working in any one place, "we were scattered all up and down the line."30_ That is certainly true, not only for the Muscatine area, but for the entire region, as witness the county figures for Mexican population in the Iowa census.31 The 1915 census shows 6 counties with more than 20 Mexican residents.32 By 1925, this figure had grown to 15, with 5 counties showing more than 100.33_ Figure 2 lists counties having more than 20 Mexican residents according to the 1925 census, with the county seat and reported populations, and a partial listing of railroads that served and were serviced by these communities. Figure 2 shows a strong relationship between railroads and Hispanic population all across Iowa.
FIGURE 2 HISPANIC POPULATION OF SOME IOWA COUNTIES,1925_
COUNTY COUNTY SEAT HISPANICS RAILROADS
Black Hawk Waterloo 57 CRI&P,IC,C&GW
Cerro Gordo Mason City 455 CRI&P,C&GW,M&StL
Emmet Estherville 28 CRI&P,C&GW,M&StL
Fayette West Union 94 CRI&P,Milw.
Johnson Iowa City 29 CRI&P
Lee Fort Madison 389 AT&SF
Linn Cedar Rapids 77 CRI&P,Milw.,C&GW
Muscatine Muscatine 28 CRI&P,Milw.
Polk Des Moines 380 CRI&P,C&GW,CB&Q
Pottawattamie Council Bluffs 235 C&GW,CB&Q,Milw.
Scott Davenport 262 CRI&P,Milw.
Webster Fort Dodge 71 C&GW,IC,M&StL Woodbury Sioux City 91 Milw.,CNW,CBQ
Worth Northwood (Manly) 57 C&GW,M&StL
Wright Clarion 45 CRI&P,C&GW
Other work was also available to those who would do it. The Heinz plant had opened in 1893, and by at least 1913 was employing Mexican workers. Here again, unavailability of employment records makes it impossible at this time to document precisely when the first Mexican workers came to Heinz, but an article of that year in the local newspaper refers to a group of Mexican employees who lived in boxcars near the Heinz plant.33_
The article does not make clear whether these men were employed in field work or in the plant where the crops were processed. Probably both types of work were available to immigrants, as it certainly was at later dates. It is amusing to note that the athletic facility that served as the high school football field until 1986, called Heinz Field because it was donated to the schools by that company, is now used almost exclusively for the recently introduced sport of soccer. Many of Muscatine's Hispanics are now able to make use of the field.
Apparently there was a seasonal influx of Mexican workers during the harvest season, since church archives from the years from 1910 to 1929 show nearly twice as many marriages and baptisms in the months from April to September as in the other half of the year. At the same time, the presence of marriages and baptisms during the non-harvest season show that at least a portion of the Mexican working population were year round residents._35 In fact, three out of the first four Hispanic baptisms performed in Muscatine were in the month of January, 1911._36
It is possible to say that there was a wide spread of occupations among Hispanic workers. The article already referred to shows that Mexican labor was in use at Heinz. It seems probable that Mexican labor would have been used extensively during WWI, though records are missing, since Heinz was by that time a major food processor, and Mexican labor was seen by food administrator Herbert Hoover as the answer to our needs.37 In addition to these types of labor, at least one Hispanic worked at the C.F. Richards & Sons packinghouse._38 Several more are shown as working at local button factories. 39
While there was a concentration of Hispanic labor in the railroads, no particular industry or specific employer had anything like a monopoly on their labor. Hispanics worked wherever there were jobs available, not in specialized groups. They were, at this point in history, simply one more of the many immigrant populations who came to Muscatine to feed the demand for general labor. There was no special kinship or locality base to the Mexican movement to the town. Rather, they came as individuals or families looking for work in the same way as any other worker might. Until more recent years, there is no appearance of chain or group migration.
Unfortunately, it is presently impossible to say where all of the Hispanics worked. Employment records for the most important employers of the time are missing, and the city directories for the period, which listed the employers of each head of household, seem to have frequently missed Hispanics. In fact, the directory for 1925 shows only three Hispanic families, while the Iowa census for that year lists 28 people in seven families.40_
Even the census data may be questioned, however. A combination of all available records shows that there were at least 13 Hispanic families present at that time.41_ It is possible, of course that there were many more, since the available documents suffer from obvious gaps, especially with regard to single workers, who would not appear in most of the sources presently accessible.
It seems likely that the enumerators missed part of the Hispanic community, a problem that continues even up to the present.42_ In fact, there is ample evidence to suggest that the Hispanic population of the U.S. has never been properly counted, due to a number of reasons. First, there is the fact that many Mexican immigrants have come illegally. Because of this, they have tended to be leery of census enumerators.
Second, much of the Mexican population has been migratory, and thus difficult to count.
Again, the Hispanics, especially agricultural migrants, have frequently been housed in areas not easily accessible to enumerators. Finally, there is a problem with the definitions used for "Mexican" by the census bureau, which frequently changed, or were inconsistently applied.43
_ For all of the above reasons, it is necessary to approach an estimate of the Hispanic population of Muscatine carefully. However, it is possible, by using a combination of all sources, to say with certainty that the population was there, and even to observe some trends. Figure 3 clearly supports the indications of the marriage and baptism records, showing the appearance of a population at the time of the Revolution in Mexico. Another surge is visible during WWI. The number of Hispanics must have increased substantially during the 1920s, since the total of births and marriages for 1910 to 1920 shown by figure 2 is only 12, while the same total for 1920 to 1930 is 25. 44_
FIGURE 3 HISPANIC FAMILIES OF MUSCATINE, 1910-1940_
NAME 1910 1915 1920 1925 1930 1935 1940
Family "A" xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Botello, B. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Hernandez, A. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Hernandez, F. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Hernandez, J xxxx
Hernandez, N. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Hernandez, W. xxxxxxxxxxx
Torres, C. xx
Torres, J. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Thus it would appear that the Hispanic community had increased to perhaps double in a single decade. The period following 1929 saw a drop in the population of Hispanics. This drop may have reduced the group by more than half, and lasted for more than twenty years.
During the depression that swept the country after 1929, almost a half million Hispanics, including a good many U.S. citizens, were deported informally by local communities and employers, as well as by state governments._45 This was a reaction to the perception that there were not enough jobs available for Americans, so those who could most easily be eliminated from the labor pool had to go, if possible.46_ Mexicans were the easiest to eliminate, since they were a sizable and visible group from a country that shared a land border with the United States._47Ironically, many of these same workers had been eagerly recruited by Hoover during WWI._48 Now, however, Hoover's administration began a deliberate policy of deportation aimed at Mexicans. In addition, Hoover applied new and harsh restrictions on Mexican immigration into the U.S., and publicly boasted of its effectiveness.49_ This policy of restriction was continued by the Roosevelt administration following his accession to power in 1933.50_ While the numbers of persons repatriated during the Roosevelt years were much smaller than under Wilson, there are many possible reasons for this.51_
The various policies of the New Deal had little to offer the Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. NIRA and AAA were intended to help the large interests in industry and agriculture, and the Wagner Act, intended to strengthen labor unions, did not apply to migrant agricultural workers, who made up the bulk of the Hispanics in the U.S. Even the Social Security Act did not cover farm laborers. The Farm Security Administration, which did deal with some of the problems of migratory workers, was not implemented until 1937, by which time the damage had already been done and many Hispanics had lost their jobs to Anglos who were also displaced by the depression._52
The disaster of the depression affected not only the agricultural workers, but those in industry and on the railroads, as well. Those few in the midwest who kept their jobs had to subsist on the pay from two or three days work each week.53_ Even relief was not available to most Hispanics, since in many cases their presence on the welfare rolls constituted cause for deportation.54_ Indeed, many states and cities allowed only U.S. citizens to be employed on public works projects.55_ Even the WPA was required to give first preference to U.S. citizens.56_
The records show the result of the depression on the Muscatine Hispanic community. Taking again a total of marriages and baptisms, the years from 1930 to 1940 reveal only 2, while the previous decade saw 23 (figure 1). Out of 17 families that can be documented as having been in Muscatine between 1925 and 1930, only 7 were left after 1930 (Figure 3). Yet, the continuing presence of Hispanics can clearly be seen. Interviews show that the Sotelos were still in Fruitland and the Varguses still in Letts._57 The Botellos and the younger Hernandezes, Augustine and Walter, were still in the street directory for 1934, and so was Hilario Ramirez. The family of "A" still occupied the same house, according to the directory.58_ Though the current that carried them to Muscatine had been temporarily dammed, the river of sweat was still in its bed.
But what was the effect of the damming up of the river on those who were left in Muscatine? If a continuing supply of new immigrants increases cultural persistence, it seems clear that a near-complete cut-off ought to have the opposite effect. Discussions with those of the Muscatine Hispanics who date from that period would seem to bear this out. It would appear that the few Hispanics left in Muscatine assimilated rather completely. Joe Vargus states that he quickly forgot the Spanish language after his childhood, while the family of Mr. "A" went so far from their heritage as to deny Mexican derivation entirely, and by the 1960s were claiming to be of French extraction.59_ The children of the original immigrants seem to have divorced themselves completely from Hispanic roots, since they speak no Spanish, and are not known within the present Hispanic community at all. It is interesting to note that all of the leaders of the present Spanish community are relative newcomers, arriving in Muscatine since the late 1960s. This includes both of the clergymen of Spanish-language churches, the director of the migrant committee, and the director of the Spanish-language radio broadcasts. It also includes all of the owners and operators of the Mexican restaurants and tiendas. The fact is that during the intervening years, the old original Mexican families have grown so well-acculturated that it would be impossible for them to assume leadership, and difficult for them to even be accepted in the Hispanic community were they to desire this.
It is also interesting to note that the grandchildren of the old-time families are now having to reestablish themselves as Hispanic. This writer has personally witnessed numerous instances in which young Hispanic high school students who can neither speak Spanish nor even properly pronounce their own names find it necessary to learn to associate with others who may be newly arrived from Mexico. This may be due at least partially to a desire on their part to rediscover their heritage, but given the negative attitude often directed toward Hispanics in the town, some are driven to Hispanic company by rejection from other peers. Many of these young people find it desirable to begin to study Spanish in classes at the high school. Thus the resurgence of the river of Hispanic immigration during the time since the 1960s has to a certain extent reclaimed the descendants of those who were stranded by its damming in the 1930s.
The 1940s saw a temporary resurgence of the river of sweat. According to an interview with Ed Burns, former personnel manager of H.J. Heinz, during WWII large numbers of Mexicans and Puerto Ricans were hired under various labor importation programs, including the bracero plan.60_ Burns says that as many as two hundred Hispanics worked during the harvest season, with some dozens remaining throughout the year. This shows an ironic parallel with the recruitment during the previous world war. Once again, America needed to be fed in wartime; and once again, Mexico was asked to provide some of the wherewithal. Because of fears of labor shortages in both industry and agriculture, the U.S. government called upon Mexico to provide labor.61_
By 1950 even the city directory began to become aware of Hispanics, with the number of households listed rising to 20._62 Although the directory probably missed many Hispanic families in any given year, the trend shown is probably still valid.
FIGURE 4 HISPANIC FAMILIES LISTED IN CITY DIRECTORIES
YEAR FAMILIES CITY POPULATION
1910 0 13,000
1919 2 14,000
1929 3 16,000
1934 6 16,000
1940 4 17,000
1950 20 19,000
1960 37 21,000
1970 183 23,000
1980 298 23,000
The early 1950s also saw a return of the use of seasonal migrant labor, at least on a documentable basis. Fragmentary records for one field gang at Heinz show that while no Hispanics were employed on that gang from 1930 to 1949, even during WWII, starting in 1950 the appearance of gangs from Texas was an annual event. Starting in 1950 at 30% of the harvest gang, Hispanics increased to 75% by 1953 when the record dries up._63
The decade of 1960 to 1970 was the time of takeoff for Hispanics in Muscatine. Baptisms and marriages at St. Matthias rose to more than 50, while St. Mary's, which had never seen any, saw nearly another 50 more in the same decade. Dates and addresses make it clear that many of these were seasonal migrants, but the permanent population was also up._64 By 1970 the directory shows 183 Hispanic households, an increase of 500% in ten years._ 65 The river of sweat was in flood stage. The flood has yet to recede, as can be seen from the fact that the 1980 directory showed another increase of Hispanic listings to 298._66
Current estimates for 1988 place the Hispanic population at 12%, which would be about 2,700 Hispanic people, given Muscatine's current total of 26,000._67 This is in addition to the estimated 1,000 to 1,500 seasonal migrant workers who arrive every April and work through September._68
The sources of the flood, its tributaries, have also broadened during the last twenty years. In addition to Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, there are also in Muscatine people from Cuba, Honduras, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Colombia, and Chile. Like the original Mexican population, these came as individuals, in response to opportunities, and not as part of any group migration or in response to any recruitment.
To serve this population, Muscatine supports three Mexican stores, physical welfare of the child if the parents were unavailable. In addition, it is expected that the padrino will involve himself in the child's life in all of its aspects. The padrino watches over the religious training of the child, follows the child's education, and is expected to do what he can to help the youth get a start in life when he begins a career. Traditionally (though not universally), a padrino is not a member of the household of the child, and usually not even a close relative. In the records of St. Matthias, there is only one case between 1910 and 1940 in which the padrino has the same family name as the child. Families also hope to find a padrino who has a position of leadership in the community, yet is personally close to the family. Finally, each child of a family will usually have a different padrino._71
Twenty baptisms of Hispanic children between 1920 and 1930 were analyzed, and show that there were certain men who appeared to be more desirable as padrinos. During this period, only three men were padrinos for more than one child, but these three men served as padrinos for 40% of the baptisms during that decade. It is also interesting to note that only one man who fathered a child during this decade also served as a padrino. This offers two possibilities; the first is that men chosen as padrinos were past their years of child production, thus elders in the community; the second is that childless men were chosen. Close examination shows that of the fourteen padrinos during the 1920s, at least seven had children who were either married or became parents during that period. This would appear to suggest that padrinos were commonly older men, leaders, and thus that there was a community to lead in some sense.
At the same time, the distribution of the padrinos and marriage witnesses shows that a complex network of family relationships must have existed among the Hispanics of Muscatine. A triangular grouping seems to have been present, for example, among the Torres, Florez, and Ortiz families, since they commonly appear as wedding witnesses and padrinos for each other. This may be related to the fact that C. Ortiz and B.Florez married a pair of sisters from the Ponce family, thus becoming brothers-in law. There would appear to be a similar closeness between the Hernandez and Vasquez families, with a marriage between Julio Vasquez and a Hernandez daughter in 1923 followed by Vasquez serving as a witness for the wedding of the Hernandez son. In fact, it would be difficult to find a family during the 1920s that did not come in contact with any other given family in the performance of family weddings and births. There seems, then, to have been a considerable degree of cohesion among the Hispanics of Muscatine._72
Another feature of community is integrity. During a period from 1918 to 1983, the records at St. Matthias show only three cases in which Hispanics married non-Hispanics, even during the years before 1965, when the Hispanic population was small, and marriage of relatives prohibited by culture, law, and church. Addresses make it clear that Hispanics sometimes reached into other communities in the area to find partners, rather than marry outside their culture. Even the adhesion of the Hispanics to St. Matthias church can be seen as evidence of community. Although St. Mary's church was built early enough to have competed for parishioners with St. Matthias, the fact is that up until the 1960s, the records only reveal one Hispanic family that ever entered St. Mary's. All of the others attended St. Matthias._73 This would seem to indicate that it was of some importance to Hispanics over a period of some sixty years that they shared the same church.
Persistence of the Spanish language is so strong as to be a frequent topic of complaint among those who do not appreciate diversity. In ten years of teaching in the Muscatine Public Schools, including perhaps 200-300 Hispanic-surnamed students, the writer has only encountered a half dozen who do not speak Spanish. Even among children of families who have been in Muscatine for three or four generations, the primary self-identification, as evidenced by peer group selection, is as Hispanics, although a certain amount of this may not be by choice. As was discussed earlier in this paper, children of long-time residents are to be found frequently in the process of rediscovery of their roots.
We can conclude from the above that the Hispanic community was a cohesive and enduring entity during all of the years before the present flood of Hispanic immigration and its accompanying increase in visible community, despite a certain erosion of peripheral cultural characteristics during the long drought in Hispanic immigration.
If the Hispanic community in Muscatine has shown durability and cohesion over a long period of invisibility, it may also be true that increased visibility has harmed the perceived status of its members, at least in the short run. If they have been a part of the town during at least 75 years, they have also been an apparently accepted part of the town, since no negative reaction to their presence can be detected previous to the more recent and larger migration. This is probably due in part at least to that very invisibility. During the most recent two decades, Hispanics have lost that invisibility, even as the size and facilities of that community have increased by orders of magnitude. As the size of the Hispanic community has grown, so have racism, intolerance, and xenophobia on the part of many within the Anglo population of the town. At least in part, this reaction rests on the assumption that the Hispanics are newcomers. This paper is written in the hope that a better understanding of the contribution of the river of sweat has made to Muscatine, and of the duration of its flow, will help to alleviate some of that distrust and fear.
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H.J.Heinz Corp., Muscatine
Iowa State Historical Society, Iowa City
Muscatine County courthouse, Muscatine
Musser Public Library, Muscatine
St. Mary's Catholic Church, Muscatine
St. Matthias Catholic Church, Muscatine
_1 Morison, Samuel Eliot, Henry Steele Commager, and William E. Leuchtenberg, 1977. A Concise History of the American People. New York, Oxford University Press.14.
_2 History of Muscatine County; privately published, 1911. In the Musser Public Library, Muscatine, Iowa, 24.
_3 ibid. 56.
_4 Briggs, Vernon M., Walter Fogel, and Fred H. Schmidt, 1977. The Chicano Worker; Austin, University of Texas Press. 63.
_5 Personal Interview with Robert Lee Page, Muscatine. 9/11/88.
_6 Personal Interview with Robert Zoller, Muscatine. 10/10/88.
7_ Personal Interview with George Oveson, Muscatine. 9/30/88.
_8 Personal Interview with Kristine Conlon, Muscatine. 9/28/88.
_9 Muscatine Journal; e.g.9/1-9/30/1913, 7/1-7/30/1920, 12/1-12/30/1925, 3/1-3/26/1933.
_10 Personal Interview with Juan Cadena, Muscatine Migrant Committee director, Muscatine. 9/20/88.
_ 11See for example Rabinowitz, Howard, 1983. "Race, Ethnicity, and Cultural Pluralism in American History" in Ordinary People and Everyday Life, Gardner and Adams, eds., Nashville, American Assoc. for State and Local History. 28-32.
12_ Womack, John. 1967. Zapata and the Mexican Revolution. New York, Random House. 15.
13_ Meyer, Michael C. and William L. Sherman. 1987, The Course of Mexican History; New York, Oxford University Press. 431-479.
14 _ Briggs, Fogel, Schmidt, 62.
_15 Reisler, Mark. 1976. By the Sweat of Their Brows; Mexican Immigrant Labor in the United States, 1900-1940. Westport. Ct. Greenwood Press. 16.
16_ Reisler, 17.
17_ Katz, Friedrich, 1976. The Secret War in Mexico, Chicago, University of Chicago Press. 238-245.
18_ Reisler, 12.
_19 Reisler, 8-12.
20_ Meyer and Sherman, 540.
_21 Meyer and Sherman, 511-565.
22_ Iowa State census, 1905,1915,1925. Iowa State Historical Society, Iowa City.
_ 23Record of Marriages, Record of Baptisms; archives of St.Matthias Catholic Church, Muscatine. Record of Marriages, Record of Baptisms; archives of St. Mary's Catholic Church, Muscatine. Hereafter referred to as "Archive, St. Matthias" and "Archive, St. Mary's".
24_ See Figure 1.
_ 25Archives, Sts. Matthias and Mary's.
26 _ Morison, Commager, Leuchtenberg. 580.
27 _ Morison, Commager, Leuchtenberg. 390.
28_ Briggs, Fogel, Schmidt. 63.
29 _ Personal Interview with Joe Vargus, Muscatine. 9/21/88.
_30 Vargus interview.
31_ Iowa census, 1915,1925.
32 _ Population figures from census, Iowa, 1925. Railroads from Transportation map in the archive of Musser Public Library, Muscatine.
33_ Muscatine Journal, 8/17/1913.
34_ Archives St. Matthias.
35_ Archives, St. Matthias.
_36 letter from Hoover to Asst. Labor Sec. Felix Frankfurter, 6/4/18. National Archives, Record Group 85, File #54261/202. Reproduced in full in Kiser, George C. and Mary Woody Kiser, 1979. Mexican Workers in the United States; Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press. 13-14.
37_ This family agreed to provide information on condition of anonymity. The father first appears in the 1925 Iowa census, already with an Anglicized name, which the family still bears. They have denied Mexican ancestry for more than fifty years, except in official documents. While their origin is not entirely secret, it is not public knowledge either, and their privacy will be maintained in this paper by referring to them as "family A".
39_ Directory 1925. Iowa state census, 1925. Musser Public Library, Muscatine.
_40 See Figure 3.
41_ Conóceme en Iowa; Report of the Governor's Spanish-Speaking Task Force; Ricardo Pabon, Chairman. 1976. 5.
_42 Reisler, 266.
43_ Archives, St. Matthias.
_44 This chart is derived from church records, directories, and census manuscripts. It lists all Hispanic families shown in any of these records during the period from 1910 to 1940, with the span of years between each family's first and last appearance in any record.
45_ Kiser and Kiser, 33.
46 _ See for a full treatment Hoffman, Abraham, 1979. Unwanted Mexican Americans in the Great Depression; Repatriation Pressures, 1929-1939. Tucson, University of Arizona Press.
47 _ Kiser and Kiser. 34.
48_ Reisler, 227.
49_ Reisler, 230,231.
50_ Reisler, 231.
51_ Hoffman, 124.
52_ Reisler, 248.
53_ Reisler, 228.
54_ Reisler, 232.
55_ Reisler, 228.
56_ Hoffman, 113.
57 _ Vargus interview.
58_ Directory, 1934.
_59 Conlon interview.
60 _ Personal Interview with Ed S."Kelly" Burns, Muscatine. 9/28/88.
61_ Kiser and Kiser, 67.
_62 archives, Sts.Matthias and Mary's. Directories, 1950, 1960.
63_ Hourly record of this work gang was provided by Mr. Butch Kelly, Heinz Personnel director for Muscatine, with permission from Heinz mgmt, Pittsburgh, Pa. This is the only pre-1960 personnel archive presently discoverable at Heinz, and consists of a series of small books recording the names and hours worked for each employee on the gang. While it is fragmentary, the series reaches from 1930-1957.
64_ archives St.Matthias, St.Mary's.
66 _ Directory, 1980.
67_ Personal Interview with Larry Kemp, Muscatine City Council, 9/30/88.
68_ Personal Interview with Juan Cadena, Director, Muscatine Migrant Committee. 9/20/88.
69_ Bender,Thomas, 1978. Community and Social Change in America; Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press. 121-128.
70 _ archives, St. Matthias.
71_ these traditions are still maintained within the Hispanic community in Muscatine, as was revealed during discussions with 12 different Hispanic students at Muscatine High School, conducted randomly, and separately from each other on 11/3/88.
72_ archives, St. Matthias.
73_ archives, St. Matthias and St. Mary's.