Dianda, Lupe & Jennie Garcia

Lupe Infante Dianda (born 1926) & Jennie Infante Garcia (born 1936)

Written by Catherine Babikian; oral history interview conducted by Teresa García for the Mujeres Latinas Proejct, 2007.

Community activists and sisters Lupe Dianda and Jennie García grew up in Mason City, Iowa. Their father, Juan Infante, was from the city of Léon in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico. Their mother, Mercedes Flores, was from a rural farming community in the state of Michoacán. “It was really up in the hills,” their daughter Jennie remembered. The couple married in 1925 and followed Mercedes’s extended family to Mason City, Iowa, where Juan found work at the Portland Cement Company. Lupe, Jennie, and their three siblings grew up in the northwest part of the city, close to several Mason City cement plants.

After graduating from Mason City High School in 1945, Lupe began working at the Decker & Sons packinghouse. Her first job was on the kill floor.

On the kill, the inspector didn’t want…the oil that was falling on the animal. The animal was the carcass, you call it the carcass—it was hanging on the, they call it a gable. And there was oil. So I had to wipe off that oil. They didn’t want that oil on the carcass. So that’s what I did there. And then I did, afterwards, I went to drop flanks and cut the kidneys. And that was, when it went slow it was 300 an hour—when it went fast it was 600 an hour. It was on a chain. You don’t need a boss. The chain is your boss. (Lupe Dianda)

Although she was a staunch supporter of the union, the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA Local 38), Lupe did not participate in the nationwide packinghouse strike of 1948—her father had died in a workplace accident earlier that year. Lupe was twenty-two; Jennie, eleven. The family moved to Federal Avenue, where their mother sold tacos, enchiladas, and other Mexican dishes out of their new home. “She would sell hot sauce and picked peppers, jalapeños that she would grow,” Lupe remembered. “She had a neon sign on her house—Mexican Food. No name, just Mexican Food.

Lupe and her husband, Guadalupe Dianda, were active in their community. For twenty years, Lupe coordinated a celebration of the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe at her local church. The celebrations included a mass, a potluck, and a piñata. Because local stores did not sell piñatas, Lupe’s husband made each year’s piñata by hand.

My father was that way. He belonged to LULACs. And my mother belonged to PTA. So it’s just in our way, you know. When I was working at Armour’s, I would help new people that would come in, I would try to show ‘em the work. There was a Mexican girl…and she’d say, “Well, how come you like to help people?” I said, “Well, I do because when I started I was happy to have somebody tell me what to do, where to go. And so that’s what I like to do.” (Lupe Dianda)

Like Lupe, Jennie has also been active in her community. She worked at a nursing home and in a hospital after graduating from high school. In 1973, she took up a position as a bilingual secretary for the Migrant Action Program (MAP), a federally funded, locally operated outreach organization that provided services to migrant workers in northern Iowa. Always interested in dietetics, Jennie soon became the program’s nutritional advisor. In that role, she acted as a liaison between MAP and local organizations and businesses. “I had made an agreement with the grocery stores,” she said. “I’d take the group to the WIC program, too. And we had a pantry for emergency food.”

Jennie left MAP in 1986 for a position with the Mason City office of the Muscatine Migrant Committee, a similar program that provided services to migrant workers. She also worked at Iowa Legal Services in Mason City, where she advocated for the legal rights of workers exposed to pesticides in the fields where they worked.   

When I would go, the farmers would spray their fields early in the morning—and the workers would go out there in the fields, they’d go with red eyes, headaches and all that. They didn’t know what was happening, maybe they didn’t know what it was. I would tell the farmer that if you spray, they don’t have to work for about an hour, up to two hours, they don’t have to work. I told them, I let them know.  (Jennie García)

Jennie and Lupe remained involved in their communities. “I’ve always helped,” says Lupe. “If somebody needs help, like God says, if you do it for one of my brothers, you do it to me.”

(Oral history interview conducted for the Mujeres Latinas Project by Teresa García, October 27, 2006)

Dianda, Lupe & Jennie Garcia