Garcia, Dolores Carillo
Dolores “Lola” Carillo Garcia (1934-2017)
Written by Catherine Babikian
Lola Garcia was born and raised in Cook's Point in Davenport, Iowa, the daughter of Manuela Sanchez Mendez García and Jesús "Joe" Mendez García. She was one of 18 children in her family and the older sister of Maria Mercedes Aguilera.
While some of her sisters sought employment opportunities in Chicago factories, Lola remained in the Quad Cities, where her daughter was born:
She was very sickly all the time. I had this doctor and he’d say, “Why don’t you give me this baby? You can’t take care of her because your house is too cold.” She already had pneumonia twice. He said, "I would rather you gave me that baby and I’d keep her in my house. It’s nice and warm. My wife will take good care of her. When she gets good and healthy, I’ll give her back to you.” I said, “No, I can’t take the chance. You’ll tell me one thing and you’ll do another. You’ll tell everybody that I gave her to you and you’ll go get papers from behind my back and keep her.” I just kept her myself.
When her marriage ended in 1966, Lola looked for paid employment outside of the home to support herself and her children. “They didn’t want to give us a job,” she remembered, “because we were brown.” She worked at the Black Hawk Hotel, but the pay there did not compare to the union wages she could have earned at the Oscar Mayer packinghouse in Davenport. “I had been wanting to get a job at Oscar Mayer’s for the longest time. We always put applications in, and they always said they weren’t hiring,” Lola recalled.
One day I went to sleep and I had this dream. They had white stones, black stones, and brown stones. I could see them laying. I was walking the railroad tracks and I see these stones. Those stones were us. The stones were people. And every once in a while they’d kick a brown stone up and give them a job. Every once in a while, not all the time. Most of the stones that were picked up were all these white stones. I said, “This has got to change, but how can I change it? I know. We’ll picket these places.”
“That was once in a lifetime,” Lola says of the dream that spurred her activism. “It woke me up and it told me what I had to do, and I did it.”
Drawing on her experience of the Quad City grape boycott, Lola organized a community-wide picket of the Oscar Mayer factory. The picket met opposition from onlookers, who threatened physical violence if the picketers did not “go on home” to “wash the dishes.” But Lola remained persistent. “I said [to them], “You be quiet. I’ve got to eat, just the same as you do. We’re here for a purpose. We want jobs. They won’t give us one, so we’re going to make them give us one.” She took her protest one step further by organizing a boycott of Oscar Mayer products. It worked: Oscar Mayer hired Lola to work on the kill floor.