Martinez, Esperanza Lopez
Esperanza Lopez Martinez (1904-1991)
Written by Catherine Babikian
In 1917, the seventh year of the Mexican Revolution, thirteen-year-old Esperanza Lopez left her family in Guanajuato, Mexico, and accompanied an older Mexican woman to Kansas. Her parents feared that she had been taken by soldiers. Esperanza lived in the railroad yards in Horton, Kansas, where she met and married Cruz Martinez, a farm laborer and railroad worker who was also from Mexico. They left Horton and, during the growing season, worked as agricultural laborers, cultivating and harvesting sugar beets, carrots, cabbages, and oats in Minnesota and northern Iowa. They spent the winters in Manly, Iowa.
Esperanza’s oldest daughter, Florence, died of tuberculosis in 1936; her husband died the following year. In order to provide for her remaining six children, Esperanza moved first to a farm in Lake Mills, Iowa, and then to Cook’s Point in Davenport. “She was a very small woman and all that,” remembered Esperanza’s daughter, Lupe Serrano, “but when she would tell us [to do] something, we would do it.” Another daughter, Adella Martinez recalled that she was very strict, “She said she had to be. She was strong. She was tough.”
During the summers, like many families in the Davenport barrio, Esperanza and her children topped onions in nearby Pleasant Valley. Lupe remembered, “My mother was very good at that. She would have about eight, nine rows—and she could go—and I’d have two rows. And I’d still be way back.”
During World War II, Esperanza worked in the defense industry. The factory where she worked manufactured canvas for military vehicles. When the war ended, she worked at the Black Hawk Hotel. “My mom worked awful hard,” said Lupe. “We didn’t stop to realize the things that she was going through and all that, we just took it for granted. We never really appreciated her.”
As single head of her household, Esperanza worked hard to provide for her children both outside and inside of the home. On her hands and knees, she scrubbed the floors of their house. She taught her children to iron the clothes and sheets. From her garden she grew crops to can for the winter—tomatoes, green beans, and carrots. With her children’s help, she learned English. And if a neighbor or friend ever needed help, Adella remembered, “she was always there. I’m telling you, she didn’t sleep much.
(Oral history interview with Esperanza Martinez’s daughters, Adella Martinez and Lupe Serrano, conducted by Janet Weaver for the Mujeres Latinas Project, October 10, 2006)