Juanita Quiñones (born 1920)
Written by Catherine Babikian
Juanita Quiñones was born in San Antonio, Texas, to Juan Quiñones and Victoriana Gutierrez Quiñones. Shortly after her birth, her family moved north to Mason City, Iowa, where her father worked for the Mason City & Clear Lake Railway and the Portland Cement Company. A few years later, they moved back to San Antonio, but after a few months decided to make Mason City their permanent home. “My dad worked so hard and my mom too,” Juanita said.
In Mason City, Juanita’s family lived on South Van Buren Avenue, close to the brick and tile works but far from the established Mexican community on Mason City’s north side. Juanita helped her mother manage the household. “I didn’t have time to be minglin’ with people, ‘cause I had nine little brothers and sisters,” she remembered. “I was the one that had to make tortillas. Once in a while I’d fry beans.”
When the U.S. entered World War II, Juanita’s younger brother Billy joined the service. The two were close, just a year or two apart in age, and as the oldest siblings, they both shouldered family responsibilities. When Billy was killed in 1944, Juanita was devastated.
He got killed two days after Christmas. We had a nice life, a nice little life, and then my brother got killed in the service. He was next to me. My mother ‘bout went out of her mind ‘cause he was a skinny little thing. We didn’t think he’d pass [the army physical] but they needed him then…He raised little chickens. He loved animals. And then he left us.
During the war, Juanita started working at the Decker & Sons meatpacking plant, a job she held for thirty-two years. She worked in the meat freezers, scaling cold meats. “I was glad to get the money,” she said, “but it was cold.” She cashed each paycheck and gave the money to her father to help pay the bills. When United Packinghouse Workers of America members voted to strike against Jacob Decker & Sons packinghouse in Mason City in 1948, many workers picketed outside the plant. Juanita played an equally valuable role in the eleven-week strike:
I helped in the kitchen, see. They’d go out [on the picket line] and watch that nobody would get in the plant. They had different ones in different places and we had to make lunch for ‘em. Supper and that. And I used to work in the kitchen, our union kitchen, and that’s what I used to do. Making the sandwiches and then I’d have to take it out to the guys. Coffee and all that for them…I never wanted to be on the line. Too cold.
As her siblings grew older, they moved out of Iowa, but Juanita stayed near her parents in Mason City. “My dad always said, be nice to anybody and everybody no matter what color,” she says, “and that’s true, he brought us up that way and that’s what we did."
(Oral history interview conducted by Teresa García for the Mujeres Latinas Project, October 26, 2006)