Díaz, María & Claro

Claro Díaz, Fort Madison, Iowa.

Claro Díaz, Fort Madison, 1920s.

Photograph of María Díaz

María Díaz, in front of boxcar home, El Cometa, 1920s.

Gregorio Díaz, the son of María & Claro Díaz, El Cometa, Fort Madison, Iowa, 1920s.

Gregorio Díaz, the son of María and Claro Díaz, El Cometa, Fort Madison, 1920s.

María Sanchez Díaz & Claro Díaz

Written by Catherine Babikian

In 1905, María and Claro Díaz, along with their six children, migrated from Cerrito del Agua, Zacatecas, Mexico, to Lujan, Durango, where their youngest child Gregorio was born in 1907.  In 1919, they left Durango for the United States and settled in Fort Madison, Iowa. “They arrived in the winter with only huaraches (sandals) on their feet and no winter clothes,” recalled María and Claro’s granddaughter, Inés García.

The Díaz family joined relatives who had come to Fort Madison several years earlier.  The entire extended family lived in El Cometa, a barrio comprised of boxcars and shelters built from boxcar lumber.  The men in the community worked for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, which in turn provided the boxcar housing. In addition to caring for their own homes and children, the women did washing and needlework for the unmarried men. 

Although María and Claro did not have much formal education, their children and grandchildren were able to attend the local schools. While some finished school, others left early to work in nearby factories.

My mom [Josepha Díaz] already knew how to write a little bit because she said she loved to write. She used to go where they threw things away. She said she would look around and see if there was pieces of pencils or pieces of paper so she could write. (Inés García)

"Both Gregorio and his sister Romana loved to read," recalled Romana's granddaughter Teresa García. "They ordered Spanish-language newspapers and books by mail and may also have purchased them when they traveled to Kansas City and Chicago."

In 1926, El Cometa flooded and the Díaz family moved to another barrio known as La Yarda—where they again put down roots. “Our family used to sit outside in the summer. They’d cook corn over a fire in the middle of the alley,” remembers Inés. “And they would build the fire and talk about Mexico.”

(Oral history interview conducted for the Mujeres Latinas Project by Rachel Garza Carreón, August 6, 2005)

Díaz, María & Claro