Marta Cadena (born 1950)
Written by Catherine Babikian
“I always knew I was Mexicana, and I was proud of being a Mexicana,” says Marta Cadena, “I always knew who I was.”
Marta grew up in Saginaw Michigan. Although many of her relatives lived in central Texas, her parents had moved north to Michigan in order to find better work. Like many Mexicanos in Saginaw, her father worked on the production line at General Motors. “General Motors was very good for the Mexicanos economically, [because] they could support their families,” she said. “I came from a big family, so it was more of a struggle. We were poor, but I didn’t know any better.”
After graduating from high school in 1968, Marta enrolled at Delta Community College, where she met her husband, Juan Cadena. In 1971, after Juan became the first Latino director of the Muscatine Migrant Committee, they moved to Muscatine, Iowa. For Marta, the differences between Saginaw and Muscatine were striking:
I didn’t like Muscatine at all. It was like going back in time twenty years. When we left Michigan, it wasn’t uncommon for people my age, Mexican Americans, to go to college, and that wasn’t true here. Most of the kids didn’t go on to further education. I think Muscatine was behind in a way, because of the economics. We had General Motors, and here in Muscatine at that time, Mexicanos didn’t. There weren’t very many Mexicanos working at the places that paid a little bit better. They worked at Heinz or Bandag.
Marta commuted to Iowa City for teacher training courses, but put her education on hold after the birth of her first child. She began working at the Farmers’ Home Administration, and later, the Post Office, saving the money she earned for her children’s college education. Soon after starting at the Post Office, she noticed she was its only Latina employee. “Being the first brown face, I felt like a pioneer,” she said.
(Oral history interview conducted by Iskra Núñez for the Mujeres Latinas Project, July 2, 2005)