Postwar activism

Western Union telegram from Rudy Macías to his mother.

At the end of the war, Rudy Macias telegrammed his mother in Davenport: "I'M OVER HERE FROM OVER THERE AND WILL BE WITH YOU SOON, LOVE RUDY."

Rudy Macias working at International Harvester in East Moline, Illinois after the war

Rudy Macias at work, International Harvester Co., Moline, Illinois.

Kathryn Espinosa and others picketing.

Kathryn Espinosa and other Mexican American women picketing the Decker & Company meatpacking plant in Mason City, Iowa, during the nationwide packinghouse strike of 1948.

Cook's Point economic survey report, 1963

Cook's Point Ecnomic Survey, 1949, and "Racial Injustice in Iowa," written by sociology professor Rev. William T. O'Connor, St. Ambrose College, Davenport, 1963.

Mexican American World War II veterans returned home to find that, despite their significant sacrifices, discriminatory practices continued after the war. Although some gained entry into blue-collar jobs represented by progressive unions, many returned to low-wage railroad and factory jobs with little opportunity for upward mobility. In many parts of Iowa and the Midwest, landlords refused to rent to Mexican Americans, property owners refused to sell to them, and movie theaters refused to admit them. Even VFW chapters often denied membership to returning Mexican American war veterans. 

Although little had changed in terms of discrimination within society, their war experience had altered their willingness to accept these inequities.  As World War II veteran Antonio Navarro, from Davenport, explained in a 2007 interview with Iowa Public Television:

We fought for the American ideals that our parents had taught us as children and believed our misfortune was merely a way of life. After the war, we clearly understood that the deplorable conditions only existed because of discrimination.  We were no longer afraid like our parents to confront the local officials regarding these terrible problems. Our battle for eliminating social discrimination was less frightening when compared to the horrors of the war we recently experienced.

When World War II veterans Al Lopez, Ray Alonzo, and Danny Razzo applied for membership in Silvis VFW Post #1933, its members turned down their application, fearful that Mexican Americans might take over the post. The Silvis Mexican American veterans formed their own post, VFW Post #8890, in neighboring East Moline. Fifteen years later, in 1969, the City of Silvis and the Post Office, responding to pressure from Mexican American residents, veterans, and a coalition of activists, renamed Second Street "Hero Street U. S. A."

In 1948, as members of  United Packinghouse Workers Union, Mexican American women at the Decker & Sons meatpacking plant in Mason City, Iowa, joined fellow unionists across the country to support the nationwide packinghouse strike, demanding better wages and working conditions.

In 1952, when residents of the Cook's Point barrio in Davenport faced eviction from the land on which their homes were situated, they joined forces with activists from St. Ambrose College, the local chapter of the NAACP (led by Catholic African Americans Charles and Anne Toney), labor unions, and a local interfaith organization called the League for Social Justice. Mary Terronez who had lived in Cook's Point since the 1920s, took a lead role in advocating for the rights of Cook's Point residents who joined with these groups to find solutions to the housing crisis facing the barrio's residents.

Henry Vargas, whose family had lived there since the 1930s, reflected on what the community activism that coalesced around the closing of Cook's Point in 1952 meant to him and other Mexican Americans in Davenport:

We seen what the NAACP could do and we struggled to find an organization, a national organization that would represent us.

Within just a few years the national organization that could represent Mexican Americans in Iowa began its expansion into the Midwest. Its name was the League of United Latin American Citizens, known as LULAC.



Postwar activism