Skip to content
print page header

The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Maria Mercedes Aguilera papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1950-2013
Creator: Aguilera, Maria Mercedes "Mercy" (1936-2013)
Extent: 2.50 linear inches.
Collection Number: IWA0558
Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Summary: Factory worker who was among the first Latinas to be hired at the International Harvester Company Farmall plant in Rock Island, Illinois.
View Selected Items Online:Mujeres Latinas Digital Collection

Alternate Extent Statement: Photographs in boxes 1-2

Access: The papers are open for research.

Use: Copyright held by the donor has been transferred to The University of Iowa.

Acquisition: The papers (donor no. 1006) were donated by Maria M. Aguilera in 2005 and subsequent years.

Preferred Citation: Maria Aguilera papers, Iowa Women's Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City.

Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Address: 100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, IA 52242
Phone: 319-335-5068
Curator: Kären Mason
Email: lib-women@uiowa.edu
Website: http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/iwa

Maria Mercedes "Mercy" Garcia Aguilera was born in 1936 to Manuela Garcia Sanchez and Joseph Mendez Garcia in the Cook's Point area of Davenport, Iowa. Joseph Mendez Garcia, born in Mexico, and Manuela Garcia, from Texas, met while employed as migrant laborers. The couple moved to Cook's Point in the 1930s when Garcia's father found work as a section hand with the Rock Island Railroad. They had fifteen children.

Maria Garcia's childhood in the predominantly Mexican and Mexican American community of Cook's Point was marked by poverty. The family lived in a house with no plumbing and at age five Garcia began helping her mother perform household duties such as collecting coal from the nearby railroad tracks and carrying water from the local pump.  At eight years old she obtained seasonal work topping onions with her older sister and other members of the Cook's Point community.

Maria Garcia attended St. Alphonsus School in Davenport. After completing the seventh grade she moved with her sister to live with a family in Toledo, Iowa, and attended St. Joseph's School for one year. Garcia then moved to Ottumwa, Iowa, to live with the Roberts family where she assisted with household duties. She stayed there for four years, and attended school for one year during that time. In 1956 she returned to her family in Buffalo, Iowa, following the death of her younger brother Bobbie in a drowning accident. 

At age seventeen Garcia obtained her first factory job as a cable lacer in Chicago, Illinois, where she lived with her sister, Ramona. Her next job involved soldering juke boxes for Rockacola Company. In 1957 Garcia's first child, Lisa, was born. She married Peter Aguilera, a factory worker, in 1960 and a year later their son, Peter Jr., was born.  The couple moved to Iowa City, Iowa, in 1963 when Peter Aguilera secured a job with International Harvester Company (IHC) Farmall. They later purchased a home and settled in Davenport.

In 1973 Maria Aguilera applied for a job at IHC Farmall and was denied work on the grounds that she was too short.  Aguilera, suspecting discrimination, pressured the company and was hired to work on the assembly line. Maria Aguilera worked for International Harvester Company Farmall until 1982 when the plant closed down.  Following this she worked for a variety of Davenport businesses including Brach's Candy Company, Good Samaritan Nursing Home, and Bishop's Cafeteria.  In 1992 the Aguileras adopted a daughter, Kayla, and one year later Maria Aguilera retired from paid employment although she continued to work as a volunteer in the local schools for several years.

The Maria Mercedes "Mercy" Aguilera papers date from 1950 to 2013 and measure 2.5 linear inches. They include cards and correspondence, newspaper clippings that pertain to the Mexican American community in the Quad Cities, a newsletter published by the Mexican American Organization of the Quad Cities, a program of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) 45th annual[i][b] Fiesta[/b][/i] in Davenport, and a Cook's Point reunion ribbon from the 2002 reunion. The photographs include the obituary of Joseph Mendez Garcia, and color snapshots of Maria Aguilera and family. The photograph album contains black and white and color photographs of Maria Aguilera and her family. Many of the photographs are identified.
Mujeres Latinas Oral History Project (IWA): Maria Mercedes Aguilera oral history interviews, 2005 & 2006; Dolores Garcia oral history interviews, 2005 & 2006 (Dolores Garcia is Maria Aguilera's sister).

Ver esta pagina en español.
This collection guide was translated by students in "Translation Workshop: English to Spanish," Department of Spanish and Portuguese (Fall semester 2013).

Browse by Series:
Series 1: Personal