The displays at Davenport's Putnam Museum's "Mi Casa Nueva: QC Mexican Heritage" exhibit outlines chapter after chapter of Mexican heritage in the Quad-Cities. |
For Moline native Maria Mier Llaca, the history lives in familiar faces, places and events. A history with chapters still being written and many stories still to be told.
"I don't think God is quite finished with me yet," the 74-year old says. "I still have some more things to do here."
She recently was honored by the League of Latin American Citizens or LULAC as the Woman of the Year, 2011 for her humanitarian work in Postville, Iowa, and for her help in Mexican Heritage Exhibit at the Putnam.
"I had been hearing some things I didn't like from Postville and I decided to do a little detective work and check it out for myself," she says. "I called the diocese and the church and both said the people there didn't need help. That's when I and one of my best friends, Irene Garcia Mawson, packed her van with clothing and food things for children and went up their and it was like a ghost town."
In 2008, federal authorities arrested, tried and deported more than 300 men working at a meat-packing plant in Postville. The raid left behind women and children stranded without papers to find work or resources to get out of the town.
"When we got there, you could see the women walking with their heads down, with their shoulders slumped," she says. "With their husbands deported and no jobs, there was nothing for these ladies. They couldn't qualify for unemployment, anything they were getting from welfare was going to rent, what was going on was something unheard of in the U.S.
"I went to the police department and the chief admitted there were people in dire need," she says. "When we went to the food pantry we saw women with two or three children leaving with one bag of groceries, while other people were leaving with two or three bags of groceries."
Mrs. Mier Llaca and her friends solicited LULAC members and were able to gather $3,000 and seven vehicles full of food and clothes to donate to the women of Postville. Making a second trip with Eva Savala, the ladies were able to help 45 families and 101 children. Mrs. Mier Llaca will be returning to Postville in December to help the remaining five families who are still in need. Many of the women who were stranded were able to get work permits.
"We also found one youngster had serious health problem and LULAC took the lead and got him the surgery he needed," she says. "We had some money left over and bought athletic shoes for all the kids over the summer."
Mrs. Mier Llaca was called upon to help with the creation of the museum exhibit when the Putnam contacted LULAC for help. Mrs. Mier Llaca was born in East Moline and moved to Moline in about the first grade. Her father, Porfirio Mier, was born in Durango, Mexico, but came to the area and fell in love.
"My father was traveling to buy a new Ford in Michigan when the Consul of Mexico in Chicago told him he should stop and listen to a fantastic group of Mexicans who were musicians and who played the best Mariachi music outside of Mexico," she says. "My mother, Maria Angelina Ramirez, sang for that band, and that's how they met."
Her father worked for John Deere, and tutored her in Spanish, including how to read and write the language, and read her stories of Mexico's history at night. He also organized Mexicans to vote in local elections, although Mrs. Mier Llaca, a Republican, jokingly says it was for the wrong party.
Putnam President/CEO Kim Findlay had the idea for an exhibit highlighting Mexican immigrants to the area about four years ago. Mrs. Mier Llaca went to people within the community to explain the importance of sharing their pictures and items in the display.
"It was difficult for some of the people to depart with their personal belongings," she says. "We had to explain to them how the museum does things and we had a lot of wonderful things come together."
In November, the Putnam was presented with a plaque of Mexico's Coat of Arms in honor of the exhibit on behalf of Chicago's Consul General of Mexico, Eduardo Arnal. Mrs. Mier Llaca was given a smaller plaque for her efforts as well.
"I think my father was ahead of his time," Mrs. Mier Llaca says. "He always wanted me, to remember to have pride in both my cultures, Mexican and American. No, I think God still has a plan for me here. I still have some more assignments to finish."