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Martínez, María Cano, 1925-1983



  • Existence: 1925 - 1983


Spanish language interpreter and Chicano/Latino advocate María Guadalupe Cano Martínez, the second of eleven children, was born in 1925 at the Hacienda de Botija in Guanajuato, Mexico, to Magdaleno and María Rodriguez Cano. María Guadalupe and her older sister, Elena, migrated with their parents to the United States in 1926; infant twin brothers Jesús and Juan had died earlier. In 1928, the Cano family, with a new sister, Josephine, settled permanently in Iowa City, Iowa, where six more children were born: Dolores, Molly, Rosemary, Arthur, Robert, and Vincent. Magdaleno Cano secured work as a section laborer with the Rock Island Railroad, a job he held until his retirement. His wife, María Rodriguez Cano, remained at home until the early 1950s when she was employed at Mercy Hospital first as a housekeeper and later as a seamstress, a position she held until her retirement. Magdaleno and María Cano and their two oldest daughters, María Guadalupe and Elena, became U. S. citizens during the 1940s.

In 1945, María Guadalupe Cano graduated from St. Patrick's High School in Iowa City. In 1946 she earned certificates from Brown's Commercial College and went to work as an assistant medical librarian at Mercy Hospital. On September 12, 1953, María Guadalupe Cano married Joe Martínez. The couple had three children: Joseph, Mark, and Robert. In 1958 María Cano Martínez transferred to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics where she worked in the medical records department. While an employee at the hospital she attended the University of Iowa and volunteered as an interpreter for Spanish speaking patients and their families. In 1975, when the hospital's department of social services formally organized, María Cano Martínez was appointed to head the department; she was the only interpreter at that time.

When María Cano Martínez was ten years old, she witnessed the difficulties experienced by her Spanish speaking father as a patient at Mercy Hospital. She recognized that the problems he faced were a result of his limited knowledge of English, later noting: "I vowed that if Dad made it, I'd do something to help others in similar situations." This promise motivated her throughout her life. As head of the interpreter program, she worked to improve her knowledge of medical terminology and procedures in order to develop documentation for the program. Her work resulted in the program's expansion to include multiple languages. The University of Iowa's interpreter program ultimately become a national model for other hospitals.

María Cano Martínez was a social worker, friend, and confidant who actively encouraged the Spanish speaking community to pursue higher education. She was a member of the Pan American Club, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Image (a national organization concerned with the employment of Hispanics), the Cuban Refugee Committee, and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) of Johnson County, which she served as president. In 1982, María Cano Martínez was honored by the University of Iowa Chicano/Latino alumni and students who established a scholarship in her name. Before her death on August 29, 1983, she was honored by an award from the Iowa Human Rights Organization. In May 1993, the University of Iowa established the María Cano Martinez Service Award, to be given annually to an individual who has made extraordinary contributions to the Chicano/Latino community.

Found in 2 Collections and/or Records:

Maria Cano Martinez papers

Identifier: IWA0537

Maria Cano came to Iowa from Guanajuato, Mexico, with her parents in 1928. She established a Spanish language interpreter program at the University of Iowa Hospitals in 1975.

Dates: 1975-2017

West Liberty Latino History collection

Identifier: IWA1173

History of Latinx people in Iowa from 1938-2011.

Dates: 1938-2010

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1971-1980 1
1981-1990 1
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