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Vargas, Henry (1929-2021)



  • Existence: 1929 - 2021


Henry Vargas was born in Cook's Point, Davenport, Iowa, in 1929, to Mexican parents. His childhood was marked by tragedy-- one brother was fatally struck by a bus while sledding and, on New Year's Eve 1941, his father was killed by a drunk driver in a hit and run accident. Following the death of his father and the enlistment of his older brothers in the U.S. Army, Vargas dropped out of school in order to help support his family. He worked at the Rock Island Arsenal, the Milwaukee Railroad, and Oscar Mayer before securing employment at the John Deere Plow Works in Moline, Illinois, where he would work for forty years.

In 1959, Henry Vargas and other local Mexican Americans, on the advice of Jesse Mosquada, decided to form a local chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens to combat the ongoing discrimination faced by Mexican Americans in the Quad Cities. LULAC Council 10 received its charter on February 16, 1959, and elected Henry Vargas its first president. In 1962, Vargas represented the council on Davenport's first Human Relations Commission in 1962 and served on the Executive Committee of the Davenport Catholic Interracial Council, working to secure fair housing legislation in Iowa at the state and local level and advocating for the employment rights of Latina women.

A staunch supporter of the national boycott of California table grapes, Vargas regularly picketed outside local supermarkets with his nine-year-old daughter Rita Vargas. In 1967, he supported the passage of Iowa's first migrant child labor law and called for a boycott of Heinz Company products in Iowa, known locally as the "tomato boycott," to support the rights of migrant workers employed seasonally on Iowa farms. Henry Vargas passed away in 2021.

Found in 2 Collections and/or Records:

League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Council 10 (Davenport, Iowa) records

Identifier: IWA0733

The members of Davenport LULAC Council 10 engaged in a wide range of social and political activities including annual fiestas, civil rights and fair housing.

Dates: 1932-2019

Lucy and Henry Vargas papers

Identifier: IWA0886

Mexican American activists from Davenport, Iowa.

Dates: 1930-2013

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