It was a moment that will remain frozen in time. A young Hispanic woman comes in from picking cotton in fields outside Nixon to get her bag weighed.
Eusebio Cortez’ camera captured the image of 17-year-old Augustina Garza in 1948 without her knowing it. Neither of them could fathom that years later, her likeness would be engraved on a plaque at Nixon’s Gladyne Finch Pocket Park in celebration of the town’s diversity of culture.
On Tuesday, May 3, Augustina Garza Juarez, now 90, got to see that plaque for the first time as she is in town with her daughter to celebrate the Nixon Latin American Cemetery Association’s FUNDraiser on Saturday, May 7, at the Nixon-Smiley Livestock Showbarn.
She was met at the park by Nixon Mayor Dorothy Riojas, Cemetery Association member Ramon Benavides and Rancho/Nixon Historic Association members Donald Hoffman and Pablo Aguirre.
“I love it,” Garza Juarez said. “I was very surprised when (Benavides) called me. I wanted to cry. I think it is something beautiful all these people put together for me.”
Garza Juarez’s family were migrant workers who lived part-time in Nixon in the 1940s and 1950s and part-time in Arizona. They would come to Nixon in March to work in the cotton fields or at the chicken packing plants and leave for Arizona in September.
“At age 13, I started working at Chessher’s Packing House,” she said. “They were very good employers. They took a picture of me there, too. We were working on the line and one of the foremen wanted us to look like we were working.”
Hoffman said years ago, there were two packing houses in Nixon. One, which still exists to this day, was Holmes Foods, which started in 1925 as an ice plant that began packing whole fryers and expanded to its present business.
The other, Chessher’s, was located behind the Nixon fire station house off Third Street, not far from what is now the Gladyne Finch Pocket Park. At Chessher’s, the workers would cut up chicken into pieces and pack them on the line.
Because her father got sick when she was very young, Garza Juarez had to stop attending school.
“I only went to the first grade because my dad was sick and me and my oldest brother had to quit school to go to work,” she said. Her family moved away from Nixon for good in 1951 as she grew to adulthood.
Garza Juarez first learned of the existence of the photo Cortez took of her in 2001, when a relative brought a copy of it to her 50th anniversary party.
“She said, ‘I didn’t bring you anything. I just brought your picture,’” Garza Juarez said. “That was the first time I had ever seen the photo.”
The last time she had come to Nixon had been almost 16 years ago for Nixon’s centennial celebration of the city’s incorporation.
“My sister from Ohio and I came here and spent a week and then I went back to Eloy, Arizona, where I live,” Garza Juarez said.
But neither the pocket park nor the plaque existed at that time.
In 2014, Finch presented the idea of a small park being built at the corner of Third and Nixon Avenue, across from the former Nixon City Hall. In 2016, the park was built, complete with a gazebo, trees, shrubs, planters, a fountain, and park benches.
When it came time to document the history of the town, a plaque was created to honor how Nixon is, as Hoffman says, “a town of many cultures” with European settlers who were English, German, French, Czech and Polish; the descendants of former African slaves; and Hispanic migrant workers who helped build the railroads and clear the pastures for planting cotton and who later worked in those fields and at the chicken slaughterhouses that grew up in Nixon.
“There was a collaboration and we were looking for pictures and I had that picture,” Benavides said. “I told Paul, I’m going to send you various pictures and you choose from them. I don’t know who picked it, I think it was Paul, but (the photo of Garza) was one of the ones picked.”