The Case of Luisa Moreno

Luisa Moreno, 1927

Luisa Moreno, 1927

Gift of Vicki L. Ruiz  

The FBI harassed her. The U.S. government deemed her an un-American communist. The Immigration and Naturalization Service nearly deported her. But Luisa Moreno dedicated herself to civil rights and to improving working conditions for laborers, especially Latinas.

 

Luisa Moreno was born in Guatemala in 1907, and in her youth advocated for women’s rights. She spent time in Mexico before she migrated to New York in 1929 and became a labor organizer.

From Latin America to the United States

As a young woman Luisa Moreno was an avid writer. She worked for a brief period as a journalist and enjoyed writing poetry. At the age of 20 years old, she published El Vendedor de Cocuyos (The Seller of Fireflies).

While in Mexico, Luisa Moreno published this poetry book, in 1927.

While in Mexico, Luisa Moreno published this poetry book, in 1927.

Gift of Vicki L. Ruiz  

Draft of poem written by Luisa Moreno.

Draft of poem written by Luisa Moreno.

Gift of Vicki L. Ruiz  

Draft of poem written by Luisa Moreno.

Draft of poem written by Luisa Moreno.

Gift of Vicki L. Ruiz

Organizing for Change

Luisa Moreno worked with several unions throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Her bilingual outreach sought to improve working conditions in fields and canneries in the Southwest. She wrote pamphlets, organized strikes, and encouraged participation in unions.

Affiliated Congress of Industrial Organizations, around late 1930s

Affiliated Congress of Industrial Organizations, around late 1930s

International Ladies Garment Worker Union Convention Badge, 1937

International Ladies Garment Worker Union Convention Badge, 1937

Cannery Workers, American Federation of Labor, 1939  

Cannery Workers, American Federation of Labor, 1939  

Gift of W. E. Martin

Cannery Workers and Farm Laborers Union, 1937 

Cannery Workers and Farm Laborers Union, 1937 

Gift in memory of Gordon Montgomery Connelly

United Labor May Day 50th Anniversary 1936 

United Labor May Day 50th Anniversary 1936 

Gift of Sam Steinhart

American Federation of Labor, around 1930s

American Federation of Labor, around 1930s

Moreno worked with groups, such as the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing, and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA), that largely represented Latina laborers. These women in particular were paid low wages for long hours of manual labor and faced workplace abuse.

Moreno brought together more than 100 groups in 1938 for El Congreso de Pueblos de Habla Española, the Spanish-Speaking People's Congress. The organization advocated for fair treatment of Latino/a laborers in the United States, both immigrants and citizens, and was one of the first U.S. assemblies focused on Latino/a civil rights.

Luisa Moreno's shawl

Luisa Moreno's shawl

Gift of Vicki L. Ruiz

Facing Backlash

“They can talk about deporting me . . . but they can never deport the people that I’ve worked with and with whom things were accomplished for the benefit of hundreds of thousands of workers . . .” – Luisa Moreno

Pamphlet to rally national attention and halt Luisa Moreno’s deportation, around 1949

Pamphlet to rally national attention and halt Luisa Moreno’s deportation, around 1949

Gift of Vicki L. Ruiz.

Pamphlet to rally national attention and halt Luisa Moreno’s deportation, around 1949

Pamphlet to rally national attention and halt Luisa Moreno’s deportation, around 1949

Gift of Vicki L. Ruiz

Luisa Moreno’s labor organizing and civil rights activism drew the ire of the U.S. government during a time when anti-Latino and anti-Communist sentiments were high. Facing imminent deportation, Moreno left the United States in 1950.