The Case of Luisa Moreno
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).
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.
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.
“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
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.