National Museum of American History Looks at Latino Labor Rights
A new display, “The Case of Luisa Moreno,” in the American Enterprise exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, opens July 19 to examine the lasting legacy of Moreno, the Guatemala-born labor organizer who brought together more than 100 groups in 1938 for El Congreso de Pueblos de Habla Española, the Spanish-Speaking People’s Congress. It is considered the first national Hispanic civil rights assembly. The organization advocated for fair treatment of Latino laborers in the United States for both new immigrants and U.S. citizens.
Born Blanca Rosa López Rodriguez in Guatemala City, Guatemala, Moreno changed her name as a rejection of her wealth and status in Latin America. Instead, she dedicated herself to civil rights and to improving working conditions for Latino laborers. She used her bilingual skills to better the conditions in the fields and canneries in the Southwest. Writing pamphlets, organizing strikes and encouraging union participation, Moreno’s labor organizing and civil rights activism evoked outrage from the U.S. government during a time when anti-Hispanic and anti-Communist sentiments were high. Facing imminent deportation, Moreno left the United States in 1950.
The display will feature objects representing Moreno’s work as a civil rights activist and labor organizer with union pins from groups that she worked with around the 1930s, including the Affiliated Congress of Industrial Organizations, the International Ladies Garment Worker Union Convention Badge, the Cannery Workers, American Federation of Labor, the Cannery Workers and Farm Laborers Union, the United Labor May Day 50th Anniversary and the American Federation of Labor. Also on view will be her shawl and a pamphlet to rally national attention and halt Moreno’s deportation.
“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—things that can never be destroyed,” Moreno said in an interview with “Our Times” in 1949.
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