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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Luisa Moreno

b. 1907, Guatemala City; d. 1992, probably Guatemala City

Luisa Moreno was a labor organizer and civil rights activist in the United States for two decades. Born Blanca Rosa López Rodríguez to a prominent Guatemalan family, she changed her name to spare them embarrassment. She worked as a reporter for a time in Guatemala City before moving to New York in 1928, where she received a crash course in U.S. labor politics when she was beaten by police during a strike action. She joined the Communist Party in 1930 and the militant Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1934. Traveling through Florida, Louisiana, and California, she became a brilliant and disciplined labor organizer, focusing attention on the deplorable conditions in sweatshops, canneries, and agricultural fields, and, more particularly, on the abuse of Mexican American and Latina workers. Based in California, she launched the Congreso de Pueblos que Hablan Español (National Congress of Spanish-Speaking Peoples) in 1938. The Congreso brought her to the attention of the House Un-American Activities Committee; from that time forward, she was under constant surveillance by local and federal officials. She hit the road again, organizing beet workers in Colorado and pecan shellers in Texas for the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing, and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA). In 1940, she persuaded the majority of California cannery workers—75 percent women—to join that union. During World War II, escalating violence against Mexicans in Los Angeles, perpetrated by police and U.S. sailors on leave, prompted Moreno to co-found the Citizens Committee for Defense of Mexican American Youth. Meanwhile, her activities continued to aggravate authorities. Subjected to increased FBI harassment, she was offered a deal of citizenship in exchange for testimony against colleagues. She refused but, in the hysterical anticommunist climate of the McCarthy period, in which everyone was guilty by association, labor leaders began to distance themselves from her. In 1950, on the verge of being deported, she left the U.S. for Mexico City. Moreno’s commitment to left activism never wavered. She continued to organize workers in Mexico, Cuba, and Guatemala.