Luisa Moreno, born Blanca Rosa López Rodríguez in Guatemala City in 1907, moved to the US in 1928. A journalist and poet, she became a leader and organizer for immigrants, laborers, work place reform, and women’s rights. She laid the groundwork for César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, and the United Farm Workers union. The US deported her amid anti-immigrant and anti-red hysteria in 1950, and she returned to Guatemala. In 1954, the US overthrew the democratically elected government of Guatemala. The US supported terrorist military dictatorships that were overwhelmingly responsible for killing or disappearing 200,000 Guatemalan people, and kidnapping and torturing countless more, in the decades to come.
My grandfather Julio was a labor organizer and union leader in Guatemala who immigrated to the US in blowback to the 1954 coup. The rest of our family followed when I was four. My father was deported from the US twice before that.
Moreno became both the first woman and first person of Latin descent appointed to the CIO council, and in the early 1940s journeyed westward to help Californian food processing employees coalesce into unions. . . . Moreno’s commitment to immigrant laborers endured across World War II. But in the postbellum “red scare” that marked the onset of [the US] Cold War with the Soviet Union, Moreno’s workers’ rights campaign was tragically truncated. Increasingly unsympathetic toward activist immigrants, the federal government in 1950 concocted a warrant for Moreno’s immediate deportation, citing her association with the Communist Party as a threat to national security.
Rather than subject herself to the humiliation of forced removal, Moreno left the US that November, returning to Mexico with her daughter Mytyl and her second husband, Nebraskan Navy man Gary Bemis. In time, the family made their way back to . . . Guatemala. When her spouse died in 1960, Moreno relocated temporarily to Castro’s Cuba. But it was Guatemala where the fiery labor leader passed away in November of 1994, the distancia between her and her birthplace finally erased.
“Often, when I think about her departure,” Loza says of Moreno’s expulsion from the U.S., “I think about all the talent and expertise, and all of that dynamic vision, that left with her.” . . . “Oftentimes, we attribute Dolores Huerta and César Chávez as the beginning of labor activism and civil rights work,” Loza says, “but in fact, there are a lot of folks like Luisa Moreno” who made their successes possible. Moreno is an especially powerful example, Loza adds, in that she, unlike Huerta and Chávez, was not a U.S. citizen. . . .
“Moreno’s story shows us that the Latino civil rights story is not only a Mexican story, but that Central Americans also played a role,” Loza says. “And the aspect that she’s a woman, a woman from a different country, really makes me hope that the Central American community can see how they contributed to Latino civil rights.”
Moreno is the focus of an installation at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, curated by Mireya Loza.
Posted from the Inaugural Stanford Latino Alumni Summit