Latino Civil Rights Figures: Luisa Moreno

By Victoria Cepeda

Latina civil rights activist, Luisa Moreno, is better known for having found El Congreso del Pueblo de Habla Española or the The Spanish-Speaking Peoples Congress back in December 1938.  This congress was the first of its kind with the objective to bring together all Spanish speaking people residing in the U.S. The first meeting was held in Los Angeles with large representation by Cubans and Spaniards from Florida, Puerto Ricans from New York, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans from the Southwest.

Ms. Moreno was born in Guatemala City on August 30, 1907 to an upper class family. Her birth name was Blanca Rosa Lopez Rodriguez which she later changed to Luisa Moreno in order not to shame her family due to her political activism. Prior to moving to the U.S., one of her most significant achievements, in her native country, was that she fought and won the right for Guatemalan women to attend the university.

Luisa Moreno’s exposure to different minorities and Latinos took place in New York City where she lived and worked temporarily to sustain herself, her husband and a young daughter. It was through her own experience working in a factory in Spanish Harlem and later at a local cafeteria that she began to “mobilize” demanding equal rights and fair labor laws.

Some of her biggest accomplishments were:

  • In 1930, she unionized Blacks and Latina cigar rollers and other tobacco workers in Florida. She also helped unionize sugar cane workers in Louisiana, Tuna canneries in California and beets
  • Was the first woman, and Latina, to be elected member to the California Congress of Industrial Organizations, CIO.
  • She was an international representative of UCAPAWA [United Cannery Agricultural Packing, and Allied Workers of America.

Due to her organized labor activities and former membership of the U.S. Communist Party, her prominence was overshadowed and the US government declared Luisa Moreno a threat. She was eventually tried and underwent various immigration battles.  She left the U.S for for Mexico, then went on to Cuba and then back to the U.S.  Through her activism she brought awareness and social justice to many Latinos in an era where it was unimaginable to conceive the concept of labor law equality.

Luisa Moreno, A Hispanic Civil Rights Leader in San Diego, CA.

References:

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