UNA MUJER SIN FRONTERAS Author(s): V. RUIZ Source: Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 73, No. 1 (February 2004), pp.

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Una Mujer sin Fronteras: Luisa Moreno and Latina Labor Activism
The author is a member of the department of history at the University of California, Irvine. This was her presidential address at the annual meeting of the Pacific Coast Branch, AHA, in Honolulu, in August 2003. Making strategic choices regarding her class and ethnic identification for the cause of social justice, Luisa Moreno was the most visible Latina labor and civil rights activist in the United States during the Great Depression and World War II. Vicepresident of the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing, and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA-CIO), this charismatic Guatemalan immigrant organized farm and cannery workers across the Southwest, achieving particular success among Mexican and Russian Jewish women in southern California plants. In 1939 she was also the driving force behind El Congreso de Pueblos de Hablan Española (the Congress of Spanish-speaking Peoples), the first national Latino civil rights assembly. A feminist and leftist, she faced government harassment and red-baiting in the late 1940s, especially for her past Communist Party membership.

“One person can’t do anything; it’s only with others that things are accomplished.” Luisa Moreno

The years of the Great Depression and World War II stand as the golden era of the American labor movement, with the auto workers staging a dramatic sit-in at Flint, Michigan, John L. Lewis setting up a national confederation of factory workers into the powerful Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), and the charismatic A. Philip Randolph organizing African American railroad porters. Luisa Moreno ranks among these icons of labor history, yet her story remains virtually unknown outside of Latino Studies.
I would like to thank Lynn Bolles, Susan Ferber, Catherine Clinton, and especially Valerie Matsumoto and Nancy Hewitt for their incisive suggestions and insights. I also thank Albert Camarillo for introducing me to Luisa Moreno in 1978, and I look forward to our joint venture in crafting a full-fledged biography on her.
Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 73, No. 1, pages 1–20. ISSN 0030-8684 ©2004 by the Pacific Coast Branch, American Historical Association. All rights reserved. Send requests for permission to reprint to: Rights and Permissions, University of California Press, 2000 Center St., Ste. 303, Berkeley, CA 94704-1223.


receiving an education appropriate for her station and gender.” file 53. Agricultural. all interviews will be cited by the name of the interviewee and the date. originally from Colombia. Alicia López Sarana. Packing. July 27. Luisa Moreno remains the only transcontinental Latina union organizer. Luisa was stricken with a high fever. Her mother. spoke Spanish and French and showed an early aptitude for poetry. a powerful coffee grower. promising that he would consecrate her to God by sending her to a convent in preparation for religious life. and the local doctor offered little hope for her recovery. She grew up surrounded by wealth and privilege in her native Guatemala. carried her across the country. Aug. from the garment shops of New York City to cigar plants in Tampa to canneries in Los Angeles. Kenny Collection. conducted by the author. where Luisa would attend the Convent of the Holy Names in Oakland. Robert W. the United Cannery. 1907. one son and three daughters. Kenny Collection. With the help of a coterie of servants and tutors. . indeed her passion. There she experienced her first bout with 1.” who never emerged from her boudoir until eleven o’clock in the morning.01-C2944 1/23/04 6:39 AM Page 2 2 Pacific Historical Review Organizing briefly with Lewis in Pennsylvania and a contemporary of Randolph. Los Angeles (hereafter referred to as the Kenny Collection). 4.” but her mother as “a peacock. Her father prayed for her life. with many stops in between. Born Blanca Rosa Rodríguez López on August 30. as her work. Moreno had a most unlikely childhood for a future trade union leader. Southern California Library for Social Studies Research. Luisa recovered.” file 53. she was the first Latina vice-president of a major union. After the first references (which include the interviewer’s name). “Handwritten Notes by Robert Kenny. and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA). Luisa. At the age of eight. true to his word. An immigrant from Guatemala. was a prominent socialite married to Ernesto Rodríguez Robles. which in its heyday was the seventh-largest CIO affiliate. interviews with Luisa Moreno. Alicia and Ernesto reared four children. the first national Latino civil rights assembly. and. 1978. She remembered her father as a “real person. “Data on Luisa Moreno Bemis. in 1916 Ernesto and his nine-yearold daughter boarded a steamship bound for California.1 Moreno had less than fond memories of the four and a half years at the convent. But her most notable “first” was as the driving force behind El Congreso de Pueblos de Hablan Española (the Congress of Spanish-speaking Peoples). 1984. on their sprawling estate.

A classmate made a remark about “Spanish pigs so I belted her. Before entering the halls of academe. as she consorted with the likes of Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. when she and the other girls subsisted on bread and water while the nuns dined on sumptuous food. By the age of nineteen. she had ensconced herself in the world of the bohemian cultural elite. paid them tribute as “una generación que hizo historia” (a generation that made history). She begged to return home. she was fully aware of her family’s place in Guatemalan society. her father had the fountain on the family compound filled with expensive Veuve Cliquot champagne. a teenage Moreno mobilized a cadre of well-heeled young women to claim the right to higher education. They relied on petition drives and informal lobbying. Well-known for her beauty and poetry. turned her away from Catholicism in particular and organized religion in general. Perhaps filled with a sense of adventure and certainly with a streak of rebelliousness. El Vendedor de Cocuyos (Seller of Fireflies [1927]) and newspaper reviews of her work. especially the hypocrisy she witnessed during Lent. she experienced a change of heart.01-C2944 1/23/04 6:39 AM Page 3 Luisa Moreno 3 discrimination. Luisa chafed at the constraints on her spirit and creativity that her family’s most privileged world would entail. With success in sight.S. suffragists had secured passage of the Nineteenth Amendment granting women the right to vote in 1920. One Guatemalan history book. Moreno prepared to take her place among the inaugural class of university women. Despite her youthful activism. the traditional political tools for elite women. as . the young Latina flapper supported herself as a journalist covering society stories and writing a children’s column. Luisa at the age of fifteen desired a university education but soon discovered that women were barred from such lofty pursuits. The few possessions she clung to throughout her many travels included her own slim volume of verse.” Her convent experiences. So she began to organize her elite peers into the Sociedad Gabriela Mistral to push for greater educational opportunities for women. Back in Guatemala. she ran away to Mexico City. La Patria del Criollo. and finally her parents relented. and the cultural and class expectations weighed heavily on her own future. however. Rejecting her family wealth and status. At approximately the same moment that U. When one of her siblings married.

bohemian community to seek their fortune in New York City. avant-garde atmosphere. The couple then made a decision that would change their lives. They wed on November 27. French. and English. for within months of their wedding. interview with Luisa Moreno. El Vendedor de Cocuyos reveals a youthful poet with a deep appreciation of the natural world and the human condition. French Foreign Legion Handbook of Miguel Angel de León (in author’s possession). 23. 1976. In 1914. he pursued the young poet. Although the courtship had been filled with romance and passion. 28. “Data on Luisa Moreno Bemis.” Amends must have been made. 1996. Mytyl Lorraine. Lusia was barely twenty. my husband said he had business.” On August 28. “He took me to a horrible hotel . Luisa remarked that she wanted her child to be “a Latin from Manhattan. Miguel had grown up in an elite family in Guatemala. usually written on scraps of paper. Moreno interview. Jacksonville Journal. and he. In this heady.2 With the Great Depression around the corner. they arrived in New York harbor on the SS Monterey. August 5. he had enlisted in the French Foreign Legion and fought in World War I. 1928. she related. a man sixteen years her senior. . 1984. 1927. I cried myself to sleep. One treasured clipping referred to her as both a gentle compatriot and vanguard feminist. conducted by the author. her feminism was situated in self-expression and creativity rather than political action. Interview with Berthe Small. In a 1984 interview. They would leave their exciting. In Mexico. they lived in a crowded tenement in Spanish Harlem. she married caricature artist Miguel Angel de León. Spanish Harlem would provide the seedbed for her political 2.” . Sept.01-C2944 1/23/04 6:39 AM Page 4 4 Pacific Historical Review well as drafts of unpublished poems. at the age of twenty-three. A dashing figure with a mysterious past. too. a woman unafraid of expressing desire openly and honestly. 1928 was not a propitious time for the arrival of a Guatemalan artist and poet. though sheltered. womanizing . had yearned for adventure. . Within months of her daughter’s birth. Sept. they had difficulty securing employment. 1943. By the time their daughter. Ten years later he resided in Mexico City. Luisa remembered her dreams were dashed on their wedding night. was born in November. Like Luisa. a fixture within the Rivera-Kahlo social scene. Luisa was pregnant. . Moreno found herself laboring over a sewing machine and steam press as she struggled to support her infant and unemployed husband. and Asa Zatz. Although Miguel and Luisa were fluent in Spanish. . Alba Zatz. conducted by Albert Camarillo.

Luisa Moreno (1907–1992). Ruiz. Courtesy Dr.01-C2944 1/23/04 6:39 AM Page 5 Luisa Moreno 5 Figure 1. Vicki L. .

it encapsulates the hard choices she and other sweatshop workers had to make in a world with few options. As the light struck the infant’s face. Note: She related two separate instances of rats attacking Latino babies. both women stared in horror. As they ascended the stairs. conducted by Albert Camarillo. one involving the child of a work friend and the other the infant of an unemployed Mexican couple. La Liga became a family affair. the local remained very small with little organizing clout. 12 –13. a small-scale garment workers’ union. The child died a short time later. Luisa Moreno called this incident the defining moment of her life. they heard a baby cry. she carried the infant to the window.3 In 1930 Moreno joined the Communist Party (CP). and his bottles. fathers.” or male auxiliary. charged with the task of fundraising. A cavalier care3. As a result. and brothers of Liga members organized weekly dances to raise funds for the fledgling local. Interview with Luisa Moreno. Miguel de León had as his constant companions his baby. with no babysitter in sight. was nowhere in sight. The apartment was unlocked. Moreno pointed to the event that radicalized her in Spanish Harlem. Taking on the traditional women’s work of ticket sales. However. Trade union and political activism became her life course. She did not know quite what to do. During her days as a “junior organizer. Her friend started to panic as she recognized her child’s voice.” Moreno would hone her skills at building a grass-roots local. . One day while walking home from work with a friend. a leftist community coalition. Moreno was pretty much on her own. Moreno began to mobilize her peers on the shop floor into La Liga de Costureras. but she knew she had to do something to change the material conditions of her fellow workers. husbands. publicity. Moreno endeavored to build a supportive community among the workers. Moreno interview. Moreno’s own husband. and refreshments. 1977.” Moreno organized a “fraternal group. his brushes. 1984. receiving little financial help and no staff support. however. Aug. At a time when only a few male unions had “ladies auxiliaries. In the fading sunlight. A rat had eaten off half the baby’s face. Already active in Spanish Harlem’s Centro Obrero de Habla Española. At this point in his life. Although her story could be construed as an apocryphal tale. Although La Liga was initially affiliated with the Needle Worker Trades Industrial Union (closely connected to the CP) and later the more mainstream International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). her Latina companion invited her to her apartment to see her baby.01-C2944 1/23/04 6:39 AM Page 6 6 Pacific Historical Review awakening.

but he was married and I was married. Although I was in a miserable marriage. Despite being deeply attracted to him. (I always wonder what was said between them as she boarded the bus. . Moreno had reached a crossroads by 1935. and Italian cigar rollers. they also considered her young. and he would often give her rides home. Rarely home. If he happened to slip away while she napped and she woke up. and expendable. green. a Nebraska farm boy turned New York cabbie. she chose 4. Gray was the one who drove her and Mytyl to the bus station. Moreno possessed a delicate beauty. According to Moreno. Moreno interview. Her organizing days in Florida signaled the birth of “Luisa Moreno. “I liked him. 1984. African American. afforded her added protection.” Deliberately distancing herself from her past.01-C2944 1/23/04 6:39 AM Page 7 Luisa Moreno 7 giver. The Ku Klux Klan had a reputation for terrorizing labor activists and other progressives. an activist with the International Workers Order (IWO). A newly politicized Marxist and tireless organizer. I would further note that her fair complexion. Slender and under five feet tall. While her bosses no doubt recognized her talent. I had to be careful not to get hit by the street car. she quickly learned what to do. Moreno and Bemis. Aug.) Leaving an abusive husband and striking out on her own. 27.” When Luisa decided to leave New York and accepted a job as an American Federation of Labor (AFL) organizer in Florida. Moreno had immersed herself in a gamut of leftist politics and in the process struck up a friendship with Gray Bemis. I did not fool around with married men. 2001. Luisa Moreno faced a formidable challenge—to organize Latino. he took Mytyl to his favorite neighborhood bar. interview with Mytyl Glomboske. attended many of the same political meetings. which was one reason why the AFL was afraid of Florida. she hesitated. she felt frustrated that union leaders evinced little interest in Latina workers. they believed that the Klan would think twice before harming a woman organizer. her whirlwind of activism provided physical and psychological distance from a deteriorating marriage. but her physical appearance belied her brilliance and steely determination. “I remember walking across this huge street and these huge street cars and having to cross by myself. conducted by the author.” 4 Moreno’s radicalism was rooted in both conviction and refuge. as well as her gender. Although an organizer full-time with the ILGWU.

language. and gender.5 Rather than emphasizing the primacy of the individual. Moreno interviews. who had preceded her in Florida twenty years earlier and whose legacy Moreno undoubtedly knew and built upon in organizing cigar workers.” “Ask the workers. Lester. Moreno made strategic choices regarding her class and ethnic identification in order to facilitate her life’s work as a labor and civil rights advocate. and unaccented English. what are your problems?” She continued. It represents a self-reflexive. a name diametrically opposite her given name “Blanca Rosa” [White Rose]. Stuart Hall. and 1984.01-C2944 1/23/04 6:39 AM Page 8 8 Pacific Historical Review the alias “Moreno” [dark]. taking into account such constructions as race. “Work on these minor grievances and address them and go on to more major ones. With her light skin. This concept of conjugating identities derives from interviews with Luisa Moreno and her daughter Mytyl Glomboske. The first name “Luisa” could also be seen as a political statement. it’s only with others that things are accomplished. I also owe an enormous intellectual debt to all of my compañeros in the University of California Humanities Research Institute “Reshaping the Americas” Residency Group (Spring 2002). purposeful fluidity of individual subjectivities for political action. Jesús in our Wombs: Embodying Modernity in a Mexican Convent (Berkeley. hold much promise in bridging or blending ideations of self.” Bread-and-butter issues would always take prece5. Michael Kearney. Chela Sandoval. 1976. her motivations may be teased out with a touch of theoretical speculation. derived from psychoanalytic theories and postmodern imaginaries. class. Furthermore. Paula Moya. for example. or color. Moreover. class. Concepts of embodiment. The quotation is taken from Rebecca J. .” I contend that Luisa Moreno conjugated her identity. locates the body “as both a locus of experience and an object of analysis. culture. she could have “passed”. “Conjugating identities” refers to an invention or inflection of one’s sense of self. In the absence of direct testimony. forthcoming). Anthropologist Rebecca Lester. and Ramón Gutiérrez. Moreno focused on the individual in relation to her or his community: “One person can’t do anything. Simply put. perhaps a homage to Puerto Rican labor organizer and feminist Luisa Capetillo. instead she chose to forego any potential privileges predicated on race. 1977. I thank Nancy Hewitt for bringing to my attention the importance of Luisa Capetillo’s organizing in Florida to Moreno’s efforts twenty years later. education.” Moreno’s first step was to address worker grievances and then later “you try to raise the consciousness of the worker. she made these changes in the Jim Crow South where segregation and white domination were a way of life. as well as my reading of the scholarship of Rebecca Lester.

Ill. Moreno interviews. “Handwritten Notes”. Florida. Given her fears about the Klan as well as the challenges and erratic schedules inherent in trade union work. 1996. as a result. “She never forgot Valentine’s Day. . “And we got to the union hall .. Shuttled from place to place. Zatz. she related these incidents with rawness and candor. In addition to the terrorism of the Klan. had socialist beliefs.6 This decentering of self would mark her life as an organizer. some treated her well. the head of household routinely molested young Mytyl. her commitment to Marxism never wavered. Moreno visited infrequently. Moreno knew far too well the sacrifices people made for their children. 2001). impressive and revolutionary. As a student at the University of Miami.7 6. Mytyl lived with informal foster families. and. 7. and she chose to sacrifice any semblance of family for herself and her daughter. Small. As a mother.” Moreno’s rhetoric touched a chord among these cigar workers. Glomboske interview. sending greeting cards on occasion. see Nancy A. Moreno interviews.” her daughter noted. The local should represent the collective good. Sixty years later. Berthe Small recalled the first time she met Moreno. 1977. conveying a little girl’s confusion and pain. Moreno cultivated rank-and-file leadership as she fostered a sense of communal investment among workers as union members. . Hewitt. but Moreno felt right at home in their company. Luisa decided to board her daughter with a pro-labor Latino family. 1880s–1920s (Urbana. Small and her friends piled into a jalopy and puttered across the Tamiami Trail headed for Tampa to watch a labor organizer in action. Southern Discomfort: Women’s Activism in Tampa. many of whom. and Zatz interview. while his wife did nothing but sob quietly behind Mytyl’s bedroom door. . from the days of Luisa Capetillo. she made painful choices that would have long-term consequences for her daughter. Mytyl recalled from childhood “having the feeling of being alone. but others abused her. In Florida. AFL leaders also feared the radicalism of the workers. .01-C2944 1/23/04 6:39 AM Page 9 Luisa Moreno 9 dence over political education. not just the interest of one person or a small clique. By nurturing grass-roots locals. For more information on the radicalism of the Tampa workers.” As someone who devoted herself to trade union and civil rights work. 1978. And I see this beautiful woman delivering a speech in English. From age seven until almost thirteen. 2001. Marxist study groups that she initiated were few and far between. Although Moreno left the Communist Party in 1935. 1977. 1978.

resonated with Moreno. Tenayuca. nationality. women. a San Antonio native.000 and 10. Some employers explained that if they raised the pay scale. high infant death rates. A year later. “Tejana Radical: Emma Tenayuca and the San Antonio Labor Movement during the Great Depression. and colors.000 cigar workers from Ybor City to Lakeland to Jacksonville. creeds. and she and over 1. and gender. During the six-week labor dispute. When AFL officials revised the agreement to be more amenable to management. marking the first time a Latina would be elected to a high-ranking national union post. emerged as the fiery local leader. the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). was elected to head the strike committee.000 pecan shellers were jailed. they would live apart as Mytyl was boarded with yet another family. the AFL transferred her to Pennsylvania. The union’s commitment to rank-and-file leadership and to inclusion. [I fought] against poverty. but again. Luisa and Mytyl headed for Texas. actually starvation. reflected on her activism: “I was pretty defiant. . taking several locals with her.” she negotiated a solid contract covering 13. she joined the United Cannery. Although not a pecan sheller herself. Emma Tenayuca. Tenayuca.” Pacific Historical Review.” Tenayuca courageously organized demonstrations.” 8 8.00 a week in 1934. From Pennsylvania. But in 1938 she was a mere UCAPAWA union representative with her first assignment: Move to San Antonio. recruiting members across race. in an interview with historian Zaragosa Vargas. There she mobilized cigar rollers in three states. Organizing “all races. and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA-CIO). In 1937 she resigned from the AFL to join its newly established rival. Tejanos would “just spend” the extra money on “‘tequila and worthless trinkets in the dime stores. to take charge of the pecan shellers’ strike there. I would do the same thing again.01-C2944 1/23/04 6:39 AM Page 10 10 Pacific Historical Review In Florida Moreno refined her skills as a labor leader. rising to the position of vice-president in 1941. an angry Moreno urged the workers to reject it. and children were paid pitifully low wages—less than $2. 66 (1997). Between 1933 and 1938 Mexican workers had organized a pecan shellers’ union in San Antonio. Packing. In response. Texas. She would stay with UCAPAWA for the remainder of her career. Zaragosa Vargas. Men. disease and hunger and misery. between 6.’” A twenty-three-year-old member of the Workers’ Alliance and secretary of the Texas Communist Party.000 strikers faced tear gas and billy clubs “on at least six occasions. Agricultural.

The drain on union coffers from farm labor campaigns in California and Texas prompted the union to focus its energies on the more geographically and financially stable cannery and packinghouse workers. she too had few resources. “Tejana Radical. Moreno encountered what she termed a “lynch spirit” among rural white residents hostile to Mexican workers. After stopping in San Antonio to visit Mytyl and pay her board. . 1939. 9. Unionization. The settlement included recognition of the UCAPAWA local and piece rate scales. one that would diminish the distance between citizens and immigrants and between Mexicanos and Latinos. see Vargas.01-C2944 1/23/04 6:39 AM Page 11 Luisa Moreno 11 UCAPAWA president Donald Henderson intervened in the strike by assigning Luisa Moreno. As the union’s official representative. Cannery Women. disciplined force that employers could no longer ignore.” and Vicki L. Moreno requested a leave of absence in order to organize a national Latino civil rights assembly. While organizing Mexicano migrants in dire straits. housing. From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America (New York. Following an abortive planning meeting in Albuquerque. which complied with the new federal minimum wage of twenty-five cents an hour. representing over 120 organizations. Cannery Lives: Mexican Women. see Vicki L. 1930 –1950 (Albuquerque. who reluctantly stepped aside. and immigrant rights.500 delegates. and shared her groceries with those around her. Before her next assignment. Held on April 28 –30. and the California Food Processing Industry. The approximately 1. assembled in Los Angeles to address issues of jobs. Luisa Moreno drew upon her contacts with Latino labor unions. 1976. Ruiz. then a thirty-two-year-old veteran labor activist.9 Moreno next traveled to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. management agreed to arbitration. where she found sympathetic activists who shared her vision of a national convention. Henderson’s decision to send Moreno “infuriated” Tenayuca. El Congreso de Pueblos de Hablan Española was the first national civil rights assembly for Latinos in the United States. 1987). Ruiz. health. Moreno interviews. 1998). She lived with farm workers. to San Antonio to help solidify the UCAPAWA affiliate and to move from street demonstrations to a functioning trade union. education. Moreno organized the strikers into a united. Moreno journeyed to Los Angeles. 1978. for the pecan shellers’ strike. For more information on UCAPAWA. slept under trees. and the two women had a tenuous and tense working relationship. Luisa headed west.000 to 1. Five weeks after the strike began. She had been in the fields only a short time when UCAPAWA pulled her out.

. The conference attracted a diverse group of delegates—teenagers. and employment. followers of socialist leader Juan Flores Magón. Illinois. Josefina Fierro was descended from a line of rebellious women. housing.’” The two women also shared an awareness of the posi- . In planning this convention. and even a few politicians. who also assumed leadership roles in El Congreso. but because they were helping Mexicans help themselves. and Florida to attend the convention. Congreso delegates drafted a comprehensive platform. teachers. such as Josefina Fierro. A native of Mexicali. and other grass-roots groups in order to ensure a truly national conference. delegates did not advocate assimilation but rather emphasized the importance of preserving Latino cultures. and they called upon universities to create departments in Latino Studies. Moreno worked in tandem with local Los Angeles activists. Despite the promise of the first convention. Eduardo Quevedo. labor leaders. and Bert Corona. ‘not because they were reds. women and men traveled from as far away as Montana. as well as to discrimination in the disbursement of public assistance. a national network of local branches never developed. . and self-help. El Congreso endorsed the rights of immigrants to live and work in the United States without fear of deportation. Her grandmother and mother were Magónistas. Over the course of three days. Josefina Fierro met Hollywood writer John Bright at the local cabaret where her tia sang. and red-baiting would later take its toll among fledgling chapters in California. women whose life-long friendship was forged in the fire of community organizing. Dolores Del Rio. Josefina Fierro proved instrumental in buoying the day-to-day operations of the fragile Southern California chapters. “Movie stars such as Anthony Quinn. New York. . While Luisa Moreno took the lead in organizing the 1939 national meeting of El Congreso. Although the majority of the delegates hailed from California and the Southwest. After their marriage. They called for an end to segregation in public facilities. Both Moreno and Fierro believed in the dignity of the common person and the importance of grass-roots networks. As Fierro commented in an interview with historian Mario García. she became a community organizer in East Los Angeles and drew upon her celebrity connections to raise funds for barrio causes. education. While a student at UCLA. and John Wayne contributed money. reciprocity.01-C2944 1/23/04 6:39 AM Page 12 12 Pacific Historical Review mutual aid societies. El Congreso brought together Luisa Moreno and Josefina Fierro. While encouraging immigrants to become citizens.

11 After several months in Colorado. we didn’t have a Lib Movement so we didn’t think in terms of what women’s roles were—we just did it and it worked. and the Politics of Ethnicity in the Southwest. . writing pamphlets. Carlos C. organized a labor school for Colorado beet workers in Denver. Latino communities. migratory problems . . Moreno returned to UCAPAWA and. 1978. 14 –15. now 10. Denver. 11. Albert Camarillo. . Divided there’s no progress Only through the Union. 1984). Margarito Cárdenas. Mario García. 1995).C. a student at the school. Moreno interviews. Gutiérrez. a platform that expressly recognized the “double discrimination” facing Mexican women. 1993). 1940). “Luisa Moreno: A Hispanic Civil Rights Leader in San Diego. 14 (1995). . D. With great sacrifice And perseverance of the CIO Sister Luisa Moreno Organized this school. In the words of Josefina Fierro: “We had women’s problems that were very deep . discrimination in jobs . 1910 –1986 (Berkeley.. Becoming Mexican America: Ethnicity. . conducted by Albert Camarillo. 1930 –1960 (New Haven. and Identity in Los Angeles. Occupied America: A History of Chicanos (New York. Conn. 7. Mexican Americans: Leadership. 284 –310. schooling. 1981). the Spanishlanguage version of UCAPAWA News.01-C2944 1/23/04 6:39 AM Page 13 Luisa Moreno 13 tionality of women in U.” Escuela de Obreros Betabeleros Abril de 1940. 1977. I contend that she took this post in an attempt to establish a relationship with her daughter. accepting a desk job with the national office in Washington. George Sánchez. . 1900 –1945 (New York. Walls and Mirrors: Mexican Americans. Chicanos in California (San Francisco. with a grant from the liberal Garland Fund. Moreno made an unexpected move. composed a corrido honoring UCAPAWA and Moreno.. and Identity. Colorado (UCAPAWA publication. Let us us take heed of the past And understand reason.” 10 After the national convention. . 1977. see David G. In addition to classes in Mexican and labor history. Ideology. Larralde and Richard Griswold del Castillo.S. 2000). Mexican Immigrants. Moreno taught the fine arts of negotiating contracts. No. For more information on El Congreso.” Journal of San Diego History. The corrido is from “Cifras y Datos. and operating mimeograph machines. Fijemonos en lo pasado Comprendamos la razón Divididos no hay progreso Solamente con la Unión. Two stanzas with the original stanzas om Spanish are as follows: Con muy grande sacrificio Y empeño del CIO La compañera Moreno Esta escuela organizó. interview with Josefina Fierro de Bright. Culture. Aug. Rodolfo Acuña. The southern California chapters of El Congreso created a woman’s committee and a woman’s platform. as the editor of Noticias de UCAPAWA.

mother. cutting. Occasionally three generations— daughter. and benefits. With great fondness. the California Sanitary Canning Company (Cal San) employed primarily Mexican and Russian Jewish women. . and widows.” Escobar recalled. “Those at the end of the line hardly made nothing. “My father was a busboy. . many of whom were Mexican and Jewish women. Cannery workers even employed a special jargon when conversing among themselves.01-C2944 1/23/04 6:39 AM Page 14 14 Pacific Historical Review almost a teenager. my mother’s brother. Their day-to-day problems (slippery floors. grading. They were clustered in specific departments—washing. and sexual harassment) cemented feelings of solidarity. production speedups. often referring to an event in 12. . Glomboske interview.” Capitalizing on the gendered networks on the shop floor. Moreno would harvest unparalleled success. . they pooled their resources to put food on the table. month after month. 1976. as food-processing operatives under the UCAPAWA banner significantly improved their working conditions. . arbitrary supervisors. their first holiday together in five years: “I remember having a gift under the tree . . as the newly elected union vice-president. Entering the job market as members of a family wage economy. and grandmother—worked together at a particular cannery. I didn’t care whether the other kids had five gifts .” One of the largest canneries in Los Angeles. . . I was tickled that I had one gift under the tree. . my mother. wages. women workers often developed friendships crossing family and ethnic lines. and packing—and paid according to the production level. in order to bring in a little more money . canning. Women jockeyed for position near the chutes or gates where the produce was plentiful. my sister and I all worked together at Cal San. my grandmother. The California canning labor force included young daughters. . 2001. earning the nickname “The California Whirlwind. . Standing in the same spots week after week. Moreno interviews.” Carmen Bernal Escobar recalled. middle-aged wives. newlyweds. “and to keep the family going . irritating peach fuzz. Moreno lobbied for a new assignment— to consolidate union organizing among southern California cannery workers. Moreno.” 12 The next Christmas would find the duo in Los Angeles. threw herself into this task. Anxious to return to the field. 1979. Mytyl recalled Christmas in Maryland (1940). 1977.

75 percent of whom were Mexican. Santa Ana. fell in love in August. and gender. Workers organized other workers across canneries. the second-largest UCAPAWA affiliate in the nation. thirteen more in . The result would be Local 3. complete with certification by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Riverside. Day care was also a major concern. she enlisted the aid of union members at California Walnut and Cal San in union drives at several Los Angeles-area food-processing firms. In 1943. The union members proved able negotiators during annual contract renewals. for example. since many employees had no alternative but to leave their small children locked inside their automobiles in the plant parking lot.01-C2944 1/23/04 6:39 AM Page 15 Luisa Moreno 15 terms of when specific fruits or vegetables arrived for processing at the plant. but also in higher wages. When Luisa Moreno arrived. more humane conditions. By the following year (1943). and married in October. and the San Joaquin Valley. and management-financed. ethnicities. the local also provided benefits that few industrial unions could match—free legal advice and a hospitalization plan. For instance. Local 2 represented the largest cannery in California. Val Vita of Fullerton. In 1939 Cal San employees staged a dramatic strike led by UCAPAWA organizer Dorothy Ray Healey. Moreno encouraged cross-plant alliances and women’s leadership. on-site day care. informing their colleagues at other plants of the benefits and improved wages that they had won under UCAPAWA representation. but predominantly in English and Spanish. and married in tomatoes” indicates that a couple met in March. Company supervisors there were notorious for exploiting line personnel. San Diego. fell in love in peaches. Moreno also extended the union’s reach beyond Los Angeles to organizing food-processing operatives in Fullerton. Wages and conditions improved at the plant as workers nurtured their local and jealously guarded their closed shop contract. and Mexican women were elected to eight of these posts. women filled twelve of the fifteen elected positions of the local. News traveled across friend and kin networks and in several languages. In addition to higher wages and better conditions. the phrase. Women frequently fainted from exhaustion during speed-up periods. a facility unmatched in deplorable conditions. generations. Moreno led a hard-fought campaign that resulted not only in a resounding victory. Redlands. “We met in spinach. UCAPAWA members had won thirty-one NLRB elections: seventeen in San Joaquin Valley packinghouses.

Within three months. at Pacific Grape Products in Modesto. but women with dreams. FTA. and Allied Workers of America (with the mercifully short acronym FTA). such as Lorena Ballard. “one of the largest independent canneries in California.01-C2944 1/23/04 6:39 AM Page 16 16 Pacific Historical Review Riverside-Redlands. 80 – 82. Winning the NLRB election covering seventy-two plants.000 union pledge cards and helped to establish twenty-five functioning locals. A year earlier UCAPAWA had changed its name to the Food. and Ruiz. Her greatest professional challenge began in August 1945. A fierce loyalty to the union developed as the result of rank-and-file participation and leadership. Tobacco. Four decades after the strike. as the union launched a campaign among food-processing workers in northern California. Carmen Bernal Escobar declared. Cannery Women. the team had collected 14. Agricultural. goals. tenacity. under Moreno’s leadership.” 13 In tandem with these union victories. numbed by repetition. and intellect. “UCAPAWA was the greatest thing that ever happened to the workers at Cal San. overtime. and one in a Santa Ana onion dehydration plant. In May 1945 the AFL national president turned over its northern California cannery unions to the Teamsters. UCAPAWA provided women cannery workers with the crucial “social space” necessary to assert their independence and display their talents. They were not rote employees. now the seventh-largest CIO affiliate. For example. and the union. In southern California. as a result. Moreno handpicked her organizing team. From Out of the Shadows. 13. Moreno rose in the ranks of the California CIO. In addition to extensive committee service. including both veteran activists like John Tisa from New Jersey and new recruits from the rank and file. It changed everything and everybody. girded itself for a jurisdictional battle with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. an “Okie” packinghouse worker. seemed poised to replicate the successes of FTA members to the south. . This discussion is taken from Ruiz. 69 – 85.” employees negotiated a path-breaking agreement that included a closed shop. Mexican women in southern California locals held more than 40 percent of executive board and shop steward positions. becoming the first Latina to serve on a state CIO council. and sick leave. disgruntled local leaders approached FTA. higher wages. Directing an ambitious drive that extended from San José to Sacramento to Modesto.

Carey McWilliams. Kenny Collection.” The two would continue to bicker. boyfriends in the army.” she explained: “She was nobody else’s. [the skirt] came straight down [and tight]. Imagine Moreno’s surprise when she caught Mytyl dressed to the nines as a pachuca. file 53. Moreno remarked.” Luisa Moreno was working behind the scenes raising money from union locals for the legal defense of a group of Mexican American youth unjustly convicted in the Sleepy Lagoon murder case. I chose to organize cannery workers and my daughter never forgave me. Moreno separated from her husband within three months of their marriage. Moreno interview. Recalling her habit of ditching classes at Manual Arts High School. and Mytyl. zoot suit-wearing pachucos. Mytyl candidly revealed: “We used to get the sailors to go into the liquor stores to buy us some booze. .” Mytyl also enjoyed corresponding with servicemen as a “pen pal. “Data on Luisa Moreno Bemis”. just shy of her seventeenth birthday in 1945. 1949). Luisa had not planned on attending the CIO V-J Day dance to celebrate the end of the war. and her teenage years were marked by rebellion. Glomboske interview. the older brother of a girlfriend. Shortly after her arrival in Los Angeles in 1941.” At the 14. “I had a choice. eloped with returning veteran Edward Glomboske. was in no mood for a stepfather. 2001. Then we’d go into the alley and drink.” Mytyl and her stepfather “couldn’t get along. but thirteen-year-old Mytyl.” Unable to resolve this friction. Moreno met and married Jacob Shaffer. Living in San Francisco and absorbed in the logistics of the cannery campaign.” “I had boyfriends in the navy. And she [her mother] took the scissors and that was the end of that dress. “Handwritten Notes”. but her union compañera Elizabeth Sasuly had goaded her to have “a little fun.” 14 In the midst of Mytyl’s sudden marriage and the northern California organizing drive.” Although both Luisa and Mytyl characterized Jacob as a “nice guy. During one of our interviews. Moreno would rediscover romance in her own life.01-C2944 1/23/04 6:39 AM Page 17 Luisa Moreno 17 Moreno’s professional success masked personal turmoil. these young men were characterized by the press as dangerous. 1984. According to Mytyl: “One time I came home with a dress that was short like a pachuca. “I wanted my mother all to myself. “Luisa Moreno Bemis” (Aug. She was mine. Mytyl continued to test her boundaries. a local dry cleaner. I could organize cannery workers or I could control my teenage daughter. so recently reunited with her mother.

1984. Glomboske interview. Scabs. They danced. they set up picket lines outside Libby’s. “How’s your wife?” He stopped to take out an envelope from his pocket—it held his divorce papers. the northern California cannery campaign was far from finished. . Amazingly. and while on the floor. many European American and Mexican women were locked out after refusing to pay Teamster dues.” they were assaulted by Seafarer Union and Teamster thugs armed with brass knuckles and other weapons. . The Teamster victory 15. and Teamster terror sealed FTA’s defeat. 103 –107. Pro-FTA workers lost their jobs. rampant red-baiting. contracts stipulating membership in the Teamsters as a condition for employment.” As her attorney and friend Robert Kenny wrote in a letter to Luisa after Gray’s death in 1960. Gray and Luisa married seventeen months later. rescinded the results of the 1945 election and called for a second tabulation. Cannery Women. . surrounding her with love. taking care of her. under intense political pressure. At the Libby plant in Sacramento. 1996. file 56. 11. recruited from a local bartenders’ union. Moreno interview. Zatz/Small interview. and Teamster goons physically assaulted FTA organizers as well as rankand-file members. Kenny Collection. and on May 7. were so sickened by the spectacle that they refused to enter the cannery. Moreno and her team lost by fewer than 2.01-C2944 1/23/04 6:39 AM Page 18 18 Pacific Historical Review dance she noticed a handsome naval officer who looked hauntingly familiar. Given the fact that Gray Bemis was politically active in southern California before he joined the navy. as they held hands and sang the “Star Spangled Banner. In February 1946 the NLRB. despite winning an NLRB election that included seventy-two plants. Luisa summoned up the courage to inquire. I surmise that he and Luisa had probably crossed paths earlier. Ruiz.000 votes in the second election. He was Gray Bemis. In protest. Many who knew the couple commented on their great love for one another. 1950. Luisa remembered the CIO dance as the signifying moment of their courtship. however. Robert W. 2001. The sweetheart contracts. Feb. “Certainly the story of your marriage and devotion is a love story that most novelists would want to claim as their own creation.” 15 The autumn of 1945 held out much promise for Moreno personally and professionally. but in her memories. The Teamsters immediately negotiated sweetheart contracts with many northern California firms. Kenny to Luisa Bemis. In Mytyl’s words: “I remember loving him very much and I could just feel the tremendous love he had for my mother .

a year later she faced deportation proceedings. In 1947 Luisa Moreno retired from public life. and she became a homemaker and amateur photographer. She died in her native Guatemala on November 4. Indeed. environmental advocacy. FTA represented a grass-roots democratic union where local members exercised real power in running their local and an alternative to what developed in many mainstream unions during the Cold War. including the United Farm Workers. For two decades in Los Angeles until her death in 2002. 1992. ran the affairs of the local and whose interests often coincided with those of management. She had a national presence in trade union circles. the CIO national leadership would purge ten unions for alleged communist domination. but she refused to become a “free woman with a mortgaged soul. She represents a rich history of labor activism among Latinos and Latinas. She lived an extraordinary life. Mytyl always couched her own tireless activism as a tribute to her mother. rather than the workers. The union would become a battered target of conservative politicians and rival labor leaders. With Gray Bemis at her side. from pampered rich girl to bohemian artist in Mexico to an American civil rights and labor leader. Like Luisa Capetillo decades earlier. FTA among them. Reconciling with her mother.01-C2944 1/23/04 6:39 AM Page 19 Luisa Moreno 19 marked the beginning of the end for FTA in California and nationwide. Luisa Moreno believed in the dignity of working people and the rights of immigrants. under terms listed as “voluntary departure under warrant of deportation. she was offered citizenship in exchange for testifying against legendary Longshoremen union leader Harry Bridges. Mytyl Glomboske became a fixture in a mosaic of social justice causes. the result was almost a foregone conclusion. . According to Moreno. and by 1950 the union could no longer withstand the barrage of red-baiting that was part and parcel of Cold War politics. She and Gray settled in San Diego where he was a manager for a plumbing firm. but her role has been largely erased.” on the grounds that she had once belonged to the Communist Party. she left the United States in 1950. dignity for AIDS patients. Mytyl became an activist in her own right. and the Bus Riders’ Union (to name just a few). a philosophy of business unionism where professional staff.” Although high-profile journalists Carey McWilliams and Ignacio López chaired her defense committee and put forth a valiant effort. animal rights. However. to combat charges of communists in their midst.

Department of Justice. 113 –118.” 16 16. Ruiz. 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. Steve Murdoch. 9. “Closing INS Report (Los Angeles District) on Luisa Moreno” Dec. Luisa Moreno clearly articulated her own legacy. Immigration and Naturalization Service. . file 53. Kenny Papers.S. .” Labor Committee for Luisa Moreno Bemis pamphlet (in author’s possession). Our Times. U. Sept. . 1950. 6.01-C2944 1/23/04 6:39 AM Page 20 20 Pacific Historical Review In preparing for the INS hearings. “The Case of Luisa Moreno Bemis. Cannery Women. 1949. “They can talk about deporting me .

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