Hispanic Heritage Month

National Museum of American History honors Luisa Moreno

It's a name you probably haven't heard, Blanca Rosa Lopez Rodriguez. 

She was a labor organizer, and civil rights leader. She fought for Hispanic workers in the United States beginning in the depths of the Great Depression. 

Blanca Rosa Lopez Rodriguez eventually changed her name, she called herself Luisa Moreno. Even her name became a way to stand with Hispanic labor. 

In Spanish, blanca means white, and moreno means brown. Her story is the focus of a new exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

Mireya Loza is the curator who oversaw its installation.

"She's just a figure that pre dates a lot of work that pre dates, a lot of the work of what we think as central to labor organizing," said Loza.

Loza says Luisa Moreno was born into a wealthy Guatemalan family, she worked as a journalist in Mexico, and was trying to change the world around her. 

"She decides in the US that she will rub shoulder with working class and working poor people.  and really fight for their rights," said Loza. 

Moreno moved to New York City and became a seamstress. The low wages and poor working conditions propelled her to organize several strikes, and that's what set her life on a path dedicated to fighting for fair labor practices. 

"She decides to organize tobacco workers in Florida, pecan-shellers in Texas, and cannery workers in California," said Loza. 

Moreno became one of the most prominent labor activists of her time, after signing on with the American Federation of Labor, in part because of her powerful Writings.

"She is a poet, and an intellectual, and a clever writer, and a thinker," said Loza.

Moreno was also key in creating the Spanish-speaking People's Congress, a California-based coalition of Latinos used to lobby Congress for protections for immigrants, like housing and education reforms in the late 1930s and 40s.

In 1950, the government issued a deportation order for Moreno, they cite her association with the Communist Party as a risk to National Security. 

"And she leaves the U.S. because they are threatening her with deportation because of a lot of her union organizing, and her work," said Loza. 

Moreno returned to Mexico, and lived in communist Cuba, but ultimately died in her native Guatemala in 1994.

"I just think her story is incredible for this period and I think she's a really incredible Latina," said Loza. 

Luisa Moreno helped pave the way for figures like Caesar Chavez to declare, "Si se puede" or "Yes you can." 


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