​​​​​​​Luisa Moreno Bemis (1907-1994) was from a wealthy family in Guatemala. Her original name was Blanca Rosa López Rodríguez. She attended the College of the Holy Names, an elite catholic school, in Oakland, California. As a teenager she organized her peers to successfully lobby for women to be admitted into Guatemalan universities. 

Rather than go to university herself, she moved to Mexico City and worked as a journalist and a poet. She married artist Miguel Angel de Leon and they moved to New York City in 1928. During the depression she took a job in a garment factory to support her husband and infant daughter. She was appalled not only at the horrible labor conditions but also the treatment of minorities. She became radicalized as a labor activist and changed her name to Luisa Moreno both to honor Mexican labor rights organizer Luis Moreno but also to spare her Guatemalan family embarrassment from her activities.

Her first labor strike was in 1930 and in 1935 she was hired by American Delegation of Labor, a workers rights group, as a professional organizer. She became involved with the American Communist party because of its focus on helping farm laborers and friendliness towards Latinx. During the 1930s the Communist Party was a leader in fighting segregation, protesting police abuse, preventing deportation of immigrants, and fighting for workers rights. Many intellectuals and artists were attracted to its ideals. (It was not Communist Party of today.)

She organized African-American and Latino cigar workers in Florida who had been being terrorized by the KKK. She organized sugarcane workers in Louisiana. In California she organized farm and fish cannery workers. She became an international representative of United Cannery Agricultural Packing, and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA) and was elected as the first woman and first Latinx elected to the board of the Congress of Industrial Organization, a uniting organization of smaller labor unions. In 1938 she helped found El Congreso de Pueblos que Hablan Español (the National Spanish-Speaking Congress) and she was heavily involved in fighting racism against Latinx people especially during the zoot-suit riots of 1943. She also organized farm workers in Texas and Colorado.

In 1947 she married American serviceman Gary Bemis and had hoped to settle down into a quiet life but as she awaited confirmation of citizenship she was called before the State Senate Committee on Un-American Activities in 1948. It was the beginning of the “Red Scare” and the start of the communist witch hunts. She tried to fight it but given her labor rights history and membership in the Communist Party, she would not only have lost but also would have been asked to accuse others. She, her husband, and daughter voluntarily left America in 1950.  

Back to Top