Chapter 8: World War II and the Emerging Civil Rights Struggle

1. Who was Luisa Moreno?

One prominent example of a San Diego Latina who remained a leader in the struggle for civil rights during the war was Luisa Moreno. She was a Guatemalan-born labor leader who was active in organizing for the United Cannery, Agricultural, and Packing Workers Association (UCAPAWA) during the 1930s. In July 1940, Luisa Moreno moved to San Diego to work on a labor union newspaper and to continue her organizing activities among the women cannery workers. She and her friend Robert Galván helped organize the United Fish Cannery Workers Union, UCAPAWA, Local 64, and they soon organized hundreds of fish and cannery workers in the largest San Diego canneries: California Packing Corporation, Marine Products Company, the Old Mission Packing Corporation, Van Camp Sea Food Company, and Westgate Sea Products.

While Luisa Moreno was working with the cannery workers, the United States entered into World War II on December 7, 1942. Within a short time, Southern California, and especially San Diego, was transformed into a military industrial center for the war effort. As a result San Diego became even more conservative, politically and culturally. Local Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps, officially called War Relocation Authority Camps, while at the same time, a disproportionate number of Chicanos were drafted because they lacked jobs that carried draft-deferral status. Lured by jobs in agriculture and in other businesses, thousands of Mexicans poured across the border. Forbidden to work in the petroleum industry, shipyards, and other vital industries, they took the least skilled, low-paying jobs.

These immigrants were soon joined by bracero workers who were contracted beginning in 1943 to come to the U.S. to work in selected industries, mostly in agriculture and railroads. As a union consultant for the cannery workers in San Diego, Moreno gave speeches saying that legal and illegal Mexican immigrants used fewer government resources than native-born citizens. She pointed out that they contributed more to the public coffers in taxes then what they took from the region. She was angered and annoyed when conservatives, including remnants of the KKK made public announcements against Mexican immigrants.