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Trailblazer’s tale: Maria Moreno was first female farmworker to be hired as a union organizer

Maria Moreno became the first female farmworker in America to be hired as a union organizer. Here, she makes a phone call in the office of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee in Fresno, California, in 1961. (Courtesy of George Balis/Take Stock)

Maria Moreno. Her name isn’t as well known as those of César Chávez or Dolores Huerta, yet the woman was at the forefront of farmworkers’ rights.

Moreno is the subject of the documentary “Adiós Amor: The Search for Maria Moreno.”

The film airs at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27, on New Mexico PBS. It is part of the “Voces” series.

Laurie Coyle worked for many years on the documentary.

She found out about Moreno through her research while working on a documentary about Chávez called “The Fight in the Fields – César Chávez and the Farmworkers’ Struggle.”

“I found hundreds of photographs from George Ballis of this migrant mother,” she says. “She was speaking to groups of people, and she was out in the field doing all types of things. I wanted to know who this anonymous person was. Each picture was telling a story of strength and resilience.”

The film follows the life of Moreno – a migrant mother who sacrificed everything but her 12 kids in the passionate pursuit of justice for farmworkers. Haunted by a personal tragedy and blessed with a gift for oratory, Moreno rolled up her sleeves, collected signatures and electrified audiences.

She was elected to represent her fellow Mexican American, Filipino, black and Okie farmworkers, and became the first female farmworker in America to be hired as a union organizer.

Filmmaker Laurie Coyle.

Coyle says aside from the well-known UFW leader Dolores Huerta, female farmworkers were usually anonymous and relegated to the background in press coverage.

Coyle wondered about the woman in the photographs, but it would be another two decades before she could return to the story.

“When my search began, I didn’t know what I would find or whether Maria Moreno would still be living,” Coyle says. “With a measure of luck and a lot of work, I traced her life and legacy.”

Coyle was sure to pore over the documents with care and not complicate the narrative.

“Everything didn’t start with Dolores and César,” she says. “People only learn about César, and he is a superstar. It’s important to try and recover all of the history of people that remained in the background whose efforts were lost. Having Maria’s story gives us a bigger vision of the issue and what they were working toward. She’s a great example of that.”

Coyle is coming to New Mexico for an event at the Española Public Libaray, 313 N. Paseo de Oñate, on Monday, Oct. 7.

The screening is free, and it will include a talk with Coyle after the screening.

 

SEND ME YOUR TIPS: If you know of a movie filming in the state, or are curious about one, email film@ABQjournal.com. Follow me on Twitter @agomezART.

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