While conducting research on Cesar Chavez and the farmworker movement, filmmaker Laurie Coyle stumbled upon numerous photographs of a particular woman. Intrigued by the mystery of this active, but unnamed person, Laurie began to search for answers. Join Laurie as she pores through archives and gathers firsthand accounts to piece together this woman’s story.
Watch the video, making note of what you learn about Maria Moreno. Use the chart below to organize your observations about Maria’s childhood and her adult life. You may want to watch the video more than once, or read the transcript, to complete the chart.
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The photographs had been waiting in the dark for decades. I found them when I was working on a film about the farm workers and their charismatic leader, Cesar Chavez. There were hundreds of images of a migrant mother, full of passion and determination. She was making her way in a world of men…she was speaking her mind—and they were listening! A crusader in rubber boots and a big skirt.
I didn’t know her name let alone who she was, but when I opened that unmarked folder, she seemed to be telling a story that was different from the ones I’d read in the history books. About forgotten struggles, and women working behind the scenes for social justice.
Back in the Depression, Dorothea Lange’s photograph of a migrant mother had become America’s symbol of suffering. Taken a generation later, these photographs had a different spirit. They were bold, provocative. Their heroine was staking a claim. Why hadn’t I ever heard of her?
Who is this woman?
George “Elfie” Ballis:
Maria Moreno, organizer for the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, late 50s, early 60s… I think the first time that I saw Maria was on the shapeup in west Fresno. She was an organizer for AWOC and I was a part time organizer too, but I also was mainly a photographer.
I decided to document her work because it was so unusual. She had this raft of kids and she was taking them around to union meetings and so forth like that. I thought, this is a helluva story.
She, I think, had had no more than one or two years of formal education. But she was fearless.
I am Maria Moreno. Forty years old. Mother of twelve children. Born in Karnes City, Texas. Since 1928, I start working in agricultural work. I been a worker all my life. I know how to handle a man’s job like a man and I’m not ashamed to say it. I am American citizen and I’m talking for justice.