The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1997, Volume 43, Number 3
Richard W. Crawford, Editor

By Carlos M. Larralde and Richard Griswold del Castillo

Images from the Article

To deny Luisa Moreno’s role in the legacy of the Sleepy Lagoon Committee is to deface our history. Even to this date, I still emphasize how instrumental she was to the Chicano community during the 1930s and 1940s. Luisa Moreno’s record is a whole chapter in Chicano history. As a major figure, she illustrated to us what dedication and discipline is while serving the community. — Bert Corona, 28 July 1994

Famous as a political and labor activist in the United States, the Guatemala-born Luisa Moreno became a well-known labor leader in Southern California during the 1940s. During the last years of her residence in the United States she lived in San Diego, California where she organized labor among the cannery workers and fought for various civil rights causes. From her home in Encanto, a suburb of San Diego, she launched her final campaign in 1950 to defend her rights during the anti-communist hysteria of that era.1 While known to historians as a labor organizer, little is known about her involvement in one of the most dramatic events affecting the Mexican communities in Southern California during the 1940s — the infamous Zoot Suit riot in 1943. The events of that affair, along with her struggle against anti-Communist hysteria is part of the early history of Mexican Americans’ struggle for civil rights in San Diego.

Luisa Moreno, a young woman of thirty-three years in 1940, radiated emotional strength and self-confidence. Throughout her organizing days she maintained a network of labor organizers for specific issues. One colleague noted, “her goal was to make people feel as she was part of their family. She had a skill of getting people to say things that they never thought they were going to say.”2 Bert Corona, a longtime friend of Luisa commented,

She was a formidable and charismatic speaker in both English and Spanish. She wrote very well, and bilingually; she turned out the best written leaflets I’ve ever seen…she had a powerful fight for persuasion. She could convince others by the weight of her logic, her ease of words, and her speaking abilities, a labor leader.3

Luisa was a single-minded tough realist about labor organizing and politics. As she said, “If you want to survive in politics, you need to be thick-skinned and not be baited by distractions or turbulent individuals.”4 Ernesto Galarza, a well-known labor leader and intellectual observed, “She knew how to adapt herself to everyone else and how to handle her opponents. She knew how emotions could taint everything and she cherished the value of being consistent.”5

These qualities of character Luisa brought with her when she moved to San Diego in 1937. She loved the quaint city which was, in the words of her friend Carey McWilliams, “a health and tourist resort, with little industry, an oasis of civil liberties in Southern California.”6 Using San Diego as her home base, Luisa took frequent union business trips to other parts of the country. On June 1940, she went to Los Angeles to become the director of the Spanish edition of the newspaper Noticias de la UCAPAWA (United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers of America).7

Returning to San Diego, Luisa continued to work on the paper from her home while attempting to ease the painful burdens of joblessness, caused by the Great Depression. She established a local employment office and with her close friend Robert Galvan, she worked with the United Fish Cannery Workers Union, UCAPAWA, Local 64. They organized hundreds of fish and cannery workers in the regional canneries, the California Packing Corporation, the Marine Products Company, the Old Mission Packing Corporation, Van Camp Sea Food Company, and the Westgate Sea Products.8 Luisa spoke to the employers to discourage them from hiring scab workers. Bitter incidents in the San Diego canneries made her tough-minded and pragmatic about how unions could benefit the common, poorly educated worker.9

While Luisa Moreno was organizing the cannery workers, World War II was transforming Southern California into a giant military base and factory. To meet the demand for workers thousands of Mexicans poured across the border. Forbidden to work in the petroleum industry, shipyards, and other vital war industries, they took the least skilled, lowest paying jobs available.10 Moreno noted, “California has became prosperous with the toil and sweat of Mexican immigration attending to its number one industry, agriculture. Now they have sustained a true and lasting patriotism to a democratic country that refuses to give them citizenship or even basic civil rights.”11

As a union consultant for the cannery workers in San Diego, Moreno argued 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 spoke out against those who thought that Mexican immigrants drained the resources of the region. Of the conservative anti-Mexican movement, Moreno said, “It failed. Powerful agricultural growers and contractors needed them to survive.”12

While involved in the controversy about the immigration issue, Luisa Moreno also participated in the Sleepy Lagoon case in Los Angeles, a trial that became a cause celebre for liberals and Mexican American civil rights activists. On August 2, 1942, the death of José Díaz near a gravel-pit pool in El Monte triggered media hysteria about Pachuco gangs.13 Díaz may have been a victim of a hit-and-run accident or of his own drunk driving rather than murder in a gang war, as postulated by the police. A dragnet led to the arrest of three hundred young Chicanos. Ultimately twenty-three were indicted, twelve convicted for murder and five more for assault. Newspaper, public, and judicial bias as well as police prejudice and blatant mistreatment molded the jury verdicts.14

As wartime stress mounted, tough police action against Chicano youth gangs was encouraged by lurid press reporting in Southern California newspapers.15 During the Sleepy Lagoon trial, Luisa, working for UCAPAWA, Bert Corona, an official for the Warehouseman’s Union, and Carey McWilliams, an attorney with the California State Department Immigration and Housing, and others, formed the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee to rescue the convicted men. At the committee meetings Moreno stressed that the Grand Jury testimony encouraged race hatred toward Chicano juveniles. As she explained, “the Sleepy Lagoon Case is a reflection of the general reactionary drive against organized labor and minority problems. This case now sows all sorts of division among the various racial, national and religious groups among the workers.” 16

Moreno sensed the local uneasiness created by the war, particularly in San Diego. Housing was in short supply, rations became a nuisance, transportation became a problem, and racial conflicts in the Navy and around San Diego became intense. People searched for scapegoats.17 The war triggered anxiety, ambiguity and frustration. There were rumors of U.S. Navy ships being shelled or torpedoed along the Southern California coast. As 1943 progressed, most people felt that the United States was losing the war.

One result was a series of “riots” that erupted during the summer, largely directed toward Mexican Americans and other ethnics who dressed in the Zoot Suit mode. The Pachucos, Mexican American youngsters who dressed eccentrically in peg bottom, long pants and long coats became the targets of rampaging U.S. service men. In Los Angeles a major riot took place starting on June 3, 1943. About two hundred sailors took the law into their own hands when they formed a brigade of twenty taxicabs and cruised through the Mexican section of town looking for Zoot-Suiters. Wherever they found them, they jumped and beat them up, often stripping them of their clothes, then leaving them on the pavement for the ambulances.18 Later one of the sailors who led the expedition said, “We’re out to do what the police have failed to do…we’re going to clean up this situation…”19

The Los Angeles riots lasted more than a week fueled by sensationalist newspaper stories appearing in the Los Angeles newspapers. Sample journalism from this period illustrates the tone of warfare. The Los Angeles Daily News, for example, headlined that “Zoot Warfare Takes Guerrilla Form,” and the Los Angeles Herald-Express proclaimed “Zoot Forces Quiet on the Eastern Front.” When the service men began attacking Pachucos, the Daily News headlined, “Sailor Task Force Hits L.A. Zooters,” and later, the same newspaper trumpeted, “Zooters Planning to Attack More Servicemen.”20 As Luisa Moreno pointed out, “these papers assaulted Mexican Pachucos and zoot suiters. They insinuated that Mexicans were the cause of all the crime and delinquency in California.”21 Each night the mobs grew larger. “Squads of servicemen, arm linked, paraded through downtown Los Angeles four abreast, stopping anyone wearing zoot-suits.” They were encouraged by police indifference. “Aside from a few halfhearted admonitions, the police made no effort whatever to interfere with these hoards of disorder.”22

After emergency meeting of several hundred citizens, Luisa Moreno, Bert Corona and other Mexican-American community leaders sprang into action. “They mobilized a defense committee on behalf of the youngsters who were being arrested and detained even though they were the victims” of racist, paranoid servicemen.23 The committee, headed by Carey McWilliams and Moreno, attempted to stop wild rumors sweeping through the community.24 Moreno later said, “They were actually not riots. There were no upheavals in the community, no massive injuries or deaths and little property damage. Newspaper coverages label these events as riots to add color to their reports.”25

The San Diego Union refrained from printing hysterical headlines but war tensions did produce sporadic reports of ethnic and racial conflict.26 Rumors spread that Blacks, Chicanos, and unpatriotic Whites were abusing military personnel. In retaliation several taverns and other favorite spots for Mexicans and Blacks were vandalized.27 The Union reported incidents that revealed local tensions. They described the La Reine Cafe on 2003 Logan Avenue as “low class frequented by civilians and service men of mixed races and by a large number of common unescorted women.” The “general air of drunkenness” created fights over attractive prostitutes.28 More rumors spread about sleazy taverns, most of them were located on Mission Boulevard — places like the Beach Club Cafe and the Casino Club. The San Diego County Council investigated these places and concluded “that service men in the uniform of our navy, were being beaten, robbed, drugged, and subjected to other such acts, common to places of low repute.”29

San Diego was influenced by the riots going on farther north in Los Angeles. On June 10, 1943, the San Diego Union reported that groups of servicemen, ranging in size from a dozen to several hundred, roamed San Diego’s downtown streets south of Broadway, searching for “zoot-suited hoodlums reported to be infiltrating into San Diego from Los Angeles.”30 About one hundred sailors and marines stormed downtown San Diego on G Street below First Avenue to chase several youths wearing “the outlandish zoot-suit garb. The youths made their getaway in the darkness.” About three hundred other servicemen gathered at Third Avenue and East Street. They were quickly dispersed by city and military police before any zoot-suiters were discovered. San Diego’s police had been ordered to search suspicious individuals: they were told to detain those who “appeared to be members of a Pachuco gang. Those found to be carrying the usual Pachuco weapons-knives, chains and clubs-will be booked in the city jail on charges of carrying deadly weapons, police reported.”31

Moreno was convinced that tranquility in San Diego was a hoax and that the local newspaper was deceiving the community. The local consul of Mexico, Alfredo Elias Calles was concerned that the sailors and soldiers in Los Angeles “caused a great number of injured among the Mexican colony…”32 He told Moreno that the violence was spreading all over Southern California, primarily to Mexicans in San Diego. They became fast friends and exchanged notes. Both of them had remarkable quick insights, keen instincts and the patience for slow, tedious, serious work. They found an ally in Charles C. Dail, a San Diego city councilman, who shared the same traits.

On June 10, 1943, Dail informed Rear Admiral David Bagley, commandant of the Eleventh Naval District in San Diego that the action taken by the sailors and marines against the so-called “zoot suit” was an attack on civilians in general as well. “There have been many instances in San Diego where members of the military forces have insulted and vilified civilians on public streets…”33 One victim was a Consolidated Aircraft Company officer who was assaulted by a marine. The officer suffered serious injuries. Dail declared that most civilians just “grin and bear it” as part of the war effort.34 Hoping to become the mayor of San Diego, Dail issued information about military-civilian conflicts in such a way as to create a favorable light for himself.

Like the conservative and patriotic San Diego Union, Admiral Bagley at first ignored Dail’s complaint. He later denied the indictments leveled by Dail, who was supported by W. J. Decker, Secretary of the San Diego Industrial Union Council. They worried about bad morale. The Navy kept a lid on the San Diego disturbances. Commander E. Robert Anderson wrote to Decker and tried to smooth things out assuring him that, “…the Navy is cognizant of its responsibilities both to its personal and the civilian populations of the areas concerned.”35

Luisa Moreno was convinced that there were cases of unreported violence against Mexicans, commenting, “we will never know much about the San Diego civilian casualties. The Navy and the local newspaper ignored the violence since most of the victims were Mexicans.” She noted that they would be the last ones to complain to the authorities: “…these Mexicans lived an extremely hard life. They were poorly educated and attempted to better themselves through menial jobs. They avoided trouble and refused to complain. When confronted with discrimination, they swallowed their anger and sorrow.”36 She linked the cover-up of civilian anti-Mexican violence to racism. Admiral Bagley had joked that “Mexicans came cheap by the dozen and could be bought for ten cents each,” and, if “the Japs bombed Mexico City, it would cost fifty cents to replace it.”37

When confronted by accusations of military discrimination, the impatient Bagley pointed out that in Southern California, his sailors during the Zoot-Suit conflicts were “acting on self defense against the rowdy element.”38 At the same time he did not entirely excuse the servicemen’s irresponsible behavior, informing the San Diego mayor that “I do not condone any such attitude on the part of Naval personnel toward civilians…”39

Dail and Moreno worked together to try to mitigate violence. Preferring compromise to confrontation, both of them used their cause, charm and conviction to achieve their goal.

We refused to use heavy, political artillery. Instead, we ventured to avoid violence and attempted to save every drop of Mexican and American blood here in San Diego… My courage derived from experience of what not to fear. To promote the community’s interests, there is no pretense, no duplicity and no endeavor to convey any false emotion. I must admit that it was difficult but a necessary chore to shake hands to avoid conflict.40

Luisa Moreno became Dail’s eyes and ears as they investigated military personnel’s abuses toward San Diego civilians. They hoped to avoid large scale riots similar to what had already occurred in Los Angeles. Luisa became Dail’s advisor and demonstrated a remarkable degree of political savvy through her contacts with a network of labor organizers. In speaking with local minority community leaders, Moreno assured them that these conflicts were getting resolved. She asked them for patience. As Sam Kushner noted, “plenty of businessmen openly envied the flexibility and efficiency of Luisa Moreno.”41

Moreno decided to invite Admiral Bagley for a meeting with San Diego community labor and political leaders. She said, “arrogance, pretense and pride have no place in a commitment to serve the public. I wanted to have every avenue open to avoid blood and tears. In negotiations, you will never get everything you want. That is why you need to be flexible.”42 Bagley, however, ignored the invitation. As a man of authority, he detested open dialogue and avoided questions from reporters.

Moreno was also concerned about minorities, especially Chicano soldiers and sailors, in the U.S. armed forces. If so much hostility prevailed toward Chicanos by the armed forces, how did these Hispanic men survive inside the military? She saw many of them walking downtown San Diego fresh from their local naval boot training. Noticing the high casualties of these recruits in battle, she criticized their treatment upon returning from the war. “Over a quarter of Mexican blood was shed during the Second World War, Moreno said, “when they returned to the states, they desperately wanted a share in the democracy that they bitterly fought for…. Instead they saw the same prewar job discrimination and were denied their civil rights.”43

Ugly racial incidents continued. In El Centro there were reports that Anglo American sailors had been “maliciously assaulted by a Mexican American police officer…” Also in El Centro, the Teddy Orias Cafe refused to serve Black service men. When these reports circulated as rumors back in San Diego, tensions escalated.44 Moreno wanted an investigative expose of racial incidents occurring on the local naval bases. Moreno hoped that such a report could be written by one of her friends, the screenwriter Guy Endore. His pamphlets for the Chicano cause, especially the Sleepy Lagoon case, were already well known. When she was in downtown Los Angeles, Moreno attended his series of lectures on the world situation at the First Unitarian Church.45 But Endore was over-committed to other causes and could not help Moreno in San Diego. Trying a different strategy, Moreno alerted several San Diego Union reporters to several conflicts between minorities and the police and navy personal. To her surprise, she found that the correspondents lacked sophistication and had no networks to gather data. The chief editor also refused, not wanting his reporters to create an adversarial position with the Navy.46

Admiral Bagley, meanwhile, had allied himself with State Senator Jack B. Tenney, of Los Angeles.47 At one time, Tenney had been a liberal and a friend of Moreno. During the late 1930s he became more conservative about labor activism, especially that of migrant Mexican farm workers.48 As a politician, Tenney received donations from major agricultural interests. Moreno and other organizers like Herschel Alexander, Dorothy Healey, Pat Callaham and Clyde Champion became his enemies since they were all identified as Communists.49

A skillful tactician, Tenney was also combative and suspicious, unbending and self-righteous. As chairman of a State un-American activities committee (1941-1949) he thrived on witch- hunts and helped shape wartime hysteria to his political interest. Publicly he accused Dail and Moreno of collaborating to be un-American. When Dail realized that his political career was at stake, he waffled on his support of a military investigation in order to pacify Tenney.50

But Tenney did not intimidate Luisa Moreno. She persisted with her project to investigate the military’s treatment of minorities in San Diego. By now her dark hair was streaked with gray. The well-known attorney Carey McWilliams helped her gather evidence. She respected him for his “scholarly analysis which demonstrated graphically the plight of the Chicano community.”51 Moreno and McWilliams retained a cool-judgement about Moreno’s investigation but Tenney was furious. He issued his indictment of Moreno in a lengthy public accusation of participating in an anti-American Communist conspiracy.52

Tenney blamed the Zoot Suit riots in Los Angeles on “a series of articles run in the People’s Daily Word, a Communist West Coast publication.”53 Tenney also began attacking the supporters of the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee, the group that was working throughout the war period to free the twelve young Mexican Americans accused of murder. In San Diego Moreno worked with Robert Galvan, secretary treasurer of the United Fish Cannery Workers Union, to educate the rank and file members about the issues involved. Galvan wrote to the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee to get copies of Guy’s Endore’s pamphlet, The Sleepy Lagoon Mystery. The executive secretary of the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee, Alice Greenfield sent copies, also in Spanish and suggested that the local union distribute them in the San Diego area on consignment.54

The Los Angeles riot and the Sleepy Lagoon case were both indications of an anti-Mexican hysteria, particularly directed toward the youthful Zoot Suit wearing Pachucos. Moreno said, “The hysteria against the Sleepy Lagon defendants and the Pachucos over all was the outward manifestation of a complex fear in Southern California that Mexicans were moving more into the essential industries like agriculture, the food-processing commerce, the garment commerce, construction and other businesses.”55

Luisa continued to support community organizations such as the Madres del Soldado Hispano Americano (Mothers of the Hispanic American Soldier).56 As she said, “Life is full of contradictions. The sons of these mothers never had any civil rights in their country and now they are equal when it comes to defend this country.” Before, during and after the war, Mexicans became foreign-born suspects as low-waged immigrants and low-wage foreign workers who competed with native-born Americans for jobs and drove down wages.57

As a labor consultant, Moreno remained active in San Diego County and in the El Monte region where there were walnut groves, strawberry fields, and dairy farms. Surprisingly Moreno received financial support for her civil rights campaign from the California Walnut Growers Association. She was highly regarded by them for her businesslike approach to labor relations. A grower’s representative W. T. Webber wrote, “For a period of four years during the middle 1940s, Mrs. Luisa Moreno…held a position of authority in a labor union with which the California Walnut Growers Association had a contract. During this period I had scores of business meetings with…[Moreno] and came to have a high regard for her character, ability and honesty.”58

Ultimately, Luisa Moreno’s attempts to mediate the conflicts between San Diego’s Mexican American community and the U.S. Navy were sabotaged by Tenney and the conservative editors of the local newspaper. When sailors assaulted Mexican Americans, the San Diego Union remained silent. Meanwhile, Tenney’s crusade against Moreno and other labor activists continued. Moreno noted,


A desperate Tenney has used the Sleepy Lagoon case and Red-baiting to support segregation, oppose miscegenation and to divide the Mexican community in Southern California. He put them on the defensive. Again Mexican American veterans of World War II were denied service in most cafes and restaurants in several areas of San Diego County. They were still considered Mexicans. When they left the military service, several were deported as aliens.59

In 1947 Moreno moved permanently to San Diego with her husband Gray Bemis, a U.S. Navy sailor from Nebraska.60 She kept in touch with other labor organizers in Los Angeles, mainly the Mexican Civil Rights Committee. She was afraid that further “police brutality and discrimination against the Mexican and the Negro people” would create more Zoot-Suit type violence. While establishing a Mexican Civil Rights Committee chapter in San Diego, the specter of the cold war became more and more pronounced. An atmosphere of paranoia prevailed. Moreno wrote: “Now there was no more Sleepy Lagoon or Pachucos to blame, politicians scrambled to find Communists. There was an economic and cultural doubt that pervaded life in California.”61 Newspapers meanwhile charged that Moreno was a subversive living “under cover” as a housewife in San Diego.”62 The media shifted their stereotypes of Mexican youths but continued to consider them as criminals. The Los Angeles Examiner of May 22, 1950, now referred to Mexican Americans as “Rat Packers” or “boy hoods.” By inference, now, those liberals who had helped with the defense of Mexican American civil rights were suspect.

Moreno expressed her concern about the level of racism during speeches at meetings of the Young Progressives of America in Los Angeles and San Diego. She said, “the current unwarranted arrests and police brutality against young people create the basis for screaming news stories with pictures. Most attacks on youth occur in minority communities — Mexican American and Negro… “63

As a result of her outspoken criticism of the police various þpatrioticþ groups wrote threatening notes to Luisa Moreno and to her husband, Gray Bemis. Finally, on November 30, 1950, Jack Tenney managed to have her deported as a “dangerous alien.”64 She and her husband went into Mexico through Ciudad Juarez.65 The terms of her exit were listed as “voluntary departure under warrant of deportation” on the ground that she had once been a member of the Communist party. She never again stepped foot on United States soil.66

Speaking before civic groups in San Diego, Tenney had characterized Luisa Moreno as a “Parasitic Menace.67 During the same period he had gone after those who had supported the defendants in the Sleepy Lagoon case and those who defended the Zoot Suiters. Many Chicano leaders were deported in these years for their militancy in the labor movement, among them Refugio Martinez of the Packing House Workers in Chicago and Armando Davila of the Furniture Workers.68 Tenney also attacked the reputations of other labor and political leaders such as Ernesto Galarza, Frank Martinez, and LaRue McCormick. After he had Moreno deported, Tenney went after Bert Corona. Unable to get a job because of red-baiting, Corona became a salesman in the import and export business with his father-in-law’s help.69 Tenney also denigrated Carey McWilliams, author of North from Mexico, one of the first Chicano history textbooks. Unable to work in California, McWilliams eventually went to New York to became the editor for The Nation magazine.

Luisa Moreno eventually moved to her native Guatemala and then had to flee when the C.I.A. sponsored the overthrow of the progressive president, Arbenez. In her last years, Moreno went back to Guatemala. It was there that she shared her reflections of the Zoot Suit events and on the Tenney Committee Red-Scare with her daughter Mytyl. Isolated and incapacitated by old age, Luisa Moreno died in Guatemala on November 4, 1992.70

In the end, intense racial tensions, a legacy of the suffering brought on by World War, and the paranoia engendered by the Cold War influenced Mexican-Anglo relations in San Diego. But officially the city fathers chose to ignore the problem of discrimination. As Moreno recalled in a 1971 interview with Carlos Larralde, San Diego ignored its Zoot-Suit legacy and the Tenney committee, interested more in urban development and erasing its image of being just a sailor’s hangout.71 The Mexican American civilians who were victimized by the atmosphere of war time racism were forgotten. Their testimonies were never recorded.

The legacy of amnesia persists to this day as San Diego seeks to build its image as an international, border city with close ties to Mexico. The contemporary struggle for Mexican American civil rights and fair treatment in San Diego, had its roots in the activities of Luisa Moreno during the World War II and post-War periods.



1. Carlos Larralde and Richard Griswold del Castillo, “Luisa Moreno: A Hispanic Civil Rights Leader in San Diego,” Journal of San Diego History 41 (Fall 1995): 284-311.

2. Sam Kushner, interview with Carlos Larralde, 12 April 1980.

3. Quoted in Mario T. Garcia, Memories of Chicano History: The Life and Narrative of Bert Corona (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 117-118.

4. Luisa Moreno, interview by Carlos Larralde, 20 April 1971. The Carlos Larralde interviews cited here and elsewhere were conducted by Larralde over a period of years. Transcripts and notes of these interviews are available in the Carlos Larralde collection in Long Beach, California.

5. Ernesto Galarza, interview by Carlos Larralde, 12 March 1974. Galarza and Moreno were close friends. He was her mentor. As Bert Corona stated, “After working among Latino workers in New York in the early 1930s, she went on to work with Dr. Ernesto Galarza…,” Garcia, Memories of Chicano History, 117.

6. Carey McWilliams, Southern California Country: An Island in the Land (New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1946), 287.

7. See the “Spanish Bulletin,” UCAPAWA NEWS (Los Angeles, Calif.), May-June, 1940.

8. Luisa Moreno, interview by Carlos Larralde, 17 April 1971. California’s port cities have had a long tradition of cannery industries. [In San Francisco], “We visited one of the large canning establishments where California fruits are put up in immense quantities, and where hundreds of hands are employed in the business,” wrote D. B. Bennett, A Truth Seeker Around the World: From Hong Kong to New York (New York: D.M. Bennett, Liberal Publishers, 1882), 458.

9. Bert Corona, interview by Carlos Larralde, 25 April 1980. The Noticias de la UCAPAWA (Los Angeles, Calif), July, 1940, documents on the front page some of Moreno’s activities in San Diego. While in Southern California, Moreno was director of the Spanish-speaking unions of UCAPAWA. On this page, there is an extensive article on her friend Carey McWilliams as a civil rights leader.

Luisa Moreno went several times to San Francisco where the unions were stronger. There she compared notes with organizers like Harry Bridges. For more on union strongholds in San Francisco see David Lavender, California: Land of New Beginnings (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), 361. Moreno met McWilliams in San Francisco during the 1930s. Although he does not mention Moreno, scholars can get glimpses of McWilliams’ labor union activities in his Diary 1938, where he noted that on January 16, 18, 26, he was in San Francisco. Also in Diary 1939 McWilliams mentions that he went there on April 22, May 15, September 1, 5, 17, 1939. See his daily records section in the Carey McWilliams Collection, Special Collections, University of California, Los Angeles.

Moreno was active in UCAPWA activities in Texas. See Victor Nelson-Cisneros, “UCAPAWA Organizing Activities in Texas, 19351950,” Aztlan, Spring, 1978.

10. Petroleum Administration for War Records, National Archives, Pacific Southwest Region, Laguna Niguel, California. We thank archivist Suzanne Dewberry for pointing out this source. S. Dewberry to C. Larralde, 22 November 1995.

11. Moreno interview, 20 April 1971.

12. Ibid.

13. “Today the site of Sleepy Lagon is a gritty industrial zone…” See Cecilia Rasmussen, “L.A. Scene The City Then and Now: Where Latino March Toward Justice Began,”

Los Angeles Times, 24 April 1995, p. B 3. The name “Sleepy Lagoon,” was given after a Harry James tune of the period. The pool was a favorite makeout spot for local youths.

14. James D. Hart, A Companion to California (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 409.

15. Moreno interview, 17 April 1971.

16. Ibid., 2 June 1971. See also Carey McWilliams, The New Republic, 18 January 1943.

17. See John Celardo, “Shifting Seas: Racial Integration in United States Navy, 1941-1945,” Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives (Fall 1991): 230-235.

18. McWilliams, North from Mexico, 245.

19. Ibid., 246.

20. Mauricio Mazon, The Zoot Suit Riots: The Psychology of Symbolic Annihilation (Austin: University of Texas, 1984), 79-80; McWilliams, North from Mexico, 246-250.

21. Moreno interview, 20 April 1971.

22. McWilliams, North from Mexico, 246.

23. Garcia, Memories of Chicano History, 143.

24. Carey McWilliams, “Zoot-Suit Riots,” New Republic, (21 June 1943): 18-20. See also the Zoot-Suit Riots section in the Carey McWilliams Collection, Special Collections, University of California, Los Angeles.

25. Moreno interview, 20 April 1971. For a similar aspect on the Zoot Suit riots see Alfredo Mirande and Jose Lopez, “Chicano Urban Youth Gangs: A Critical Analysis of a Social Problem?” Latino Studies Journal (September 1992): 18-20.

26. Moreno interview, 28 April 1971.

27. Port Director Routing Slip, 23 October 1942, Records of Shore Establishments and Naval Districts: Eleventh Naval District, Records of the Commandant Office, General Correspondence, 19241955, National Archives, Pacific Southwest Region, Laguna Niguel, California, Box No., 296, File No., P 8-5, 1942. All following citations to this source will be cited with dates as National Archives.

28. Statement of Provost Marshal John E. Hudson regarding La Reine Cafe, 10 August 1942, National Archives, Box No., 296, File No., P 8-5, 1942.

29. Dan Buckly, Adjutant San Diego Council to Commander 11th Naval District, 29 June 1942, National Archives, Box No., 295, File No., P 8-5, 1942.

30. “Zoot-Suiters Hunted in S.D.,” San Diego Union, 10 June 1943, 1.

31. Ibid.; Moreno interview, 28 April 1971.

32. Alfred Elias Calles, Consul of Mexico, to Admiral D.W. Bagley, 8 June 1943. Another person who shared Calles’ concern was Major General Maxwell Murray. See Murray to Commanders All Units, Southern California Sector, June 11, 1943, National Archives, Box No., 296, File No., P 8-5 [Zoot Suit Gang] 1943, 296.

33. Councilman Charles C. Dail to Admiral David W. Bagley, 10 June 1943, National Archives, Box No., 296, File No., P 8-5 [Zoot Suit Gang] 1943, 296.

34. Ibid.

35. Commander E. Robert Anderson to W.J. Decker, 12 June 1943, National Archives, Box No., 296, File No., P 8-5 [Zoot Suit Gang] i943, 296.

36. Moreno interview, 20 April 1971. The majority of Southern California newspapers remained conservative. They were indirectly controlled by the Los Angeles Times, owned by the Chandler family. The Chandlers had holdings in Imperial Valley and in the Owens Valley-San Fernando Valley. They also had vast Mexican holdings. See William G. Bonelli, Billion Dollar Blackjack (Beverly Hills, Calif: Civic Research Press, 1954), 182-183, 202. Bonelli wrote, “Today, the great divisive force in the Republican party is Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. Once again the two Chandler papers take opposite sides. The Times is resolutely pro-Carthy. The Mirror is wishy-washy anti-McCarthy. These surface differences are supposed to be good for circulation. The Chandlers think they can fool some of the people all the time by the pretense that the Mirror is an autonomous publication.”

37. Ibid.

38. D. W. Bagley Memorandum, 9 June 1943, National Archives, Box No., 296., File No., P 8-5 [Zoot Suit Gang] 1943, 296. Bagley rewrote this memorandum several times as one can see from the P 8-5 copy. See also the Los Angeles Times, 9 June 1943.

39. D. W. Bagley to Charles C. Dail, 18 June 1943, National Archives, Box No., 296, File No., P 8-5 [Zoot Suit Gang] 1943, 296.

40. Moreno interview, 20 April 1971.

41. Kushner interview, 12 April 1980.

42. Moreno interview, 20 April 1971.

43. Ibid. “Mexican Americans soldiers,” said Marine Corps veteran Balton Llames, “shed at least a quarter of the blood spilled at Bataan…” Quoted in McWilliams, North from Mexico, 261.

44. Routine slip, 27 January 1944; T. M. Leovy, District Patrol Officer, to Chief of Staff, 1 May 1944, Federal Archives, Box 297, File No., P 8-5 [Zoot Suit Gang] 1944 [~].

45. Moreno interview, 20 April 1971; Kushner interview, 12 April 1980; Corona interview, 25 April 1980; Nancy Lynn Schwartz, The Hollywood Writers’ Wars (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982), 151.

46. Ibid.

47. Hart, A Companion to California, 442.

48. Corona interview, 26 July 1995

49. Ibid., 12 July 1994; Sam Kushner, Long Road to Delano (New York: International Publishers, 1975), 92, See also Dorothy Healey and Maurice Isserman, Dorothy Healey Remembers: A Life in the American Communist Party (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 84-87.

50. Corona interview, 26 July 1995.

51. Ibid

52. Corona interview, 12 July 1994; Edward L. Barrett, The Tenney Committee: Legislative Investigation of Subversive Activities in California (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1951), 49.

53. Un-American Activities in California, 1943, Report of the Join Fact-Finding Committee to the Fifty-Fifth California Legislature (Sacramento, Calif.: Government Printing Office, 1943), 203.

54. Executive Secretary Alice Greenfield to Robert Galvan, July 1944, UCLA Special Collections, Sleepy Lagoon Committee, Collection 107, Box 3, Petitions, File 3.

55. Moreno interview, 12 May 1971.

56. There are two or three documents stamped with the Madres organization seal. See UCLA Special Collections, Collection 107, Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee, Box 3, Petitions, File 3.

57. Moreno interview, 20 April 1971.

58. W. T. Webber to Those Concerned, 5 August 1949, Box 7, Folder 53, Robert W. Kenny Collection, Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research, Los Angeles, Calif. We thank the archivists Mary F. Tyler and Sarah Cooper for pointing out to us labor union records on San Diego.

59. Moreno interview, 20 April 1971.

60. A copy of Luisa Moreno [Rosa Rodriguez] and Gray Dayton Bemis marriage Certificate is in Yuma County Courthouse, Arizona, Marriage Records, Book 129, page 133. As for Bemis, he was born on April 15, 1906 in York, Nebraska. In 1930, he attended the University of Nebraska. He then joined the U.S. Navy and became an Electrician’s Mate Second Class. On November 25, 1945, he was honorably discharged in Los Angeles. Bemis had an interest in the civil rights of minorities and was part of the Citizens Committee for the Defense of Mexican-American Youth or those involved in the Sleepy Lagoon Case. See Un-American Activities in California, 1943, 217.

61. Moreno interview, 20 April 1971.

62. Evening Tribune (San Diego), 27 June 1950, Section B, 1. For a variety of newspaper coverage on Moreno see “Bemis Case Support Starts Rolling in North,” Labor Herald, (San Francisco, Calif), 28 February 1950, 1. See also “Red Law Arrests,” Los Angeles Evening Herald, 25 October 1950, B 2; and “Judge Calls for NonRed Proof,” Los Angeles Evening Herald, 31 October 1950.

63. For more data see Southern California Library for Social Studies & Research, Civil Rights Congress, “Wolf Pack Hysteria,” 1950, Box 5, Folder 9. Again her name is not mentioned. Bert Corona pointed out about Moreno. “She wrote very well, and bilingually; she turned out the best written leaflets I’ve ever seen.” See Garcia, Memories of Chicano History, 117. Corona gave Larralde one of these leaflets that Moreno produced for the Young Progressives of America.

64. Moreno interview, 20 April 1971.

65. Luisa Moreno to Robert Morris, 1 December 1950, Box 7, Folder 56, Robert Kenny Collection. Moreno and her husband, Gray Bemis, first went to Chihuahua, Mexico and slowly drove down in their Studebaker to the interior of the country. Later they went to Guatemala to see her family. Again in Folder 56, see the correspondence of Moreno to Kenny.

66. H. R. Landon, U.S. Department of Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service, District Director, Los Angeles, Folder 54, Robert Kenny Collection.

67. Moreno interview, 28 April 1971; Corona interview, 12 May 1980.

68. Moreno interview, 20 April 1971; see also Garcia, Memories of Chicano History, 113.

69. Because of Tenney, the FBI harassed Corona. See Garcia, 189191. See also U.S. Department of Justice, FBI document SF 10032214, Corona’s file 100-201342.

70. Moreno stipulated in her will that she wanted to be cremated. Moreno’s brother Ernesto opposed it. Instead she was buried in a family marble mausoleum. See Luisa Moreno Bemis’ will, 17 November 1950, Box 7, Los Angeles, Folder 55, Robert Kenny Collection.

71. Moreno interview, 12 May 1971.


Richard Griswold del Castillo is Professor of Mexican American Studies at San Diego State University. He received his Ph.D. in history from the University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Griswold is the author of The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1990) and with Richard Garcia, Cesar Chavez: A Triumph of the Spirit (1995).

Carlos M. Larralde is an independent scholar who has written several monographs and articles in Mexican American studies. He has a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Larralde is the author of Mexican American Movements and Leaders (1976).