Before Dolores Huerta, before César Chávez, before the United Farm Workers movement, a woman named Maria Moreno was the first female farmworker hired as a union organizer in the United States. If this isn’t enough to impress, she was also the mother of 12 children. In her speeches, she told her family’s story, one of personal tragedy, hunger and backbreaking work, to rally her fellow migrant workers—Mexican American, Filipino, black and white—to the union cause.
Forgotten by history after she was fired for being “too independent,” her work eclipsed by the more successful movements of the 60s and 70s, Moreno’s story might have ended there. But while researching another documentary project, San Francisco filmmaker Laurie Coyle came across George Ballis’ stunning photographs of an unidentified Moreno organizing for farmworkers’ rights. And twenty years after that discovery (time spent working on “numerous documentaries about illustrious men”), Coyle returned to the images and began her search for Maria Moreno.
The fruit of Coyle’s labors is an hour-long documentary that, along with Peter Bratt’s recent Dolores, proves just how many strong, outspoken women shaped California history—and how many of their stories have yet to be brought to light.