Agricultural labor is a foundation to our local economy here in the San Joaquin valley. Yet, the stories of ordinary workers themselves are often neglected and remain unheard voices from the fields.
The new documentary film "Adios Amor: The Search for Maria Moreno" celebrates farmworkers by capturing the story of an unsung heroine of the labor movement. Moreno, one of the first women hired by an agricultural labor union, organized workers for justice in the fields of the San Joaquin. According to the film’s director, Laurie Coyle, “The discovery of lost photographs sparked a search for a hero that history forgot — Maria Moreno, a migrant mother driven to speak out by her twelve children’s hunger. Years before Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta launched the United Farm Workers, Maria picked up the only weapon she had — her voice — and became an outspoken leader in an era when women were relegated to the background.”
The film is a beautiful mosaic of borderlands history. The search for Moreno takes viewers from California’s rich agricultural belt, to rural Texas, the Arizona desert and the U.S.-Mexico border, through archives, attics and orchards, to recover a treasure trove of photographs, home movies, music and memorabilia. This rich tableau is enhanced by the recovery of long-lost audio recordings of Moreno, telling her own story with spunk, humor and passion.
Recovered as well are the vivid memories of the maverick journalists, activists and artists who captured Moreno’s story and kept her memory alive. A deeply human drama also comes to life of Mexican American migrants living in dire poverty in an era of unprecedented abundance, whose faith, family values and culture sustained them. In reviving the legacy of Moreno, "Adios Amor" raises provocative questions about whose lives we remember and recognize, while inspiring viewers to launch their own journeys of discovery into the past.
“Adios Amor” translates as “goodbye my love.” The title of the film comes from a song that was popular during Moreno’s time, especially among migrant workers who often had to leave their families behind to support them. The life of a migrant worker is full of sacrifice and the song is full of longing. It’s a fitting metaphor — our hidden histories beckon to us through elusive voices and mysterious clues — it’s up to us to follow the call and recover their stories.
The underlying theme of "Adios Amor" concerns whose voices are represented when histories are shaped. How can we be more inclusive of those who have been underrepresented due to gender or ethnicity? How might “first generation” college students and their immigrant families — and rural communities in general — connect the dots between their lived experience and the broader scope of American history? How can learning about history foster a sense of belonging for new Americans? With multiple generations of migrants moving in and then out of farm labor, many farmworkers today don’t know who Chavez was, let alone Moreno. Often lacking culturally responsive educational materials, many students don’t learn about the legacy of the farmworkers’ movement. Yet these stories offer a vital link to past struggles for civil rights and inclusion, and that is why the search for Moreno matters.
With grant sponsorship from the Catalyst Fund’s “Immigrants Rising” program and the National Endowment for the Humanities, the public is invited to attend this film screening 6 p.m. March 28 at the Bakersfield College indoor theater. Following the one-hour film screening, the film’s director, Coyle, will join Bakersfield College student leaders for a panel discussion of the film as part of a campus celebration marking National Farmworker Awareness Week. Light refreshments will be served at 5:30 p.m.
While the event is free and open to the public, we encourage those interested to register in advance at the Bakersfield College Social Justice Institute's website, https://www.bakersfieldcollege.edu/social-justice-institute.
Oliver A. Rosales is professor of history at Bakersfield College and Advisory Board member to California Humanities.