The first time I saw Maria Moreno was 20 years ago when I was lead researcher and associate producer for the groundbreaking PBS documentary, The Fight in the Fields-Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers’ Struggle. Searching for images of Cesar Chavez at the Take Stock archive, I came across hundreds of photographs of a migrant mother organizing with her children at her side.
Far from snapshots, these were master images taken by the leading photographer of the farmworker movement, George Ballis. Aside from the well-known UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta, farmworker women were usually anonymous and relegated to the background in press coverage. Who was the remarkable woman in the photographs and why hadn’t I ever heard of her?
As a producer of history documentaries, I was tremendously excited to find a treasure trove of photographs that I wasn’t looking for. I wanted to know more, but life as a working mother and freelance filmmaker intervened. Years later, after working on, and in one case directing, numerous documentaries about illustrious men, I returned to the provocative photographs to find their mysterious protagonist. When the search began, I didn’t know what I would find or whether Maria Moreno would still be living. With a measure of luck and a lot of work, I traced her life and legacy.
On a personal note, Adios Amor represents a homecoming for me. The year that Maria Moreno was pushed out of the labor movement, my parents uprooted our family of nine from the East Coast and moved to the Bay Area. In those days there were still traces of the farms that had been the heart of the Santa Clara Valley. The public library in our town was built in the middle of an apricot orchard, and we would collect the apricots that fell to the ground. But we knew nothing about the lives and struggles of the workers who grew the food on our table. Not until the California grape strike started and Dad began volunteering at the farmworker clinic in Delano. Mom was busy raising seven kids, taking night classes, and protesting the war in Vietnam. I dedicate Adios Amor to their memories.
Although our lives were so different, I felt the immediate connection of having grown up in a big family when I met the Morenos. The search for Maria became their search—sharing childhood memories, visiting their mother’s birthplace, embarking on a pilgrimage to the desert that had sustained them during their mother’s exile from the labor movement.
I hope that Adios Amor – The Search for Maria Moreno will inspire viewers to launch their own journeys of discovery, and to ask how history is shaped and whose voices are represented. How many Marias walk among us? It’s for us to draw a circle around their stories and invite them to speak.
A WORD ABOUT THE TITLE
“Adios Amor” translates as “goodbye my love.” The title comes from a 1960s documentary that I found at the National Archives. In the footage, the camera wanders through a lush grove, filming the workers harvesting, packing and hauling oranges. High in the trees, hidden from sight, a solo voice sings a plaintive melody “Adios Amor.” It struck me as a fitting metaphor—history feels less a harvest of low-lying fruit than an elusive voice that beckons.
“Adios Amor” is also the refrain of No Llores Mas (Cry No More), a song that was popular at Maria'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.