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Maria Luisa Morales | Wisconsin Historical Society

Feature Story

Maria Luisa Morales

Celebrating Wisconsin Visionaries, Changemakers, and Storytellers

Maria Luisa Morales | Wisconsin Historical Society

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A Voice for Immigrants and Migrant Workers

Changemaker | Marisa Luisa Morales | 1944 - Present

Maria Luisa Morales speaking at a demonstration for peace. She's wearing a blue shirt for the demonstration and her dark hair pulled back into a ponytail, scales of justice are visible behind her.

Maria Luisa Morales speaking at a demonstration for peace. Courtesy of Maria Luisa Morales

Maria Luisa Morales was born into a family of migrant farm workers in Cotulla, Texas, in 1944. At a very young age, she noticed inequality in the poor working conditions all around her. Morales is a changemaker who dedicated her life to improving conditions for migrant workers, advocating for immigration reform, and fighting for the immigrant community's voice to be heard.

When Morales was five years old, her family settled in Racine, Wisconsin, but still traveled to work on farms in the summer. Everyone back in Cotulla had spoken Spanish, so English was new to her at school. She and her siblings were discriminated against and their names were changed by their teachers; Maria Luisa was changed to “Mary Lou.”

After getting married in 1963, Morales became more involved in supporting her local community in Racine, helping with Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, church activities, and giving rides to women to visit family members in prison. Although she was no longer working on farms, she was very concerned about the unsuitable conditions in a neighborhood where migrant workers were living.

Morales helped form a coalition to put pressure on the city council to make conditions better in the neighborhood by installing indoor plumbing and paving the streets and sidewalks. Later, she advocated for migrants in other parts of the state and fought to change the ways immigrants and families who received aid were treated. Morales worked with unions to improve wages for workers in the garment industry and even marched with civil rights activist César Chávez in 1991.

For years, Morales worked for an immigrant rights organization called Voces de la Frontera (Voices from the Frontiers). She also served on the board of the Urban League for several years and is still involved in justice issues, such as voter registration. Morales remains a changemaker who speaks up for positive change.

*This story is adapted from the Wisconsin Historical Society essay Maria Luisa Morales. Additional information was provided by womeninwisconsin.org, a website created in partnership with the Wisconsin Historical Society, PBS Wisconsin, the University of Wisconsin Women's Studies Consortium, and the Wisconsin Humanities Council.

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