Brave Sis #SistoryLesson pays tribute to two incredible women who made an influence in the arts and the labor movement: Sono Osato and Luisa Moreno.
Celebrate dancer Sono Osato, born August 29. 1919.
While on a family trip to Monte Carlo, she was inspired by the artistry of the famous Ballets Russes company, and began ballet lessons two years later. She was only 14 when she became the youngest member of this very company—their first American dancer as well as their first of Japanese descent.
As her career advanced, Osato refused to change her name to a Russian-sounding one, and once she was back in the U.S., dancing with the American Ballet, she’d resist advice to change her name again. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, when her father was sent to a Japanese internment camp, she finally did take on her mother’s maiden name, Fitzpatrick—for a while.
The anti-Japanese-American policies of the war period impeded her ability to tour with the company, which greatly derailed her career. After the War, she had a brief career as an actress in film, on Broadway, and on television, with a notable role tantalizing Frank Sinatra with a “whip-fandango-Tarantella dance (or some kind of 1940s mashup) in the 1948 film The Kissing Bandit.
An advocate for dance and dancers her entire life, she founded the Sono Osato Scholarship Program in Graduate Studies to help former dancers transition to graduate degrees in both the performing and liberal arts. She passed away on December 26, 2018 at age 99.
お誕生日おめでとうございます 大里 ソノ (That’s “Happy Birthday Sono Osato, in Japanese!)
Many who are familiar with workers’ rights know of the remarkable work of Dolores Huerta, but a few decades prior, another Latin-American labor movement powerhouse was making an impact for laborers, Luisa Moreno.
Born as Blanca Rosa López Rodríguez on August 30, 1907 in Guatemala City, Moreno ended up in New York in the late 1920s, working as a seamstress during the Great Depression and organizing her Latina peers into a labor union. Later, she intensified her effort, unionizing Black and Latina women workers in many states and varied industries across the nation.
Moreno spent her adult life creating awareness about and action for workers’ rights, engaging in strikes and other forms of social activism, convening the 1939 “first national Latino civil rights assembly,” and employing her bilingual skills to help spread awareness among workers of their rights.
One of the most memorable of these exposés was her 1940 “Caravan of Sorrow” speech depicting the plight of Mexican migrant workers. Moreno demonstrated a lifelong dedication to organizing, dissenting, and speaking up and out for those who were most exploited.
This agitation, along with her involvement in the Communist Party, led to her departure from the U.S. to her homeland of Guatemala, under threat of deportation. While she was a major figure in the pre-Chicano Movement as well as the Labor Movement, Moreno remains little-known to many activists.