MILWAUKEE — Once upon a time, on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's campus, there were only 12 LatinX students. Now nearly 50 years later, the school serves more than 2,000. However, it was by no means an easy journey.
Fifty-one years ago on the campus of UWM, the Roberto Hernandez Center was a dream 12 Latino students on campus fought for.
"The center was sort of being created through advocacy and activism," said Alberto Maldonado, who serves as director of the Roberto Hernandez Center.
The students were backed by community leaders and dozens of Latino families as they rallied to have more resources for Hispanics on campus.
"What history tells us, students and families would sleep on the lawn and it was a 3-day-long protest. Through those efforts, this center comes about," said Maldonado.
The Roberto Hernandez Center helped Maldonado himself as a first-generation college student. Attending undergrad in the 90s, he felt like he was often playing catch-up as English was his second language.
"I started my journey here at UWM, and it was at the very center that I direct today. That sort of opened the doors for me," said Maldonado.
The Roberto Hernandez Center helps students attain scholarships and career opportunities while also embracing the fact that many primarily speak Spanish.
Five years ago, UWM announced its intention of becoming Wisconsin's first Hispanic-serving institution.
"In 2016, we had about 260-plus Latino students graduating with a bachelor's degree. In 2019/2020, we had 400," said Maldonado.
While Hispanic students still make up only 13% of undergraduate students at UWM, they believe that number will continue to rise.