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Latinx History: Group thrusting Wisconsin's Latinx tradition into the spotlight

Posted at 6:52 PM, Feb 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-03 02:45:46-05

WISCONSIN — You may not know it, but Latinx people in Wisconsin have a long and storied past that dates back over 100 years.

Take for instance Raphael Baez. He is considered to be one of the first people to officially claim Wisconsin as his home. He came in the 1880s as a classical musician and became the first Mexican professor at Marquette University.

A photo of the man considered the first Mexican to live in Wisconsin, Raphael Baez. Photo Courtesy of the Milwaukee County Historical Society

Now stories like Raphaels', and thousands of others, will be thrust into the spotlight by the new group, Wisconsin Latinx History Collective (WLHS).

"I thought it would be important to document our history so that historical fact replaces myths lies and misunderstandings," founder of the WLHS, Dr. Andrea-Teresa Arenas, said.

The goal is to amplify the voices of those who historically were not heard, to educate the public about Wisconsin's Latinx tradition, and empower people to be proud of their heritage.

“...based on the racism and discrimination I have experienced throughout my lifetime, it tells me that people still don’t know about us," Dr. Arenas said.

A group of migrant workers march to promote worker's rights. Photo Courtesy Wisconsin Historical Society

Like the little-known fact about Raphael Baez, Arenas pointed out that there is a huge population of Latinx people in Arcadia, Wisconsin. According to the U.S. census, more than 40 percent of homes in Arcadia speak Spanish.

"Because we have been for too long. A forgotten people and we haven’t forgotten, but others may not be aware," a community researcher with the WLHS, Maria Cruz, said.

She is focusing her efforts on archiving the stories about the Brown Berets. They were social and community activists that still operate today.

“They supported the migrant movement, the farmworker movement. They were very much apart of it, and yes they were involved in marches," she said.

They even helped fund a weekly newspaper called La Guardia, which ran from the 1960s to 1980s. Cruz plans on interviewing members of the Brown Berets to keep their stories alive. Plus, she even has some old copies of La Guardia she plans on working into her research too.

This is all personal for Cruz because she feels a strong pride in her heritage and hopes that younger generations can be equally as proud and inspired.

" know the contributions that these men and women made not only to Milwaukee but to Wisconsin, to the history of this country."

All of this matters because knowing your history and heritage is important.

"Once you know your history, then you know your identity. You know who you are. You know where you stand," Cruz said,

WLHC plans on conducting research for the next five years, and is accepting research help. You can reach out to them on their Facebook page.

The photos in the article and video are from the Wisconsin Historical Society, and they are working to curate more for the WLHC.

Photos of Raphael Baez were provided by the Milwaukee County Historical Society. The photo of migrant workers marching is courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

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