Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service

Life As a Latino in Milwaukee

Residents offer frank views. Education, low wages, segregation seen as challenges.

By , Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service - Jul 11th, 2019 01:00 pm
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Folk dancers on Cesar Chavez E. Drive at Ciclovia MKE in 2016. Photo by Adam Carr/NNS.

Folk dancers on Cesar Chavez E. Drive at Ciclovia MKE in 2016. Photo by Adam Carr/NNS.

What’s it like to be a Latino living in Milwaukee?

With the nation’s largest Latino civil rights group coming to town today, we thought we would consult the experts.

The national conference by the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, is expected to bring 15,000 to 20,000 visitors to Milwaukee through Saturday.

We asked Milwaukee-based LULAC members to reflect on their city and to offer their thoughts on the greatest challenges and successes of Milwaukee’s Latino community (as well as their suggestions on Latino-owned businesses to patronize while conventioneers are in town).

Here are their responses:

Mariela Fonseca. Photo courtesy of NNS.

Mariela Fonseca. Photo courtesy of NNS.

Mariela FonsecaAdmission coordinator at Carmen Schools of Science and Technology

Recommendation: Looking for hand-made tacos? Go to the family-owned Carnitas Machetes, 2000 S. 8th St.

Challenge: The biggest challenge facing Latinos in Milwaukee is segregation. The lack of social interaction limits opportunities to cultural awareness and resources. It continues to keep us limited to advance in networks we might not know of.

Success: Milwaukee is filled with nonprofits who continue to support any community in need. Safe and Sound, women’s shelters, Walker’s Point Youth & Family Center and more are all partnerships that strive to make Milwaukee better. Milwaukee is a beautiful city filled with history and abundance of culture.

Guadalupe Gomez Soto. Photo courtesy of NNS.

Guadalupe Gomez Soto. Photo courtesy of NNS.

Guadalupe Gomez SotoPresident of Milwaukee’s LULAC Youth Council

Recommendation: If I could pick only one Latino-owned business in Milwaukee, it would be Mazorca Tacos. The people who own the “restaurant” (food truck located at 209 S. 1st St.) are close friends and their food never disappoints. Plus, it’s located downtown and has a beautiful scenery.

Challenge: The biggest challenge facing Latinos in Milwaukee are low wages. With low wages, people don’t have the opportunity to grow and provide their children with better opportunities. A recommendation is to start giving this unrepresented population more opportunities to flourish. What makes it special is that as Latinos, we always find a way to better ourselves and always keep going for more.

Success: There are many successes that Milwaukee’s Latino community has accomplished. Voces de la Frontera, a Latino organization, has accomplished so many things in the community. This organization has implemented A Day Without Latinos, which goes to Madison to fight for different purposes like driver’s licenses (regardless of immigration status) in Milwaukee. Because of this, our voices have been heard and many of these initiatives have been passed.

Also, Latinos have grown tremendously in Milwaukee. Many are starting businesses and slowly growing. These businesses are supporting undocumented students and many are accomplishing things many never would’ve thought about.

Vanessa L. Llanas. Photo courtesy of NNS.

Vanessa L. Llanas. Photo courtesy of NNS.

Vanessa L. LlanasRegional representative for U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin

Recommendation: Supermercado El Rey, family owned and operated since 1978, and specifically the flagship location, 916 S. Cesar E. Chavez Drive.

Challenge: We need more human and financial resources to strengthen civic engagement of the Latinx community in Milwaukee. Meaningful education and outreach in issues like the 2020 census, voter participation, public service employment and AmeriCorps programs.

Success: UMOS and Mexican Fiesta/Wisconsin Hispanic Scholarship Foundation have been a staunch supporter of maintaining and growing Latinx culture. Both organizations host or sponsor events throughout the year that celebrate Latinx culture, are inclusive of the entire Milwaukee community and provide opportunities for people to volunteer and/or support local Latinx vendors.

Mexican Fiesta draws over 80,000 people from a five-state area to learn about Mexican culture. UMOS Cerveceros Tailgate gives our community the opportunity to show our Latin pride and create a strong, positive presence at a Milwaukee Brewers game.

Arturo Martinez. Photo courtesy of NNS.

Arturo Martinez. Photo courtesy of NNS.

Arturo MartinezAssociate dean/director Walker’s Square Educational Center at Milwaukee Area Technical College

Recommendation: Supermercado El Rey (multiple locations in Milwaukee)

Challenge: The biggest challenge is closing the achievement gap, which would lead to more Hispanic youths pursuing a college degree. This would increase the number of Latinos in high-level administrative positions within colleges and universities in Wisconsin.

Success: Milwaukee’s Latino community’s biggest success is its buying power. As the Hispanic population increases, their economic impact helps to support state sales tax, city property tax and contributes to federal taxes. This helps cities like Milwaukee to benefit from the economic contributions of Hispanics.

Veronica Rodriguez- Lewis. Photo courtesy of NNS.

Veronica Rodriguez- Lewis. Photo courtesy of NNS.

Veronica Rodriguez- LewisDirector of Talent and Human Resources at Carmen Schools of Science and Technology

Recommendation: BC Modern mid-century furnishings shop, 900 S. 5th St., open Saturdays and Sundays only

Challenge: Latinos need to continue pursuing their education. This starts with seeking early childhood resources to help our children with literacy (especially with English as a second language) to build a strong foundation and confidence in their ability to learn.

SuccessMilwaukee is home to a large body of Latinos. You can find Latin culture in barrios across the city and a myriad of Spanish influence in small business restaurants, shopping, fiestas and music.

Milwaukee historically attracted immigrants with work opportunities — many families like mine came to Milwaukee seeking a better life. The American dream was possible in Milwaukee because of work in manufacturing and breweries in the early ‘70s. Today we call Milwaukee home.

Fela Salinas. Photo courtesy of NNS.

Fela Salinas. Photo courtesy of NNS.

Fela SalinasU.S. Government Civil Service retiree

Recommendation: Oscar’s Pub & Grill (locations at 1712 W. Pierce St. and 3800 W. Burnham St.)

Success: I am especially proud of the Spanish-speaking outreach institute (Roberto Hernández Center) at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee that was initiated by marches in the early 1970s by our Hispanic community. This dramatically increased the attendance of Latinos at this university. 

LULAC member Bevin Christie contributed to this report.

This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on eighteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee.

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