Wisconsin’s Hispanic history

Hispanic Heritage Month

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) — Each year, the United States observes National Hispanic Heritage month from September 15th to October 15th. It celebrates the histories, cultures, and contributions of Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.

16 years ago, Gabriela Gamboa came to the U.S. from Mexico, leaving behind the life she knew to build a better one for her family.

“When I came here, I saw working in labor. I had the opportunity to make more money.”

She also saw a safe community. 

“I like Green Bay. It’s a really nice city,” she says.

A place where she’s established a career in radio and her two sons have both pursued college degrees.

“It’s something I would do again because of my kids you know, it’s something I do not regret.”

And according to Sergio Gonzalez, assistant Professor of Latinx Studies at Marquette University, it is a journey hundreds of thousands of Hispanics have made over the last 130 years in Wisconsin.

“I think it’s important for us as Wisconsinites to remember that our immigrant history reaches further back than just the people who came from Europe,” says Gonzalez.

Gonzalez is the author of Mexicans in Wisconsin. He says Latino immigrants first settled in Milwaukee in 1884, but Mexican immigration numbers grew, first in the 1920s  as the U.S. imposed quotas on those coming from Europe.

“And so industries here in Wisconsin had to look for a different location to find workers.”

And then in wave after wave over the coming decades, first as Tejano migrants arrived to work in the state’s farm fields and later immigrants searching for work in factories and foundries.

“They first arrived in southeast Wisconsin in Milwaukee and Waukesha working in an assortment of industries where they can at times work in the fields in the summertime and in the winter work in the factories,” Gonzalez explains.

Over time, these immigrants settled into major cites: Milwaukee and Madison, establishing communities of Latino descent.

“They’re not just bringing their clothes and furniture; they are also bringing their culture, memories, language, who they actually are.”

“From the 1980s to the present, we start to see more of dispersal throughout the state of Wisconsin,” says UW-Milwaukee Professor Javier Tapia.

He says in the ’80s, Hispanics moved into Green Bay finding jobs first in the meatpacking industry and later on dairy farms in rural Wisconsin.

“Without the Hispanic immigrant labor, the dairy industry would be in a state of severe crisis.”

“I feel so proud for my people because we are here to work. We are here to bring the best of us and we are hard workers,” says Gamboa.

Immigrants which Gonzalez says deserve our communities support and respect.

“If they make a home for themselves here, if they call the state home and if they feel they are part of the community, they must be treated as such.”

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