submitted by Linn Roth; photo by John Bonsett-Veal
Professor Sergio González of Marquette University gave a lively and informative presentation chronicling the growth and importance of the Mexican population in Wisconsin, using his family as one example of how that evolution took place. The journey for this group of people – not an easy one – began in the 1920’s when laws were passed that limited immigration from Eastern Europe and resulted in an increased need for factory workers, particularly in and around Milwaukee. These early Latino workers were considered “scabs,” and integration into the greater community was largely non-existent.
Subsequently, these immigrants established their own communities, which grew as the demand for agricultural and other workers increased. In the 1940-1950’s, an average of 15,000 immigrants came to Wisconsin for each growing season, and, in the 1960’s and 1970’s, a much larger population began to unionize and advocate for basic rights in housing, schools and treatment by police.
By 1980, the population of Wisconsin residents of Latino descent was less than 70,000 but mushroomed to over 400,000 by 2010. In 2016, state legislators proposed a law to tighten this immigration pattern, but their effort was met by large public protests and an outcry by Wisconsin’s dairy industry which was dependent on this Latino labor pool.
Today, Wisconsin’s Latino population is over 420,000, and contributes greatly to Wisconsin’s economy and culture. Although many of them live with uncertainties created by the US’s fractured immigration policy, this vibrant community is critical to the future of Wisconsin and is doing everything possible so they can be considered “true Wisconsinites.”
If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.