Hispanics/Latinos in Wisconsin
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The earliest known Hispanic/Latino encounters with Wisconsin occurred
during the fur trade era in the 18th century1. Spanish officials supported
the American cause during the American Revolution, assisting in raids of
British supplies stored at Prairie du Chien in Wisconsin2. The
Spanish-speaking communities of Wisconsin date back to 19103. People of
Mexican heritage began to settle here after the Mexican Revolution4. Many
others came throughout the 1900s to work in various farming and manufacturing
industries5. Since then, other Hispanic/Latino groups migrated to the state
in search of economic opportunities or political asylum.
According to census records, only 200 Hispanic/Latinos lived in Wisconsin
by 1940 and 1,000 by 19506. However, these numbers are misleading, as they
omit seasonal and temporary workers who were here during that time. An
example of this is the record of Mexican Americans who lived in Milwaukee by
1925. Records show that about 9,000 Mexican Americans lived in Milwaukee
during this time but the Great Depression caused many of them to lose
employment and return home7. The first known group of Puerto Ricans came to
Wisconsin in the 1940s8. Many came to accumulate money to bring back to their
native Puerto Rico9. Most of these workers found jobs in tanneries,
foundries, and factories10. Initially, these groups of workers were given a
warm welcome by Milwaukee's white residents11. In 1952, a "temporary
Puerto Rican committee" was formed to help this group adjust to
Wisconsin with information about schools, churches, and other social
institutions. They were even given social gatherings12. However, this warm
welcome did not last long and this group was not afforded any special
privileges past their initial introduction to Wisconsin.
During World War II, there was an increased need for food and
agricultural workers13. The Emergency Farm Labor Program of 1943, also known as the Bracero
Treaty, allowed for temporary employment migration from foreign countries to the United
States14. Wisconsin farmers imported male workers from British Honduras and
Mexico15, in addition to other male workers from Jamaica and the Bahamas16.
Laborers were brought here under this Program until 196417. In 1971, a special
task force was created by Governor Patrick Lucey to investigate the inequities faced
by Wisconsin's Hispanic/Latino population and to make recommendations for state
action18. Released in June of 1971, the report contained a list of
recommendations for issues faced by this community, including education,
housing, health services, and employment19. The recommendations provided by
the task force were based on a report, prepared by members of the
Hispanic/Latino community, that established the problems their population faced in
Wisconsin20. The report did not achieve its goal, as in
contemporary times discrimination, segregation, and inequality have hindered their progress.
Today Hispanic/Latino Americans live in every Wisconsin county. In
addition to the large Mexican and Puerto Rican communities, Wisconsin is also home to political refugees and other immigrants from Cuba,
El Salvador, Columbia and Nicaragua21. The cultural customs and traditions
brought by each group that falls under the "Hispanic/Latino"
category are significant to the cultural development of this state.
Hispanic/Latino communities are very diverse, with a wide range of
socioeconomic characteristics, racial and ethnic backgrounds, cultural
traditions, and language abilities. They include recent immigrants as well as
generations of US born and permanent residents. Before Civil Rights laws
passed, racism and discrimination were common for Hispanic/Latino families,
making it difficult for them to obtain the necessities of daily life. Decades
later, they are still trying to redress these injustices.
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visited on 7/29/2011
visited on 7/29/2011
- Gurda, John. "The Latin Community on Milwaukee's Near South
Side." (Milwaukee: Milwaukee Urban Observatory, University of
Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 1976); Online facsimile at: http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=1261;
visited on: 7/29/2011
- http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/dictionary/index.asp?action=view&term_id=11838&term_ type_id=1&term_type_text=people&letter=H;
visited on 7/29/2011
- "Report to the Governor: Governor's Investigating Committee on
Problems of Wisconsin's Spanish Speaking Communities, 1971); Online
facsimile at: http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=1262;
visited on: 7/29/2011.
visited on 7/29/2011
Additional information about Hispanic/Latinos in Wisconsin:
- More information on Hispanic/Latino population estimates is
available from an interactive data query system,
Wisconsin Interactive Statistics on Health
(WISH), on the Wisconsin Department of Health Services site.
- A synopsis of health-related findings about Hispanic/Latinos in
Wisconsin is provided by this excerpt from the Department's Wisconsin
Minority Health Report, 2001-2005 (PDF, 25 KB).
full report is also available.
Latinos in Wisconsin: A Statistical Overview presents demographic
information on the state’s Hispanic or Latino population. The report relies
principally on data from the 2010 Census and estimates from 2010 American
Community Survey (ACS) to create a statistical portrait of Latinos in
Wisconsin and draw comparisons with Wisconsin’s total population in a series
of charts, maps, and tables. Thematically the report focuses on demographic
and socioeconomic characteristics of the Latino population such as size and
distribution, age structure, composition of households and families,
education, income and poverty, employment, housing, and health care. In a
few instances the report includes time-series data with the results of
earlier Censuses. To supplement Census and ACS data sources, the report also
draws on data from the Wisconsin Departments of Health Services and of
All external hyperlinks are provided for your
information and for the benefit of the general public. The Department of
Health Services does not testify to, sponsor, or endorse the accuracy of
the information provided on externally linked pages.
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please write to: Ruth DeWeese.
April 21, 2014