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Hispanic History | BIG History | Wisconsin Historical Society

Hispanic History | BIG History

Several people in dresses are standing and holding up their skirts while dancing. Caption reads: 'A dance group, the Los Bailarimos Folkloricos de Waukesha, performed Sunday at a church festival at the Waukesha County Exposition Center.'

Celebrating BIG Moments: Hispanic History in Wisconsin

Hispanic Americans have lived in Wisconsin since before statehood, but the largest wave of migration came during and after World War II when an increased demand for food and simultaneous shortage of labor during the war created a demand for agricultural workers. Government programs permitted employers to hire foreign workers to work in the fields, and between 1942 and 1964, millions of Mexican farm laborers came to the state.

Today, Mexicans are the largest Spanish-speaking group in Wisconsin. Mexicans arriving in the 1950s and after have found an established community to settle into, particularly in Milwaukee. Another fast-growing group of Spanish-speaking residents is Puerto Ricans, who began arriving in Wisconsin in the late 1940s. They were drawn to industrial jobs in Milwaukee, Kenosha and Racine counties. Wisconsin is also home to political refugees and other immigrants from Cuba, El Salvador, Columbia, Nicaragua, and other countries.

From the time of their arrival, Latinx Americans have battled racism and discrimination, a struggle that continues to this day.

The Society has put together a page with stories, images, and artifacts from our history collections. These items just scratch the surface of the history of the communities that immigrated from Central and South America to Wisconsin. Please take an opportunity to explore these resources below.

Explore Hispanic History

Learn more about the history of Mexican, Floridian, and Texan immigrants to Wisconsin through these historical essays.

At the center stands Father Antonio Gonzales, a former migrant worker from Rio Grande City, Texas, who is visiting his parents in Wautoma. In 1966, he led a march for better working conditions in Texas. He has his arm around his father who is standing to the left with his hands folded in front of him. To the right is Father Gonzalez's mother wearing a dress and glasses. In the background to the right is a group of girls and a young woman wearing dresses and sunglasses.            This photograph is a part of Wisconsin-native David Giffey's series 'Struggle for Justice,'' images from the migrant farm worker struggle including an independent organizing effort in Wisconsin and the nationwide grape boycott movement started by Cesar Chavez of United Farm Workers during the 1960s and 1970s.            El Padre González en Wautoma            En el centro está el Padre Antonio Gonzales, él anteriormente fue un trabajador emigrante de Rio Grande City, Texas, visitando a sus padres en Wautoma. En 1966, él guio una marcha para mejorar las condiciones laborales en Texas. Él tiene su brazo alrededor de su padre que está parado a su izquierda y con las manos dobladas enfrente de él. A la derecha del Padre González está su madre en un vestido y con anteojos. Al fondo y hacia la derecha está un grupo de niñas y una mujer joven en un vestido y con lentes de sol. Esta fotografía es parte de la serie 'Lucha por la Justicia' tomada por David Giffey, originario de Wisconsin, las imágenes muestran la lucha de los trabajadores agrícolas emigrantes incluyendo un esfuerzo independiente organizado en Wisconsin y el movimiento nacional del boicot de uvas empezado por Cesar Chávez de la unión de campesinos o United Farm Workers durante los años 1960 y 1970.

Mexicans in Wisconsin

An Obreros Unidos (United Workers) member holding a sign, possibly like those in the background, that says 'Juntarnos Para Ser Reconocidos/Hablar Para Ser Oidos/La Raza Tiene Causa' which translates to 'Join To Be Recognized/Speak to Be Heard/The People Have A Cause.' On August 15, 1966, 24 marchers left Wautoma, Wisconsin, headed west to Coloma, then south along State Highway 51 and reached the Capitol in Madison after five days and eighty miles of walking. Led by Jesús Salas, marchers went to state agencies to present the following demands: $1.25 minimum wage; better housing; insurance for accidents and hospitalization; public toilet facilities for farm worker use; and a meeting with the Governor's Committee on Migratory Labor.            Obreros Unidos grew in Wisconsin during the 1960s and had deep roots in South Texas and Mexico. It was formed to deal with discrimination and oppression migrant farm workers were facing while working and living in Wisconsin and elsewhere along the journey to the North. In 1946, more than 4,000 farmworkers from Texas migrated to Wisconsin to cultivate and harvest vegetable and fruit crops. In 1961,85 percent of about 18,000 migrant workers, including 5,000 children under age 16, were recruited from Texas to work in Wisconsin.            Obreros Unidos marchan hacia Madison            Un miembro de Obreros Unidos sosteniendo un letrero, posiblemente uno como otros en el fondo, que dice 'Juntarnos Para Ser Reconocidos/Hablar Para Ser Oídos/La Raza Tiene Causa' y se traduce a 'Join To Be Recognized/Speak to Be Heard/The People Have A Cause' en inglés. El 15 de agosto de 1966, 24 manifestantes se fueron de Wautoma, Wisconsin, siguiendo al oeste hacia Coloma, luego al sur a lo largo de la carretera estatal State Highway 51, y llegaron al Capitolio en Madison después de cinco días y ochenta millas caminando. Dirigidos por Jesús Salas, los manifestantes visitaron agencias estatales para presentar las siguientes demandas: un sueldo mínimo de $1.25 por hora; mejores viviendas; seguro de accidentes y hospitalización; baños públicos para uso de los trabajadores; y una junta con el Governor's Committee on Migratory Labor (comité del gobernador que trata con la fuerza laboral migratoria).            Obreros Unidos se desarrollo en Wisconsin durante los años 1960 y tenía raíces profundas en el sur de Texas y México. Fue fundado para combatir la discriminación y opresión que los trabajadores agrícolas emigrantes estaban sufriendo mientras trabajaban y vivían en Wisconsin y en otros lugares a lo largo de su viaje al norte. En 1946, más de 4,000 trabajadores agrícolas de Texas emigraron hacia Wisconsin para cultivar y cosechar vegetales y fruta. En 1961, 85 por ciento de aproximadamente 18,000 trabajadores emigrantes, incluyendo 5,000 niños menores de 16 años, fueron reclutados de Texas para trabajar en Wisconsin.

The Struggle For Farmworker Justice

Photo of Anita Herrera's profile smiling.

Anita Herrera

More Historical Essays

Ramona Villarreal | Maria Luisa Morales | Debra Amesqua | Camille Guérin-Gonzales | JoCasta Zamarripa

Fascinating Items From Our Historical Collections

The Society has many items related to Latinx heritage available to explore in our online collections. Here are a few highlights.

A Huelgusta (striker) against Fall River Canning Company with Obreros Unidos (United Workers), standing with a crowd. She is wearing round earrings, a black pin-striped jacket and a black beret. Pinned on her jacket is a United Farmerworkers (UFW) button with its eagle symbol and the message, 'Viva la Causa' (Long Live the Cause)/Solidarity Forever.'' On her beret are two buttons, with the same button on the right and a button with a clenched fist on the left. Grape boycotts in Wisconsin were organized by the local farm-worker labor union, Obreros Unidos, an independent farm worker labor union effort in the 1960s.            Huelguista en Cambria            Una huelguista contra la compañía Fall River Canning Company con Obreros Unidos, está parada entre una multitud. Está vistiendo aretes redondos, una chaqueta negra con rayas, y una boina negra. En su chaqueta trae un botón de United Farmerworkers (UFW) con el símbolo de la águila y el mensaje 'Viva la Causa'/'Solidaridad para Siempre' ('Solidarity Forever'). Tiene dos botones en su boina, con el mismo mensaje en el botón a la derecha y el botón a la izquierda con la imagen de un puño. Las huelgas en Wisconsin fueron organizadas por Obreros Unidos, un esfuerzo independiente del sindicato de trabajadores agrícolas durante los años 1960.

Somos Latinas Oral Histories

Bunk beds used by the Contreras family, Mexican-American migrant workers, in Wautoma, Wisconsin, 1970s-1980s.

Migrant Worker’s Bunk Beds

Spanish reale coin from the Alden's Corners post office site, 1781

Wisconsin’s Spanish Currency

Trabajando en el Campo (Working in the Fields) is a folk painting made from memory by an untrained artist. Beginning in the late 1940s, the Contreras family of south Texas traveled to Wisconsin to work in the farms and processing facilities of the Marks Brothers Pickle Company near Wautoma.            The artist, Seferina Contreras Klinger, traveled with the family during each summers as a child in the 1960s, but decided to stay in Texas when she reached her teens.            The painting shows the Contreras family working in the cucumber fields in 1965. It highlights the artist's grandmother, Aurelia Contreras, and her uncle, Fidel Contreras, picking and loading cucumbers in the fields. Klinger painted the scene from childhood memories and used family photographs for facial details.

Trabajando En El Campo Painting

Compelling Images from the Our Historical Collections

Jesus Salas addresses a rally at a podium in front of the Wisconsin State Capitol. Behind him are marchers who began the march from Wautoma and walked to Madison on Highway 21. Marchers are holding images of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a National Farm Worker Association's banner, and signs with the message 'Juntarnos para ser reconocidos. Hablar para ser oidos. La raza tiene causa'/ 'Join us to recognized. Speak to be heard. The people have a cause.'            This photograph is a part of Wisconsin-native David Giffey's series 'Struggle for Justice,'' images from the migrant farm worker struggle including an independent oganizing effort in Wisconsin and the nationwide grape boycott movement started by Cesar Chavez of United Farm Workers during the 1960s and 1970s.            Salas se dirige al público            Jesús Salas le habla al público desde un podio enfrente del Capitolio del estado de Wisconsin. Detrás de él están unos manifestantes que marcharon desde Wautoma y caminaron hacia Madison en la carretera Highway 21. Unos manifestantes están sosteniendo imágenes de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, el estandarte de National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), y letreros que dicen, 'Juntarnos para ser reconocidos. Hablar para ser oídos. La raza tiene causa.' Esta fotografía es parte de la serie 'Lucha por la Justicia' tomada por David Giffey, originario de Wisconsin, las imágenes muestran la lucha de los trabajadores agrícolas emigrantes incluyendo un esfuerzo independiente organizado en Wisconsin y el movimiento nacional del boicot de uvas empezado por Cesar Chávez de la unión de campesinos o United Farm Workers durante los años 1960 y 1970.r

Jesus Salas Photos

Several people in dresses are standing and holding up their skirts while dancing. Caption reads: 'A dance group, the Los Bailarimos Folkloricos de Waukesha, performed Sunday at a church festival at the Waukesha County Exposition Center.'            Varias personas, usando vestidos, están de pie y sosteniendo sus faldas mientras bailan. El título dice: 'Un grupo de baile, Los Bailarimos Folkloricos de Waukesha, actuó el domingo en un festival de la iglesia en el Centro de Exposiciones del Condado de Waukesha.

Los Bailarimos Folkloricos de Waukesha

Cesar Chavez, the leader of United Farm Workers, is standing at the center of the photograph surrounded by members of the press. Behind him is a photographer with a pipe in his mouth and a camera in his hands. Besides him, someone is holding a pencil and paper taking notes. This is Chavez's first visit to Milwaukee to meet with Jesus Salas of Wisconsin's migrant farm worker union Obreros Unidos (United Workers) for El Centro Hispano-Americano to discuss agreement disputes between growers and farm workers. Strikes in Wisconsin were organized by the Obreros Unidos, an independent farm worker labor union effort in the 1960s.            Cesar Chávez en Wisconsin            Cesar Chávez líder de United Farm Workers, está parado en el centro de la fotografía rodeado de miembros de la prensa. Detrás de él está un fotógrafo con una pipa en su boca y una cámara en sus manos. A su lado, alguien está tomando notas con un lápiz y papel. Esta es la primera visita de Chávez a Milwaukee para conocer a Jesús Salas de Obreros Unidos, un sindicato de trabajadores agrícolas, para El Centro Hispano-Americano y para discutir acuerdos de disputa entre los agricultores y los trabajadores agrícolas. Las huelgas en Wisconsin fueron organizadas por Obreros Unidos, un esfuerzo independiente del sindicato de trabajadores agrícolas durante los años 1960.

United Farm Workers Photos

A man wearing a white shirt and pants is holding the arms of a woman who is wearing a white robe and spreading her arms out. They are both standing knee deep in water. Caption reads: 'The Rev. Ray E. Lopez, pastor of the Apostolic Assembly of the Faith in Christ Jesus, 606 S. 5th St., baptized Mrs. Maria Martinez Saturday in Lake Michigan. Four persons were baptized in the ceremonies at Bradford beach.'                         Un hombre vestido con camisa y pantalones blancos sostiene los brazos de una mujer que lleva una bata blanca y extiende los brazos. Ambos están parados en el agua hasta las rodillas. El título dice: 'El reverendo Ray E. López, pastor de of the Apostolic Assembly of the Faith in Christ Jesus, 606 S. 5th St., bautizó a la Sra. María Martínez el sábado en el lago Michigan. Cuatro personas se bautizaron en las ceremonias de Bradford Beach'.

Apostolic Assembly Baptism

A child worker wearing a short sleeve plaid shirt, dark pants and no shoes is carrying grapefruit from a Texas grove on his shoulder. He is looking into the camera with one arm over his head holding onto the top of the basket and his other arm supporting the bottom.            This photograph is a part of Wisconsin-native David Giffey's series 'Struggle for Justice,' images from the migrant farm worker struggle including an independent organizing effort in Wisconsin and the nationwide grape boycott movement started by Cesar Chavez of United Farm Workers during the 1960s and 1970s. Many migrant farm laborers traveled from Texas to Wisconsin in search of seasonal field work.            Un niño cargando una canasta de toronjas            Un niño trabajando, vistiendo una camisa con cuadros de manga corta, pantalón oscuro, y sin zapatos, está cargando en su hombro una canasta de toronjas de un campo en Texas. Está mirando hacia la cámara, con un brazo sobre su cabeza para detener la canasta en su hombro y su otro brazo sosteniendo la parte de abajo. Esta fotografía es parte de la serie 'Lucha por la Justicia' tomada por David Giffey, originario de Wisconsin, las imágenes muestran la lucha de los trabajadores agrícolas emigrantes incluyendo un esfuerzo independiente organizado en Wisconsin y el movimiento nacional del boicot de uvas empezado por Cesar Chávez de la unión de campesinos o United Farm Workers durante los años 1960 y 1970. Muchos obreros agrícolas emigrantes viajaban desde Texas hacia Wisconsin en busca de trabajo temporal en los campos.

The Life of Migrant Workers

Felipe Quirós-Pérez reading yesterday's paper in a booth at Rennebohm's on State Street.

Hispanic American Photos

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Roberto Torres Mata's We Get Through This Together Poster, depicting a figure reminiscent of the Virgin of Guadalupe wearing a mask

Roberto Torres Mata

Local Artist
We Get Through This Together

"I’m a current emerging artist in printmaking based in Madison, Wisconsin I emphasize the issues of migration with Mexico and Central America. My work speaks to the growing misrepresentation that the United States views migrants. As a first-generation Mexican American, I express my knowledge through printmaking acting on the social issues that deal with racial, political, and environmental problems. I graduated from Western Illinois University in the Spring of 2018 with a degree in Graphic Design and a Minors in Marketing. My work has been exhibited at New York City, Madison, Dallas, Knoxville, Quad Cities, Puerto Rico, and Chicago. I was a recipient to Education Graduate Research Scholars fellowship, American Advertising Federation Award, Advance opportunity Fellowship, and Paul M. Binzel Grant. In my practice I have always pursued a purpose to represent my views through art that can provide a positive impact that can bring communities together."

robertotorresmata.com

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