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Share Your Voice: Madison (Latino Chamber of Commerce) | Wisconsin Historical Society

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Share Your Voice: Madison (Latino Chamber of Commerce)

Dane County Latinx community shares its stories and discusses plans for a new Wisconsin history museum

Share Your Voice: Madison (Latino Chamber of Commerce) | Wisconsin Historical Society

A woman shares her thoughts with fellow guests during the May 8, 2019 at the Wisconsin Historical Society’s “Share Your Voice” new museum multicultural listening session at the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County in Fitchburg.

A woman shares her thoughts with fellow guests during the May 8, 2019 at the Wisconsin Historical Society’s “Share Your Voice” new museum multicultural listening session for area Latinx community members at the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County in the Madison suburb of Fitchburg. 

Story by Dean Witter, Photos by Nicki Dougherty
Wisconsin Historical Foundation 

FITCHBURG — The realities of life as a member of the Latinx community in Wisconsin were on full display May 8, 2019 at the Wisconsin Historical Society’s “Share Your Voice” new museum multicultural listening session at the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County.

Many guests were honest about the difficulties they and their relatives face every day while trying to navigate American society, including blatant racism and less aggressive but still painful ignorance.

Despite those issues, however, many were hopeful about the future and eager to express their love for Wisconsin.

“It is what it is, but I’ll never run away from Wisconsin,” a man said. “I love the opportunities here. That’s why a lot of people move here from everywhere. … There are a lot of opportunities for people to own their own businesses.” 

EnlargeJessica Cavazos, president and CEO of the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County, welcomes guests to the multicultural listening session. “I think everyone needs to have a voice and be able to tell their story,” she said.


Jessica Cavazos, president and CEO of the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County, welcomes guests to the multicultural listening session. “I think everyone needs to have a voice and be able to tell their story,” she said. “We all need to understand the past in order to move forward."

The session was the second of at least eight multicultural focus groups the Society is hosting in addition to more than 40 other events across the state, including with all 12 American Indian nations of Wisconsin.

The “Share Your Voice” engagement tour is meant to share early concept exhibit design plans and seek public feedback on a new Wisconsin history museum the Society is planning to build in place of the current aging and undersized Wisconsin Historical Museum on Wisconsin’s Capitol Square in Madison. The new museum is currently slated to open by 2024 or 2025.

The multicultural focus groups are an important part of the Society’s effort to build lasting relationships with all communities in order to integrate authentic perspectives from diverse populations into a new museum in which all Wisconsinites will see themselves reflected in the stories being told.

Tanika Apaloo, the Society’s Multicultural Outreach Coordinator, welcomed guests to the session and introduced Jessica Cavazos, president and CEO of the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County, which co-hosted the event.

"This is an important historical moment for the Chamber because we have the opportunity to have a platform and a voice to help the Historical Society have its presence evolve,” Cavazos said. “… We right now are having an evolution of the various (Latinx) communities as they grow in Dane County.

“I think everyone needs to have a voice and be able to tell their story,” she continued. “We all need to understand the past in order to move forward … and be more impactful as we strategize to create a place of inclusion. This is a great dialogue to start and to share what we’d like to see the future museum look like.” 

EnlargeChristian Øverland, the Ruth & Hartley Barker Director of the Wisconsin Historical Society, facilitated the session but said, “Today we’re here to talk about your story. This is the people’s museum, designed by the people, for the people.”


Christian Øverland, the Ruth & Hartley Barker Director of the Wisconsin Historical Society, facilitated the session but said, “Today we’re here to talk about your story. This is the people’s museum, designed by the people, for the people.”

Cavazos welcomed Christian Øverland, the Ruth & Hartley Barker Director of the Wisconsin Historical Society, who facilitated the session.

Øverland discussed his experiences in the Midwest and described the range of the Society’s world-class collections. But, he said, “Today we’re here to talk about your story. This is the people’s museum, designed by the people, for the people.”

Øverland stressed the Society’s commitment to collecting and sharing diverse stories of the Wisconsin experience. He noted how the Latinx community will be a big part of that effort, mentioning how a July 14 listening session in Wautoma would be conducted entirely in Spanish.

“We’re part of a bilingual country,” said Øverland, who then introduced a video about the project and the museum’s “What Makes Wisconsin, Wisconsin?” overall storytelling theme.

Following the video, Øverland — with translation assistance from Cavazos — began the first activity, during which guests were encouraged to share what they felt should be included in a new museum about the Latinx experience.

“I want to hear from you,” Øverland said.  “… This is going to impact how we create this museum.”

Guests — including some connected online via Facebook Live — were honest and open discussion about their experiences. 

EnlargeA woman shares her thoughts with fellow guests during the May 8, 2019 "Share Your Voice" new museum multicultural listening session at the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County in Fitchburg.


A woman shares her thoughts with fellow guests during the May 8, 2019 "Share Your Voice" new museum multicultural listening session at the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County in Fitchburg.

A woman who said she was adopted and grew up in Milwaukee explained how she has experienced racism during her career as a lawyer.

“I’m mixed, so I can pass as both Latino and white,” she said. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed more people making biased comments to me. … I’ve heard ‘You only got into UW Law School because you’re Hispanic.’ Those comments are everywhere. … It’s not always blatant, but those comments can be very, very damaging.”

Said another: “It might not always be racism, but often it is ignorance. Educating people will help that.”

Øverland agreed.

“That’s what a museum should do: educate and inform the citizenry,” he said. “Using history to make the citizenry better. Not just look at the past, but making a better future.”

A participant on Facebook Live encouraged the Society to be sure to document the Latino contributions to Wisconsin’s agriculture industry. The state is known as America’s Dairyland, added another guest, and the majority of farm workers are Latino people.

“I came here in 1991,” a man said. “I had a beautiful life in Mexico (but) my parents sent me here.”

The man said he worked in the hotel industry, farming and at a restaurant. He referred to the practice of business owners paying low wages to hardworking immigrants as racist. 

EnlargeA man offers his thoughts during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum multicultural listening session May 8, 2019 in Fitchburg.


A man offers his thoughts during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum multicultural listening session May 8, 2019 in Fitchburg.

“People on top don’t want you to be on top,” he said. “When I started my own business, I got a better life. This is why I like the Latino Chamber.”

A woman who said she has lived in Wisconsin for 21 years cited ignorance among people, especially in government.

“People need to know the value of the Latino community,” she said. “We are here to help a business grow. I challenge myself every day … because that is the only way to get to know this culture and learn. Unfortunately the news media is only showing the negative side (of the Latinx community). All cultures have good and bad (people) but the news doesn’t look for the good.”

Still, the woman remains hopeful.

“It’s not too late for the Anglo communities to be educated about us. They can see how important we are to support the economy of this country.”

A man described how “in my family, some have citizenship and some do not. We’re from the same family but we have to deal with the fact that some of us are in much more precarious situations.” As a result, “a lot of times the jobs are more invisible” in the back of the business.

The man and another woman discussed how people don’t realize how critically important it is to have a driver’s license to be able to get to work. Those who don’t have a license, and their families, live in fear every day.

“If you get stopped, that’s going to be a life-changing thing,” the man said. “If you’re not related to that, you don’t see it. … We have to navigate society in different ways.”

“Wisconsin has no public transportation system (like rail),” added the woman, “so you have to get out on the road to go to work even though it’s illegal to get a license. … People don’t realize how critical it is, but it is. Instead of going forward, things have gone backwards.”

Øverland then led guests through another activity in which they reviewed early concept exhibit design renderings and offered feedback on what they liked and didn’t like.

Many liked the Introduction and Orientation Media Experience rendering, which depicts a large wall of video screens where photos or films could be shown.

“It feels like you will learn something just by looking at it,” said one guest.

“It looks very inclusive,” added another. “People will see themselves.”

“It sets a good first impression of what’s to come,” said another. “It says to visitors: ‘This is the beginning.’”

Meanwhile, guests weren’t as receptive to the Supper Club Experience, which echoed similar sentiments expressed at an earlier American Indian listening session.

“When I go into a supper club, I feel very bad,” one person said. “I come home in a bad mood. … How do we change the atmosphere so people feel welcome?”

As time wrapped up, Øverland and guests offered final comments.

A woman noted that “Everyone around us thinks we’re immigrants, but they don’t realize that their ancestors were immigrants, too,” she said.

The woman said it would be interesting to have an exhibit that included all immigrant groups, where they came from and where they settled in Wisconsin, “so (white) people realize that they’re also immigrants.”

“These are great (suggestions),” Øverland said. “The conversation that we had is even better. Thank you. It gives us even more of what we need to think about and be sensitive to as we continue to move forward.”

Suggestions made on Post-It notes during the May 8, 2019 "Share Your Voice" new museum Latinx multicultural listening session were turned into this word cloud, with the most suggested words in the biggest type.

Madison (Latinx Listening Session) Word Cloud

Suggestions made on Post-It notes during the May 8, 2019 "Share Your Voice" new museum Latinx multicultural listening session were turned into this word cloud, with the most suggested words in the biggest type.

 

A woman shares a comment during the May 8, 2019 "Share Your Voice" new museum multicultural listening session at the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County in Fitchburg.


A woman shares a comment during the May 8, 2019 "Share Your Voice" new museum multicultural listening session at the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County in Fitchburg.

A couple discusses their comments as they review new museum materials during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" multicultural listening session May 8, 2019 in Fitchburg.


Two guests discuss their comments as they review new museum materials during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" multicultural listening session for the area Latinx community May 8, 2019 in Fitchburg.

 

A man offers his thoughts during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum Latinx multicultural listening session May 8, 2019 at the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County in Fitchburg.


A man offers his thoughts during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum Latinx multicultural listening session May 8, 2019 at the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County in Fitchburg.

A guest emphasizes his point while discussing experiences of the Latinx community during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum multicultural listening session May 8, 2019 in Fitchburg.


A guest emphasizes his point while discussing experiences of the Latinx community during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum multicultural listening session May 8, 2019 in Fitchburg.

A woman offers her thoughts during the May 8, 2019 "Share Your Voice" new museum Latinx multicultural listening session at the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County in Fitchburg.


A woman offers her thoughts during the May 8, 2019 "Share Your Voice" new museum multicultural listening session at the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County in Fitchburg.

A couple discusses their comments as they review new museum materials during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" multicultural listening session for the area Latinx community May 8, 2019 in Fitchburg.


Two guests discuss their comments as they review new museum materials during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" multicultural listening session for the area Latinx community May 8, 2019 in Fitchburg.

A young girl offers her perspective on new museum concept exhibits during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" multicultural listening session for the Latinx community May 8, 2019 in Fitchburg.


A young girl offers her perspective on new museum concept exhibits during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" multicultural listening session for the Latinx community May 8, 2019 in Fitchburg.

A man offers his thoughts during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum multicultural listening session for the Latinx community May 8, 2019 at the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County in Fitchburg.


A guest offers his thoughts during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum multicultural listening session for the Latinx community May 8, 2019 at the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County in Fitchburg.

A guest smiles as he writes his comments on a booklet of new museum concept exhibit design renderings during the "Share Your Voice" Latinx listening session May 8, 2019 in Fitchburg.


A guest smiles as he writes his comments on a booklet of new museum concept exhibit design renderings during the "Share Your Voice" Latinx listening session May 8, 2019 in Fitchburg.

 

A guest writes his comments about new museum concept exhibit design renderings during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" multicultural listening session for the Latinx community May 8, 2019 in Fitchburg.


A guest uses a Post-It note to write his thoughts about what should be shared about the Latinx community in a new Wisconsin history museum during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" multicultural listening session for the Latinx community May 8, 2019 in Fitchburg.

 Share Your Voice statewide map