Mexicans in Wisconsin

By Sergio M. Gonzalez

Paperback: $12.95

ISBN: 978-0-87020-834-8

128 pages, 30 b&w photos, 6 x 9 E-book Edition Available

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Trace the diverse journeys of Mexicans to the Badger State in this new edition to our People of Wisconsin series! From agricultural and factory workers to renowned writers and musicians, the Mexican immigrants who have made their homes in Wisconsin over the past century have become a significant and diverse part of this state's cultural and economic history. Coming from a variety of educational and professional backgrounds, the earliest Mexican immigrants traveled north in search of better economic opportunities and relief from the violence and economic turmoil of the Mexican Revolution. They found work in tanneries and foundries, and on beet farms where they replaced earlier European immigrant workers who had moved on to family farms.

As Mexican immigration has grown to the present day, these families have become integral members of Wisconsin communities, building businesses, support systems, and religious institutions. But their experience has also been riddled with challenges, as they have fought for adequate working conditions, access to education, and acceptance amid widespread prejudice. In this concise history, learn the fascinating stories of this vibrant and resilient immigrant population: from the Tejano migrant workers who traveled north seasonally to work in the state's cucumber fields, to the determined labor movement led by Jesus Salas, to the young activists of the Chicano Movement, and beyond.

Mexicans in part of the People of Wisconsin Series, which traces the history of immigrants to Wisconsin.

To receive a media review copy, interview the author, or for more information, contact the Wisconsin Historical Society Press Marketing Department at whspress@wisconsinhistory.org.

Sergio M. Gonzalez is a doctoral candidate in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of History with research interests in American labor, immigration, and working class history. His research investigates Milwaukee's Latino community throughout the twentieth century, focusing on the role of religion in creating interethnic and intraethnic communities, organizations, and social justice movements.

Mexicans in Wisconsin is part of the Wisconsin Historical Society Press's People of Wisconsin series.

1. Why did you decide to write and publish “Mexicans in Wisconsin”?

"Mexicans in Wisconsin" is in many ways a family history, as my grandparents both came to this state in the second half of the twentieth century in search of better opportunities for their children. Perhaps more importantly, however, I hope that this book weaves the century-long history of Mexican settlement in Wisconsin into the state’s larger immigration narrative, elevating Mexican immigrants’ stories into the same canon of European immigration that Wisconsinites already know so well.

 

2. What was your most surprising or interesting discovery while researching “Mexicans in Wisconsin”?

Each new section I researched introduced me to the lives of uncounted immigrants and migrants who ventured to the upper Midwest in search of a better life. While learning these families’ histories, I was most drawn to the ways in which they persevered in the face of persistent discrimination and alienation. Throughout the twentieth century Mexican Wisconsinites have protested unjust treatment in so many ways, at times publicly as when activists have taken to protests in the street, but also through more subdued means such as when they’ve founded self-help organizations and community institutions.

 

3. How can this book serve as a guide to Wisconsin history? American history?

I think readers will be drawn to the similarities in settlement experiences between Wisconsin’s Mexican immigrants and their European predecessors. I hope this book demonstrates, however, the ways in which these histories diverge. I encourage readers to wonder and explore why European immigrants have in many ways secured economic and social power and stability in Wisconsin and the United States, while Mexican settlers continue to struggle against discrimination and prejudice.

 

4. How do these immigration stories help us understand more about Wisconsin, its people?

Wisconsin has traditionally been understood as one of the most welcoming spots for European immigrants throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. I hope this book stretches our time frame even further, demonstrating that the state’s migration history continues to live and grow into the twenty-first century.

 

5. What do you want readers to come to understand about “Mexicans in Wisconsin” by reading this book?

It’s painful to have to state this in the twenty-first century, but I hope that readers come to see the humanity in Mexican immigrants who have made their home in Wisconsin and across the United States. Pundits and politicians continue to vilify immigrants of many nationalities as job-takers, as criminals, or at a minimum, as some unseen ‘other’ that need to be controlled. I hope this book helps readers see Mexicans in Wisconsin not as strangers but as members of our communities, complexly interlaced into the very fabric of this state.

 

6. How can this book increase our understanding of immigrants in general and Mexican immigrants in particular?

I hope that readers learn that while Mexican immigrants’ motivations for journeying to the upper Midwest have been varied, many of their inspirations have mirrored those of their European predecessors: economic opportunity, refuge from war, adventure, and perhaps most importantly, a search for a better life for their families.

 

7. As anyone can imagine, writing a book is a deeply personal experience. How has writing “Mexicans in Wisconsin” been a personal experience for you?

This is perhaps an answer to a larger question about how we understand history, but I hope readers come to understand that the best historians are the people who have lived the stories themselves. This book is grounded in oral history and the hundreds of conversations that I’ve had with members of the state’s myriad Mexican communities. Each person that I’ve had the honor of sharing time with while I conducted research is in this book in some way or form, and I hope that their stories ring loud on every page.