By Rachel Bloom-Pojar
Soy una investigadora que hace proyectos que involucre comunidades. Mucho de mi investigación y escritura incluye mensajes para personas en posiciones de poder (maestros, médicos, y comunicadores de salud) sobre las cosas que necesitan aprender de comunidades y sus practicas de comunicación. Quiero aprender sobre maneras para que instituciones (escuelas, sistemas de salud, etc) puedan dar dinero y su tiempo para desarrollar relaciones y apoyar a los expertos que ya están en la comunidad. Cierto, es algo simple, pero creo que es importante. No soy una experta, pero trato de usar mis privilegios y recursos para apoyar y sostener las comunidades con quienes yo trabajo. Gracias a una beca de la Fundación de Andrew W. Mellon y ACLS, mi trabajo durante el año académico 2020-2021 está con Planned Parenthood de Wisconsin (PPWI) con su programa de los Promotores de Salud y CCmáS.
Parte de mi tiempo está en juntas y actividades de planear para los programas de educación con los promotores y la otra parte incluye actividades de investigación con los promotores (como entrevistas, grupos de enfoque, el análisis de información, y escritura). Entonces, cuando mis colegas de la universidad estaban enseñando en línea durante la pandemia, yo estuve aprendiendo a hacer investigación con comunidades en una manera virtual.
Un tema que siempre está en frente de mi mente es el acceso. El acceso y las barreras de acceso siempre han sido un tema que le interesa a los profesionales de salud, los investigadores, y la gente que hacen la política. Tienen un impacto en la salud de comunidades y cómo el sistema de salud responde (o no) a las necesidades de comunidades. Las redes del acceso incluyen muchos aspectos diferentes como el transporte, acceso a comida, las viviendas, servicios sociales, la vida familiar, y más. La gente se encuentra barreras con el acceso a atención medica de calidad, pero también las instituciones se enfrentan a barreras en como conectar con comunidades. Mucho de estas barreras son parte del sistema y como tiene preferencias para espacios, profesionales, y prácticas del lenguaje que están aparte de las comunidades—especialmente las comunidades inmigrantes.
Una manera en que las instituciones tratan de llegar a las comunidades inmigrantes que hablan español es a través de los Promotores de Salud. Los Promotores son gente que pueden educar a sus comunidades sobre información de la salud y conectar mensajes entre las instituciones y el pueblo. Con mucha frecuencia, la dirección de la información para el sistema de salud es de arriba hacia abajo. Esperan que, con más acceso a la información, las comunidades tendrán menos problemas de salud y más utilización de los servicios del sistema de salud. ¿Pero cuando deben la dirección de información viajar de las comunidades a las instituciones? Un parte de mi trabajo este año es divulgar las historias y experiencias de los Promotores de Salud que trabajan con PPWI para identificar caminos de transformación para que el sistema de salud sea con más justicia, equidad, y acceso.
¿Entonces, que hacen los promotores de salud? El rol especifico parece diferente dependiente en donde trabajan y con que institución tienen una afiliación. Los Promotores con quien yo trabajo son expertos en crear confianza y conectar a la gente con recursos. Cuando desarrollan la confianza con sus comunidades, la gente se abre y comparten muchas cosas de sus vidas. Los Promotores de Salud usan un currículo que se llama Cuidándonos Creceremos más Sanos (CCmáS). Con este currículo, facilitan discusiones sobre la salud sexual y reproductiva con familias y grupos de las comunidades hispanas en varios partes de Wisconsin. Tienen Fiestas Caseras que empezaron con la influencia del modelo del negocio Avon para juntarse en casas y tener una fiesta, discutir cosas, y tener trabajo como consultantes privados. Estas Fiestas Caseras proveen espacio para tener conversaciones sobre varios temas de la salud sexual, la justicia reproductiva, la abogacía, y como empoderar la comunidad. Con el apoyo de varias becas, los Promotores de Salud también trabajan para animar la gente con la participación cívica y apoyaron el año pasado con el Censo y la registración del voto. Con la pandemia, los Promotores de Salud han hecho las Fiestas Caseras de una manera virtual, pero esperamos que pronto volverán a juntarse en persona. Con la confianza y las conexiones que hacen los Promotores con la gente y las instituciones, pueden conectar personas con los recursos que están disponibles para pagar billes, servicios de salud, y más.
Algunos de los Promotores trabajan en roles similares con otras organizaciones y mucho de ellos tienen otro empleo afuera de su trabajo como consultantes privados con PPWI. Ellos viven en comunidades Latinx a través del estado de Wisconsin y entienden los desafíos e injusticias que encuentran los inmigrantes de Latinoamérica en el mismo tiempo que son esenciales para los negocios de nuestra economía en los Estados Unidos. Con un conocimiento de las barreras que tienen sus comunidades, los Promotores de Salud entienden su trabajo como un parte de la justicia reproductiva.
Ellos entienden que los desafíos que las comunidades inmigrantes tienen con la atención médica para la salud reproductiva es más que simplemente si tienen o no tienen acceso a las clínicas y suficiente información. Está impactado por su habilidad de pagar su renta, si están seguros en sus casas, si no tienen la opción de tener hijos, si sus hijos se encuentran en peligro en los Estados Unidos u otros países, y mucho más. Este conocimiento sobre las experiencias de las comunidades inmigrantes en los EEUU puede traer prácticas nuevas para cuidar la salud con más equidad y compasión. Los Promotores de Salud son expertos que pueden enseñar mucho a los investigadores, administradores, y profesionales. Si el conocimiento y las experiencias de Promotores de Salud son tan estimados como las credenciales de nuestros médicos y otros profesionales, podríamos ver modelos de educación comunitaria que serían más dinámicas en las maneras en que las instituciones pueden ser informados por las comunidades. También las relaciones entre las comunidades y las instituciones pueden ser más beneficiadas mutuamente.
Para la versión en inglés de este entrada, haz clic aquí. / For the English version of this post, click here.
Rachel Bloom-Pojar es una profesora con el programa de Retóricas Públicas y la Involucración Comunitaria en la Universidad de Wisconsin-Milwaukee y una Mellon/ACLS Scholars and Society fellow con Planned Parenthood de Wisconsin.
By Rachel Bloom-Pojar
I am what academics might call a community-engaged researcher. Much of my research and writing involves telling people in positions of power (teachers, healthcare practitioners, health communicators) about how much they can learn from communities and their communication practices. I am interested in learning about ways that institutions can better invest their time and money toward building relationships and supporting the expertise that is already present in the community. It’s quite simple, really, but I think it’s important work. I don’t see myself as an expert, but rather, I try to leverage my privileges and resources to support and sustain the communities that I work with. Thanks to a Mellon/ACLS Scholars and Society Fellowship, I’m spending the 2020-2021 academic year working as a fellow at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin (PPWI) with their Promotores de Salud Program. My role with this work is a bit like an intern and a resident researcher. Part of my time is spent in meetings and planning activities for ongoing educational programming with the promotores and the other part is spent with research activities (like interviews, focus groups, analyzing data, and writing) that are focused on highlighting the work of the promotores. So, while my colleagues are figuring out teaching online in a pandemic, I’m figuring out what it means to do community-engaged research remotely. A topic that is constantly on my mind is access.
Access and barriers to access have long been topics of interest for healthcare practitioners, researchers, and policy makers. They impact how healthy a community is and how well (or not) a healthcare system meets that community’s needs. Networks of access include many different aspects such as transportation, food security, housing, social services, family life, and more. Not only do people face barriers to accessing quality healthcare, but institutions often also face barriers to the ways they can access and connect with communities. Many of these barriers are inherent in the ways the healthcare system is set up to privilege spaces, professionals, and language practices that are separate from local communities—especially immigrant communities. One way that institutions try to “reach” Spanish-speaking immigrant communities is through promotores de salud (health promoters). Promotores de salud are often seen as lay people who can educate their communities about health information and transmit messages from institutions that are trying to reach the people where they live. Too often, the direction of information is top-down in the ways it moves from the healthcare institution to the community.
The hope is that improving access to information can lead to a decrease in health disparities and an increase in the utilization of healthcare services by these communities. But what about the information and education that can come from the community to inform and make positive changes to institutions? Part of my work this year is to lift up the stories, experiences, and expertise of the promotores de salud to help identify ways that the healthcare system might transform into something that is more just, equitable, and accessible.
So, what do these promotores de salud do? The specific role takes on different shapes depending on where they work and what institution they’re affiliated with. The promotores that I’m working with are experts in creating confianza (trust/confidence) and connecting people to resources. By building confianza with their communities, people open up to them about all sorts of things going on in their lives. They use a curriculum (CCmás) about sexual and reproductive health that was developed with input from the community. This curriculum is taught through conversations at Home Health Parties, or Fiestas Caseras, which were modeled after the Avon business model of gathering for a party in people’s homes and working as consultants. These fiestas caseras provide the space for the promotores to facilitate conversations about a range of topics on sexual health, reproductive justice, advocacy, and empowering the community. Through the support of various grants, the promotores also support non-partisan activities for civic participation by encouraging and assisting people with filling out the census and registering to vote. With the current pandemic, some of the promotores have turned to virtual gatherings to host Fiestas Caseras, and all of them continue to help connect people to resources available for legal issues, bill payments, health services, and more.
The promotores may work in similar roles with other organizations and many of them have other jobs in addition to their work with PPWI. They live within Latinx communities across the state of Wisconsin and they understand the daily challenges and injustices that immigrants from Latin America face while helping uphold essential businesses and our economy. With an understanding of the intersecting oppressions that their communities face, the promotores see their work as part of reproductive justice. By advocating for “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities” (SisterSong), they understand that the challenges immigrant communities face in reproductive healthcare is more than simply whether or not they have access to clinics and information about reproductive health. It is impacted by whether they can pay their bills, whether they have safe environments in their homes, whether they have been denied the option to choose whether or not to have more children, whether their children face danger in the U.S. or other countries, and so much more. This complex understanding of the realities that immigrant communities face in the U.S. could inform more holistic, equitable, and compassionate approaches to healthcare.
Health promoters are experts that researchers, administrators, and practitioners should learn from and compensate for their expertise. If their expertise and experience was valued as much as the credentials of our health providers, then we might see our community education models become more dynamic in the ways that institutions could be informed by communities and relationships between them could become more mutually beneficial.
Rachel Bloom-Pojar is an Associate Professor with the program in Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement at UW-Milwaukee and a Mellon/ACLS Scholars and Society fellow with Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.
The UWM Archives is one of the only institutions in Wisconsin with a social justice collection strength. Combined with its focus on Milwaukee and UWM history, the repository is filled with local stories of community organizers and activists. UWM’s Latino Activism collection contains photos, correspondence, press releases, newspaper clippings, and official university documents that detail the struggle for Latino rights on campus. In the early 1970s, Milwaukee’s Latino population exploded, but the number of Latino students on campus was pitifully low in comparison. University staff and community members attributed these low enrollment rates to the lack of support for Latino students on campus, so Latino activists took their case to Chancellor Klotsche. After sit-ins, protests, camp outs, and several arrests, the Spanish Speaking Outreach Institute, later called the Roberto Hernandez Center, began to connect with and assist UWM’s Latino population. I took a look at some of the records in the Latino Activism collection to see what they had to say about the power of Latinx rhetorics and community.
Community was the backbone of the Latino activism movement at UWM in the 1970s. This flyer, titled “Latin community takes over UWM Chancellor’s office”/ “Comunidad Latina retoma la oficina del rector de UWM,” is an explicit call to community for assistance in direct action. Calling themselves “the latin community,” there is no distinction between students and non-students, only the call to “support” in occupying the Chancellor’s office. This blending of community and use of family support has been a class trend for Milwaukee-based Latino activism. They rhetorically link their purpose in protesting to Klotsche’s absence at a community meeting, asserting their occupation as a direct response to disrespect and disinterest. This connection between administrative absence and occupation is an interesting rhetorical strategy that simultaneously legitimizes their tactics and calls attention to institutional buffoonery. The flyer is also written in English and Spanish, indicating the varied languages within Latino community in addition to their attempt to garner support from non-Spanish speaking allies.
After the Latino occupation of Chancellor Klotsche’s office, UWM acquiesced to the creation of a Spanish Speaking Outreach Institute. This document is the official proposal and “commitment” of the institute, outlining ten guiding principles. This record is drastically different from the flyer in several ways. First, this record does not make a direct call to any community. It mentions the “Spanish speaking community,” but later refers to the issues of “non-English speaking” students as if they are interchangeable. Second, the rhetorical strategies suggest that the creator of the record, the Council for the Education of Latin Americans (CELA), was interested in “solv[ing] the problems of the Spanish speaking community,” rather than rectifying the institutional inequality related to these problems. The document explicitly details the disappointingly low number of Latino students that UWM was willing to support through the institute, indicating tokenization rather than inclusivity. Lastly, this document is only written in English, suggesting that its intended audience was not the Spanish speaking people it was supposedly addressing, but the English speaking CELA and UWM administration.
UWM’s Latino Activism archive details the community activism and rhetorical power used to create the Spanish Speaking Outreach Institute. Milwaukee’s Latino activists and the community that supported them are directly responsible for the resources and connections available to contemporary Latino students. While some of these historical documents indicate a deliberate disregard for a multilingual community, the UWM archive has done some work to alleviate this. The metadata for the records, which is necessary for searching, browsing, and researching, is available in both English and Spanish. It’s important that these records are available in multiple languages since they directly pertain to the Spanish speaking community. The Archive also follows Library of Congress subject terms which are typically limiting and outdated. The collection subject terms include "Hispanic Americans," which we've discussed several times in class as homogenizing and eurocentric. Aside from these criticisms, the UWM Archive is a great place to dive into the rich history of Latino activism on campus.
Off-campus Site: UCC Experience
As part of my learning about the Latinx community in Milwaukee, I visited the off-campus site: United Community Center (UCC henceforth). I learned about UCC first in our class, and then during my conversation with Mr. Maldonado, the interim director for Roberto Hernandez Center at UW-Milwaukee. My initial motivation regarding the visit at UCC was to know more about the center, and find out ways for service learning opportunities the center may have for UWM English graduate students.
What is most prominent regarding the history of the center, as I learned from its website, is its decades of service to “Hispanics and near south side residents of all ages in the areas of education, cultural arts, recreation, community development, and health and human services.” The center has been giving its services for 47 years.
My visit to UCC was rather informal, a walk-in experience. I visited parts of the center and picked up some brochures and learned a lot about UCC from both these sources. The UCC moto/slogan is “One Life. One Family. One Community.” —The oneness which I read as “inclusivity” seems to be the biggest strength of this center. As listed in the brochure, the UCC runs a lot of programs: Education Programs (The very listing of it at the beginning is rhetorical, tells me as an audience they value education immensely), Pre-college Programs, Elder Programs, Human Services Programs, Fitness and Health Program, and Walker Square Neighborhood Development Initiative
From my first step into the center, it seemed the UCC is really big on Arts and Literature. Pictures are the first thing that one sees while walking in to the center. The walls are in the center are all RED (not posting any pictures here since I do not have formal permission to do so). I am not sure whether that signifies the struggle of the Latino community in Milwaukee or in the US, but it did seem suggestive to me. Even though I could not tour the entire center fully, the UCC brochure filled in lot of information. From the mission statement (cited above) in the brochure, it seems the center caters to individuals of all ethnic backgrounds.
English graduates at UW-Milwaukee can volunteer in their various education programs. For example, none of the programs in listed in the brochure seem to have a focus in writing. UWM English graduate students from all plans, especially English 101 and 102 instructors can volunteer to see what writing practices are dominant in these programs and help them with this. Especially, UWM English graduate students can contribute in their after-school programs. Such partnership between an off-campus community center and UWM English graduate students can forge a lasting bonding. Also, students’ involvement can increase their understanding of a new culture. I, for one, had no idea about the Hispanic culture. However, this class has already created the first opportunity for me… More classes like these can create more opportunities. We, 101/102 instructors can perhaps also ask our first-year writing students to involve themselves with these sites, at least with the on-campus site, Roberto Hernandez Center at UW-Milwaukee.
Being a minority myself in the US, my visits to these community sites has informed me immensely about the community practices. Back in Bangladesh, where I was a part of the majority community based on my religious affiliation, a Muslim Bangladeshi I never really took time to think about the minority—The Hindu community. Never really cared to understand why they would stick together in smaller communities. Now these visits make me realize…they perhaps cultivate a sense of security, oneness and belonging…a feeling of inclusivity—just by sticking together.
One or two visits are never enough to learn about the community practices. However, these visits sure were a start for me. We all need a start regarding whatever we do. At least, this new realization, what it feels like to have a sense of shared feeling, is a major takeaway from the sites I have visited as part of community research. The feelings, emotions, thoughts and desires to keep alive cultures that center around and in these sites—are part of learning they teach us.
On-campus Site Visit: Roberto Hernández Center
As part of learning about Latinx community and their writing practices, I visited the on-campus site, Roberto Hernández Center (RHC henceforth) as to see how much I can learn about the community. During my visit, I interviewed the interim director of the RHC, Mr. Alberto Maldonado, at UWM to know about a. the service learning opportunities that this center may offer, b. the opportunities/possibilities to connect the interested volunteers to local Latinx communities in Milwaukee area. The service learning projects that I primarily envisioned for this center to include, but not limited to after-school programs, proof-reading, adult EL programs, bilingual translation and such. In my interview, I intended to ask Mr. Maldonado about the graduate student involvement in their center, especially in terms of service learning opportunities as I believe graduate students if involved with the local Latinx community can elicit valuable insight regarding its rhetorics. As it turned out, my assumptions regarding the breadth and width of the programs the RHC has was mostly accurate. However, firstly, I want to shed some light on the history of the center since it was a major part of my learning, and next talk about my conversation with the interim director.
The very history of RHC underscores the necessity of community engagement and what it (community engagement) can do. By the way, I must acknowledge the kindness that Mr. Maldonado showed in lending me the DVD that was released last year on the 47th anniversary of RHC. This DVD was the source of the history that I am going to briefly talk about here. The first initiative to start a place for the Latinx community on UW-Milwaukee campus started in 1968. The RHC came into being as a result of persistent demands by Roberto Hernández with a group of fellow enthusiasts who wanted to create a space for Spanish speaking people on UW-Milwaukee campus. Roberto Hernandez involved the Latinx community in Milwaukee since there was only a handful of Latinx students at UWM. In the video, Dr. Ricardo Fernandez, the then director of Spanish Speaking Outreach Institute (SSOI), also describes the center as a result of “community push” since there were only 10 registered Latinx students.
I came to learn about the current state of affairs about RHC during my interview which was more like a chat with the Interim Director: Mr. Alberto Maldonado. The center is primarily for the undergraduate students. The RHC serves 750 Hispanic students currently registered in UWM. It grants funding for undergraduate student research. The center provides Latino students a place of their own on campus. It also lends books and available texts students may need. The center also helps students with McNair programs in terms of writing applications and other application materials. The center also had Leadership Programs which ran for 11 years and is currently discontinued for lack of funding.
The RHC also organizes programs to bring awareness regarding cultures and such. The enter organizes signature events like Spanish Heritage Month. According to Mr. Maldonado, last year, they did Mexican Fiesta where 30 students participated. The RHC is also involved in doing programs that bring social awareness. They do a signup process for the students. The participatory students as Mr. Maldonado pointed out, involve themselves “as a way to give back, and also as a way to celebrate their culture”.
During our conversation, I also learned that the RHC partnered with the UWM library last semester. The library instructions took place inside the center to raise awareness regarding how these sessions help bilingual students. The RHC is trying to bring in other services—as a way to make it one-stop center for Hispanic students. Especially these services cater to 1st generation students who have hard times navigating the system—as Mr. Maldonado emphasized.
As for community engagement, the interim director connected some UWM student organizations with Riverside High school students regrading translation during parent-teacher conferences, and tutoring help. The center also brings in bilingual families to campus especially during the summer for visits. They hosted an event this January with 300 students where the families asked questions they had about the campus and university.
Opportunities for UWM English graduate students:
As I learned from the director, the RHC is always open to volunteers. So, UWM English graduate students can volunteer with various grants the Latinx students apply to. For example, UWM graduate students can bolster the McNair application that RHC helps Latino students with. UWM English graduate students can also help undergraduate students who conduct research for the first time with various tips and tricks. Especially English 101 & 102 instructors can help with undergraduate capstone projects. Such involvements can also be rewarded with credits (1/2credits depending on hours) UWM English department will give to the engaged graduate students.
Also, to increase students outreach, English 101 and 102 (also EAP sections) instructors can ask their students visit RHC and ask them to write reflection pieces on their visit. This visit can happen in the form of Cultural Café when RHC has their Mexican Fiesta month. This will give students, both domestic and international exposure to a new culture that they may not be familiar with. Personally, my visit to RHC has opened a new door to me. The moment I walked in, I felt welcomed. I am not sure what it was but the smiles and positive vibes in the center made me, an international graduate student like myself feel home.
On Monday, March first, I attended the May Day Dia Sin Latinx March organized by Voces de la Frontera (A Wisconsin based Immigrant and Latinx rights organization). This march was held with the objective of demanding that Waukesha County’s Sheriff Severson reject 287g, which he covertly put into effect after telling the people of Wakesha county that he wouldn’t. 287g allows local law enforcement to be used as ICE against the members of it’s own community. It would allow these officers to stop and question people based solely on their suspected immigration status.
Once arriving in Waukesha, I was excited by the huge amount of people who had shown up in resistance and solidarity. I could not gage the numbers at the time but have heard that there were from 10 to 15 thousand people. To me, one of the most beautiful aspects of this union of people was the communal aspect of it. There were tons of families and groups of people of all ages. There were parents teaching their children to stand up for themselves, that they have a beautiful community and that they are not alone. One of my favorite moments in the march was passing by a family that was marching. A little boy who could not have been more that 8 years old had a red toy megaphone and was chanting words of inspiration to his community and they would then chant back to him. This to me was more inspiring than even the amount of people who had gathered for the March.
At the beginning and the end of the march there were speeches by immigrants and children of immigrants speaking about their experiences and of what was at stake for them. There were also speeches talking about ways to hold Waukesha county accountable for their actions and speeches to give the community strength and hope. There was a lot of love in Wakesha at this march.
On April 26th I visited Latino Arts, Inc., an arts-based organization on the south side of Milwaukee that focuses on arts programming grounded in Latinx cultures. Latino Arts is located in the same building as the United Community Center (UCC), though the programming is separate from the UCC’s. However, in the same building is the Bruce-Guadalupe Community School—a bilingual school that mainly works with the large latinx population on the south side of Milwaukee—which partakes in programming with Latino Arts, Inc. Also in the UCC building is the restaurant Café el Sol. Thus, the placement of this specific organization in this important community center speaks to the prominence that many community members hope to give arts-based programming.
Within the Latino Arts, Inc. portion of the building is a Gallery that, according to their website, “is Milwaukee’s only gallery that is dedicated to showcasing the work of Hispanic and Latin American artists, ranging from indigenous craftspeople to contemporary masters of the avant garde.” The Gallery is also open every weekday from 9:00am to 8:00pm and costs only $1, which is a suggested donation. As such, community access is clearly quite central to their operating procedures. And while the space of the gallery is not very large, the curators manage to use that space quite effectively to showcase a fair few pieces.
When I visited the gallery, the exhibit on display was titled “Expansive Threads.” This exhibit was curated by Edra Soto and focused on the integration of fiber arts into artistic practice. The exhibit also, notably, only featured the work of Latina artists. While I couldn’t take any photos of the pieces (more on that below), I was able to take a picture of the opening placard that described the exhibit itself. There the exhibit is described: “Through materials or concepts, the formal models denoted as fiber arts are being challenged by incorporating nontraditional materials, forms of display or discourses. Similar to fiber arts, this group of artists creates work that emphasizes the aesthetic and conceptual value of the work over its utility.”
As such, this display, including work from 11 Latina artists, pushes viewers to question the binary attitudes set up by Western, American culture, especially those between traditional and nontraditional (or, relatedly, contemporary) and aesthetic and utility. These artists encourage audience members to think about these issues beyond a Western frame of reference to think about the art as mixing traditional and contemporary and existing beyond the realm of the capitalist, market-driven economy.
While visiting the Gallery, I was quickly rushed in and out, which is one of the reasons for my lack of photographs. On the day I visited, some students from the Bruce-Guadalupe Community School, who were working with Latino Arts, were preparing for an evening music performance in the auditorium space which is connected to the Gallery. Thus, while they were happy to have me visit the Gallery space, my timing wasn’t ideal. And, if we’re being honest, I loved just being in the hustle of the center for that moment. Being in the Gallery at that moment helped me to see the importance of that entire Community Center on the Latinx population in the area. It is in that center that families can eat (I even saw some families having breakfast in the restaurant) while also engaging with arts-based programming focusing on Latinx artistic practices. I was quite excited to see these students, most of whom seemed to be carrying violins with them, preparing for a community performance in a space that housed such varying forms of artwork. In my brief moments there, I got a small taste of the important work, accentuated by the bustling atmosphere, that all of the different organizations do at the UCC building and the ways that Latino Arts weaves their programming throughout.
On May 1st of this year Voces de la Frontera arranged a statewide march for the rights of immigrants, immigrant families, and migrant workers aimed at sending a mesage to the state of Wisconsin about the economic values, through both commerce and labor, of the Latinx communities within the state. Having learned about it when a Voces leader visited our class, I planned to attend. Instead of driving to Waukesha for Un Dia sin Latinxs , as it was called, I elected to meet the bus at the nearby Public House. It’s a very short trip from my apartment, and sitting there, looking at the raised fist emerging from the woodwork, made me think about the irony of my situation. I was planning to travel to Waukesha to involve myself in a community action yet I’ve actually visited few places in my own neighborhood since moving here. I was happy to see a familiar face from class appear when M entered, and wondered how big that banner they hauled onto the bus actually was; as one woman said, it looked big enough to contain a body. We saw exactly how big it was later, as dozens of people carried it down the street.
I chose to pay for the bus ride for two reasons. First, I don’t know where Waukesha is and had no idea what the parking situation would be, but mainly because I felt that the bus ride could be a valuable observation opportunity, a chance to hear the preparatory rhetoric. I expected a journey filled with exhortations to unite, excite, and channel the energies of the riders toward one common cause and goal.
I was wrong. Aside from collecting the money – hilariously trying to collect a ticket from the driver – and boarding the bus, the Voces representative did nothing but talk to the person next to him. I saw a kairotic moment wasted. No one near us was really talking about the event, either, just making general chit-chat. Mand I took the opportunity to get to know each other a little better and discuss our connections to different Latinx communities, hers in Miami and mine in Albuquerque, and our mutual interest in film.
Once we got there, what interested me the most, naturally, was the use of language. The crowd was obviously quite ethnically diverse (a wonderful thing to see), and this was clearly acknowledged. While it seemed safe to assume that many if not most of the Spanish-speakers there also understood English (for reasons I’ll get to in a bit), it seemed equally safe to assume, this being the American Midwest, that this was not reciprocal and that not all the English speakers spoke Spanish at all or, like me, had limited understanding. Both languages were heard from the speakers, but Spanish took precedence; English, when spoken, was used to explain to those who didn’t understand what had just been said in Spanish. While the size of the crowd was impressive, and the signs and slogans powerful, I enjoyed this subtle reversal of language subordination the most. This was unapologetically a Spanish-speaking event. The initial rally weighed heavily toward Spanish, and the slogans – whose printed forms were about 50/50 between the languages – were almost always spoken in Spanish, with one not being spoken in English near me until halfway through the march, finally letting me know that the last word was “defeated.” This allowed everyone to follow the rhetoric, but also modeled the kindness and consideration for other languages that Spanish so frequently does not get in America, and that other languages may not get at all.
The message, while unspoken, was clear to anyone who listened, and served a legitimate and important purpose: to show that in this event, on this day, this Latinx community would not assume a secondary position, a back seat, and Spanish would not be a “foreign” language here. English was used to be inclusive; not, as is common, the default.
On the long march I saw and heard the energy and focus I had missed on the bus. Interchanging slogans were chanted constantly, and the entire town seemed to be watching. White, Latinx, and African-Americans marched for two miles by the thousands, some with their dogs, and unlike at other political rallies or parades, no one seemed to be there for any other purpose. Their energy was channeled directly down the street and toward the courthouse.
The speeches at the end of the march – and man, did my knees and foot hurt at the end of that march, making me feel inordinately aged – offered more English, either as a translation of entire speeches made in Spanish or, as in the case of a student with immigrant parents, made in English in the first place. His speech was not translated into Spanish, and this stands behind my assumption that most if not all of the Spanish-speaking attendees could get by in English just fine. Spanish was, it seems, not used in this event for purposes of comprehension, but rather to assert identity, to establish presence: a rhetorical choice made all the more effective by the fact that it wasn’t openly stated.
At least, not in English.
On presentation night I spoke briefly about the United Cultural Center in Walker’s Point, and my evening eating at their restaurant, Café el Sol. I skimmed over The UCC and the neighborhood quickly in order to talk more about the restaurant and my “Taco Literacy”-based pedagogy project, so for this post I’d like to give more detail about the former two.
Walker’s Point is Milwaukee’s oldest neighborhood, founded in 1834 by George Walker. Walker, of course, was not the first person to live here, just the first non-native to “own” land here; this is what we call “founding” today. It quickly became a business hub, mainly for the fur trade, and by 1860 it was the most ethnically diverse section of Milwaukee. This meant little by today’s standard, as it meant that Walker’s Point had Yankee, German, Irish, and Czech inhabitants; as I said in class, a cornucopia of whiteness. At the time, such ethnic differences mattered quite a bit, as the European ethnicities had not yet melded together into “whiteness.” The Irish, in particular, were not at the time even considered white unless compared to natives, slaves, or sometimes Italians. Norwegians arrived soon after, followed by immigrants from Poland, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece and Serbia.
Manufacturing began and grew in the area until Walker’s Point became the most densely developed industrial area in the city by 1900. Twenty years later, the Latinx migration began as the tannery began to hire Mexican workers who settled there, many fleeing the economic and political turmoil initiated by the Mexican Revolution. The earliest Latinx immigrants are known as “los Primeros.” Puerto Rican migration to the neighborhood started in the 1940s, making Walker’s Point the largest Spanish-speaking neighborhood in Wisconsin to this day. In the 1950s, natives returned as the US government attempted to assimilate them into European American society; that is, to “de-Indianize” them.
Today, as I walk around the neighborhood over a range of just a few blocks in every direction, I can see the influence of many cultures. Greek and Asian restaurants stand among the 20 Latinx restaurants in Walker’s Point; this place smells good. The architecture is culturally varied beyond my knowledge of the subject. The neighborhood is currently known as a favored LGBT meeting place, though possibly not at the “gentlemen’s club” that I passed during my short walk. There’s also a jazz club I plan to visit soon
Signs of industrial activity are still everywhere, punctuated by various murals pained on buildings, including the largest mural in Milwaukee. Here is also the largest four-sided non-chiming clock in the Western Hemisphere (or just the world’s largest four-sided clock, depending on what source you consult), the Allen-Bradley Clock Tower, once known as the Polish Moon (and still memorialized by that name by MKE Brewery a few blocks from it) but now widely known as the Mexican Moon.
The United Community Center, or UCC, serves the Latinx community in Walker’s Point with support services, education, culture, arts, recreation, community development, and health and human services. It began in the 1960s as an outreach program run by a local Christian center known as “The Spot,” but became an independent program in 1970 and moved to their current 9th St. location, formerly the Parish Hall of the Slovenian John the Baptist Catholic Church, in 1972. The UCC has seen steady growth since then.
Their programs include the Acosta Middle School, a blended-learning charter school that focuses largely on Technical and Engineering education. They also run the Bruce-Guadalupe School which provides elementary and middle-school education. The 97% of the student body is Hispanic, and 80% are low-income. Of their parents, 58% have completed high school, and 42% have a middle education or less. Yet the Bruce-Guadalupe school has Attendance, retention, and graduation rates all over 95%, providing a clear record of breaking this cycle.
Elder programs include geriatric health services, nutritious meals served daily, recreational facilities and affordable housing.
Aside from the geriatric services, health and athletic services include health care for students and clients, sports leagues, two gymnasiums, a boxing ring, a practice field, and a fitness center.
Other human services include a day care and the Walker Square Initiative, which provides education and assistance to 1st-time home buyers. All of these services are aimed at breaking poverty cycles, providing quality education to the next generation, and stabilizing neighborhood.
Culturally, they offer galleries of Latinx arts and history – one can learn about Los Primeros there – as well as Café el Sol, which fuses Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Wisconsin cultures into a delicious array of foods accompanied by Latinx music every Friday night. I highly recommend it.
Milwaukee: City of Neighborhoods by John Gurda
Listen to three white, female, graduate students chat about our experiences marching with Voces de la Frontera on May 1, covering topics like our reactions to the march, the unfortunate backlash we saw the march receive on social media, and the often dehumanizing aspects of citizenship.
-SP, DK, & CS