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 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