Wisconsin Current Events
In following years, the grassroots activism of the previous era slightly faded, although the controversial debate about immigration reform has once again ignited advocacy and protest. Estimates suggest that about 70,000 people marched in Milwaukee on May 1, 2006, known as Un Dla Sin Latinos (A Day Without Latinos).16 Wisconsin’s leaders, for or against immigration reform, expect more changes as the United States Congress debates national policy. It is unclear how new legislation would affect Wisconsin’s Latino population.
Many Latino activists have since become professors or obtained state-appointed positions, and they continue the fight for Latino justice. The Latino population continually increases, but some say the struggle is far from over for Wisconsin’s Latino population. The 2006 United Way report “Cuentame: Latino Life in Dane County” indicates that Latinos live in crowded conditions, Latino children are more likely to drop out of school, and many Latinos do not understand available health care services.17 University of Wisconsin professor emerita Doris Slesinger published research about Wisconsin’s migrant labor force in 1979 that discussed populations, trends, and the “miserable situation of these hard working people.” In 1999, Slesinger told a reporter that migrants are still grossly underpaid and called them the invisible population.18 Though many aspects have changed, many remain the same.
But Wisconsin’s Latinos are gaining recognition in various local, state, and business arenas. In 1998 voters elected Pedro Colon, a Puerto Rican and a Democrat representing Milwaukee. He became the first Latino to serve in the statehouse. In business, census numbers show that Latino-owned firms have increased in Wisconsin 24 percent from 1997 to 2002.19 Also, university officials named Carlos E. Santiago of Puerto Rico as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, making him the first Latino to hold this position. Additionally, Latino enrollment has grown within the University of Wisconsin system. In 2005 about 2.3 percent of the approximately 30,000 incoming freshmen students in the University of Wisconsin system were Latino a steady increase since 1995.20 Governor Jim Doyle appointed Jesus Salas, who had helped wage the war on education in 1970, to the University of Wisconsin’s Board of Regents in 2003. However, Salas abruptly resigned in 2007, citing the lack of tuition support for
students of undocumented workers as “intolerable.” His resignation letter read, “There is a daily deterioration in the quality of life for the Latino, both for the undocumented as well as those of us who were born here.”21
Wisconsin’s migrant population also continues to fluctuate. While Latinos from south Texas and other southwestern states still seek processing and agricultural jobs in Wisconsin, the numbers continue to decrease. Single men from Mexico are replacing the extended Mexican American families from south Texas. Also, once-thriving agricultural industries (such as cucumbers and Christmas trees) are diminishing, and operations are closing.