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WUWM is honoring the lives of Latinos in Milwaukee and their contributions to the community during Hispanic Heritage Month.

Exploring the legacy of the Roberto Hernández Center

Roberto Hernandez (left) and Jesus Salas (right) attempt to borrow library books/Estudiantes hispanohablantes intentan tomar prestado libros de la biblioteca
UW-Milwaukee Photographic Services
Roberto Hernandez (left) and Jesus Salas (right) attempt to borrow library books/Estudiantes hispanohablantes intentan tomar prestado libros de la biblioteca.

In 1970, only twelve Latinx students attended UW-Milwaukee. Latinx activists felt low enrollment was due to the lack of support by the university.

To fight for change, Roberto Hernández along with the support of community members, religious organizations, and fellow activists staged a sit-in at the chancellor’s office. Their efforts proved fruitful. Later that fall, UWM opened its Spanish Speaking Outreach Institute to support the needs of Latinx students.

Today, the institute is known as the Roberto Hernández Center. They have been collecting the histories of the local advocates, leaders, students, staff, and faculty who fought for change to build the Latinx Activism Oral History Community Project.

Alberto Maldonado is the executive director of the Roberto Hernández Center. He says, Hernández's legacy lives on through the work the center has committed to.

"What I know about Roberto is that he was a natural born leader, someone who was very involved in community activism and school," Maldonado says.

Maldonado emphasizes that this was a community effort. Students were at the forefront of change by recruiting, retaining, and graduating other fellow Latinos. The activism that happened through Hernández and other community members spanned between the late 1960s and early 1970s

Maldonado describes,"The idea was to provide bilingual services to the community, to have a satellite office in the community and to really recruit with intention and increase the number of Latinos that were attending UWM."

According to Maldonado, The Roberto Hernández Center is releasing a digital archive through its Latinx Activism Oral History Community Project to remember the impact of activists of this era. He explains that this is a chance for UWM to really explore all the students' voices that have contributed to the university.

"It's really taking a deep dive into the history and begin to create an inventory of people that we were curious to hear from that are still in our community. And we began conducting a series of interviews, virtual interviews, and really archiving all these stories from students who, who were here, not only back in 1970, but those who were here in the 80s, and the 90s, and the 2000s," Maldonado explains.

The launch of the project will take place Oct. 21 at the UWM Library. There will be a showcase of images, artifacts, and entertainment by former staff of the center.

As a part of Hispanic Heritage Month, Maldonado urges the community at large to attend the event. He says it's important that the community support preserving UWM's diverse history.

"And we need to bring as many allies and folks into this conversation because our students need it, our community needs it and Milwaukee, I invite the community to really come closer to us to invite them to learn more about our history to learn about the history of all minorities that have contributed to the history of UWM," Maldonado says.

Mallory Cheng was a Lake Effect producer from 2021 to 2023.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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