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Marquette students' oral history projects are being added to the Wisconsin Historical Society

Mallory Cheng
First-year students at Marquette University learned oral history skills to record the stories of Milwaukee, Latinx activists who fought for bilingual education programs. Pictured are a group of students with their interviewee, Tony Baéz (center).

What we read in history books doesn't always tell the full story. History often leaves out the voices of people of color, even in our local history.

First-year students at Marquette University are working to change that.

For a semester, students interviewed prominent Latinx bilingual education activists in the Milwaukee area who changed how bilingual programs are built in the city. With the help of their professors, students learned oral history collection skills and what it means to be a contemporary historian. Their interviews and research will be contributed to the Wisconsin Latinx History Collective and the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Sergio Gonzalez, an assistant professor of Latinx studies and Sonia Barnes, an associate professor of Spanish at Marquette University guided the students through the project.

Barnes starts, "As someone that has dedicated their entire academic career to studying the connection between language and society, it was really special to be able to have an opportunity to bring to the forefront the role that language has in issues of social and educational justice."

Much of this linguistic discrimination happens in educational settings like schools and universities, she continues.

First-year students Gadah Abduljalil and Brenda Paredes are from the Milwaukee-area and the class opened their eyes to how much linguistic discrimination impacts education.

Abduljalil says, "Personally, I did not know there was a type of struggle for bilingual education before this class." She goes on to note that she had the opportunity to interview, Tony Baéz.

"You can’t really read emotions through words but you can feel it through how a person speaks so hearing how the person I interviewed spoke and all the struggles and even happy moments that he experienced, it kind of added meaning to everything that I learned."

While reflecting on the project, Paredes noted how it felt surreal to be interviewing a person that impacted her day-to-day life as a bilingual student at Milwaukee Public Schools.

She went to a traditional bilingual school, which meant that monolingual students and bilingual students were separated in the classroom.

"I think I took for granted that things weren't always like that," Paredes reflects. "Meeting someone that fought for and advocated for the bilingual education program was super critical to me."

There are two reasons why Marquette is starting this research, continues Gonzalez.

First, Marquette has pledged to become a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), which means that it's working to make its student population 25%, Latinx or Hispanic.

There is also a need at Marquette to make sure the classes represent the history and heritage of people of color, Gonzalez says.

"The history that our students have been recovering and that have that they'll be adding to the Wisconsin Historical Society's archives are really fundamental for us to have a more complete and fuller understanding of what it means to be not only Latinx in Milwaukee and Wisconsin, but I think fundamentally what it means to be at Wisconsinite," he 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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