Latino Arts Strings Program provides fine arts training for Milwaukee youth
Dinorah Márquez is the founder and director of the Latino Arts Strings Program at the United Community Center. She has been named one of Milwaukee Magazine’s Betty Awards recipients, which honors extraordinary women doing great work in Milwaukee.
When Márquez immigrated to the U.S. as a 10-year old child, she found herself in an environment where she could be expelled from school for speaking her native Spanish language. She experienced racism and bullying at school while also navigating a dysfunctional and abusive household. Márquez felt like she didn’t have a voice until a music teacher introduced her to the violin and she found a new way to express herself.
After going to Northwestern University and performing music in Chicago, Márquez returned to Mexico to perform music there before traveling to Milwaukee to pursue her master's degree. Márquez's husband, having already been involved with the United Community Center, invited her to an event. She quickly became enamored with the organization. Márquez says, "It's this amazing place with very deep roots in our community, has been serving our community for 53 years."
Márquez pitched the Latino Arts Strings Program, unsure what the response would be. She knew that what she proposed would require a large investment of resources to achieve. The project was approved and instantly popular.
The program places focus on teaching culture through music. Márquez says, "It is a really important part because as immigrants or children of immigrants, our cultures are either misunderstood or poorly portrayed or absolutely not talked about...a good way to do that was through music for our families to feel represented through what their children were learning to play."
The program is paying dividends in advancing music as well as culture. Márquez describes a student who attended Harvard University on a full ride scholarship and is now also directing the Harvard Mariachi. The program has grown now to hundreds of student and ten instructors, many of whom are former students. However, many students go on to perform and establish their own groups, keeping the music and traditions alive.