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'Strangers No Longer' explores Latino belonging and faith in Milwaukee

Cover on the book Strangers No Longer
The book cover of "Strangers No Longer: Latino Belonging and Faith in Twentieth-Century Wisconsin."

Milwaukee is known for its celebration of cultures — with its wide array of cultural festivals and the many cultural centers that call the city home. But Wisconsin’s record of welcoming newcomers has been spotty and that history hasn’t always been well-documented.

Wisconsin-native and Latino historian Sergio Gonzalez was dismayed to find that much of his culture’s history hadn’t been researched. So he went about fixing that. His first book, Mexicans in Wisconsin, explores the history of Mexican immigrants in the state. His most recent book, Strangers No Longer, looks the intersection of Latino belonging and faith in Wisconsin, and how it informs our communities today.

As Gonzalez explains, the first recorded Latino person in Wisconsin was here in the19th century. But large numbers of Latinos began settling here starting in the 1920s, when Mexican industrial workers were recruited to Milwaukee to serve as workers in tanneries, factories and foundries. In many ways, they were following the footsteps of the European immigrants who had preceded them.

"They were coming here as cheap, controllable labor, [and] oftentimes, were brought as strike breakers without their knowledge," says Gonzalez. "So, they had a really tough go of it, trying to find a space to live in Wisconsin, trying to find work sites that paid them well, that treated them well and it was not a very easy experience for them."

Latinos are the fastest growing population in Wisconsin, as well as in many other areas across the country. Documenting this history is a crucial step, Gonzalez says.

"We are literally the future of this state in so many different ways. It's imperative for us to look to the past to rectify these archival accidents, archival problems and fill them in with the histories of this community."


Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Rob is All Things Considered Host and Digital Producer.
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