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Project Preserves Local Latina Voices

Somos Latinas Digital History Project

Across the country, the story of Chicana history is being collected in a project called "Somos Latinas," created by Chicanas Por Mi Raza.

The project came to Wisconsin in 2012 through Dr. Tess Arenas, a Milwaukee native who is is the director service learning and a faculty associate for the Chican@ and Latin@ Studies Department at UW Madison.

She says though Latinos are increasingly being included in the historical record, Latinas are still often left out. So she created the Somos Latinas Digital History project, in which she and her students document the stories of Latina activists in Wisconsin.

"What we’ve done is given undergraduate students the opportunity to hear the stories of powerful, empathetic, action-oriented Latinas, over the age of 50," she says.

The interviews will be kept at the Wisconsin Historical Society. Arenas' team will also develop K-12 curricula based on the interviews to be used in schools across the state.

Arenas says Wisconsin is ripe to mine for such stories because of a migrant stream to the state that fosters activism. And while traditionally Latinos have settled in places like Racine, Kenosha and Milwaukee, Arenas says Oshkosh, Appleton, Beloit, Lake Geneva and other areas have growing populations.

"There's been a new influx over the past 15 years of Latinos who have settled in the Fox Valley and other northern regions of the state and we want to document what they're doing," she says.

It's particularly urgent to collect the stories of these women, Arenas says, because they might not be with us much longer. She recalls one activist who gave a remarkable interview to the students. She impressed them so much, they wanted to do a "part two," but the woman fell ill, was hospitalized and died before a second interview could be done.

Arenas’s poetry and her story will be featured at an event tonight called "A Night Exploring Latina Resiliency with La Tess" at Alverno College, benefiting the project.