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'Para Votar': Milwaukee Latino Immigrants Study To Become Citizens In Response To Political Climate

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Barbara Miner
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Celia Saguen (left), from Guatemala, studies with a fellow Latina immigrant during a recent U.S. citizenship class at Voces de la Frontera on Milwaukee’s south side. ";

Every week, two dozen or so Latinos meet on Milwaukee’s south side. They're studying to become U.S. citizens. It is an often-unnoticed response to the current political climate, as President Trump made reshaping immigration the centerpiece of his 2016 campaign, his presidency, and his 2020 re-election bid. 

The Latino population — or, to use a gender-neutral term, the Latinx population — has grown steadily over the years. It accounts for almost 20% of Milwaukee's population today.

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Credit Barbara Miner
Citizenship students gather at Voces de la Frontera to focus on the civics test that’s part of the citizenship interview.

Discrimination has always been an issue. But since the 2016 election, concerns have multiplied. Take Maria for example. She's lived in Milwaukee for 40 years, but she's just now preparing to take her citizenship exam.

"I didn't use to think it was necessary, but now I do. I feel it’s important for me to become a citizen," says Maria.

The citizenship classes are run by the community group Voces de la Frontera. The classes focus on the civics test that's part of the citizenship interview.

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Credit Barbara Miner
Students use flashcards to help them prepare for the U.S. citizenship test.

Age of the students range from youth in their 20s to seniors well past the age of Medicare. All of them focus on learning the answers, and many on improving their English.

So, why become U.S. citizens? Several talked about the chance for better jobs, for a better education, for a better life for their children. But there was one overwhelming response. They wanted to vote — or "para votar" in Spanish.

"To vote for my representatives. To have a voice and a vote. It is always important to vote. But now, it is more important," one student explains.

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Barbara Miner is Milwaukee-based journalist, photographer and producer. Her work has appeared in news outlets ranging from WUWM to The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Milwaukee Magazine and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.