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Latinos Thrive As A Growing Population In Wisconsin

Marti Mikkelson

According to U.S. Census figures, the largest minority group in Wisconsin is Hispanics. Latinos make up 6.34 percent of the state’s population, compared with 6.26 percent for African-Americans, the next largest minority group.

Much of Wisconsin’s Hispanic population is concentrated in Milwaukee. The news comes as no surprise to city residents.

The epicenter of Milwaukee’s Hispanic population lies on 16th Street, also known as Cesar Chavez Drive. Colorful buildings and Latino-owned restaurants and grocers dot the avenue, mixed in with law offices and tax preparers.

Pete Tsitiridis is chopping and giving out samples of fruit during Thursday’s busy noon hour. He owns Pete’s Fruit Market, near 16th and Greenfield.

Tsitiridis hails from Greece, and came to the U. S. when he was a teenager. He says he moved to Milwaukee and opened his store here in 1993, because he saw the potential for the Latino population to explode, even at that time.

“Latinos are fruit eaters, they eat a lot of fruit and I’m a food specialist, that’s why I chose this neighborhood 20 some years ago,” Tsitiridis says.

Tsitiridis has also helped provide the neighborhood with jobs. He says he started with four workers; now he employs 45, and many are Latino.

Mayra Berea is the cashier. The 20-year-old says she moved here from Mexico in 2005. “You see a lot of Latinos in here, so it’s not like a new thing, you know?” Berea says Milwaukee’s Latino population is thriving because of all the opportunities here.

“I got my permission to study, to go to work and then I got my ID and I got my driver’s license now, so it’s been helpful,” Berea says.

Berea says she wants to go into health care, and the Dream Act allows her to take courses at MATC. Under the Dream Act, the U.S. will not deport undocumented young people who obtain work permits.

One person shopping at Pete’s today is Lorena Gonzalez. She says she came to Milwaukee from Mexico 25 years ago. Gonzalez says the Latino population’s purchasing power is obvious.

“There are a lot of people in the streets and in the supermarkets and the Spanish supermarkets, buying stuff in the stores and everywhere,” Gonzalez says.

Gonzalez says she’s also noticed many more businesses popping up in the neighborhood over the years. She notes a big increase in food trucks lining the streets during the summer months.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.