By David Muhammad
The Milwaukee of 2016 is vastly different than it was 50 years ago, even 20 years ago. The Milwaukee of Father Groppi, who marched across a bridge that now leads to a street named for Chicano Farmworker Activist Cesar Chavez, is now a majority person of color city, home to a quarter million African Americans and at least 160,000 Latinos. According to the most recent study done by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Department of Economic Studies and Urban Development, the dramatic 213.3% increase in Milwaukee’s Latino population since 1990 represents a demographic shift that can no longer be ignored.
Several notable local entities are taking note of this and focusing their strategic plans on serving the Hispanic/Latino community's long-term needs. Marquette University recently announced that it would be seeking HSI (Hispanic Serving Institution) status from the Department of Education, predicting a larger pool of Latino applicants to the Jesuit Institution. This is a significant step that signals the importance of collaboration and capacity building to meet the Latino community’s diverse needs.
Four proud graduates at the 2014 commencement of Milwaukee School of Languages. Since graduation, (l-r): Hasan has continued his education at UW-Whitewater, Jake at Marquette University, and Dragisa at UW-Madison, and Nick is in training with the Milwaukee Police Department and is working as a police aide.
The inclusion of cultural arts programming also is a hallmark of Hispanic-serving institutions that uplift heritage and identity. UCC’s Latino Arts, the holistic programming of Casa Romero, and that of organizations with large Latino demographics such as Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee and Journey House highlight the arts as a means of social development within the broader Latino community. Cultural competency is vital to effective service to this emerging population.There is a clear connection between public policy, economics, community engagement, and Latino success. Education remains a major issue for Latinos, the majority of whom live in areas of concentrated urban poverty. Milwaukee’s K12 enrollment increase, public and private, is due largely in part to the rise in the city’s Latino population, and demand for services is only increasing. Currently, less than two-thirds of Milwaukee Latinos (66.4%) do not have a high school diploma, while only 13.6% of Milwaukee’s Latinos have a bachelor’s degree.
The unemployment rate is marginally better for Hispanics than for African Americans, but the significant education gap, particularly for Latino males who represent 51% of the Hispanic population, limit any potential economic gains. In fact, Latino household income in Milwaukee had a 24% decrease in 2014 compared to 1990. This presents a challenge for organizations to adapt to the changing face of Milwaukee for a community that is largely underserved.
The chance for collaborative efforts exist but there has to be an increased understanding of Hispanic culture and family dynamics. The demand to meet these needs is particularly strong in the areas of education, health, and housing. Organizational capacity, awareness of need from the philanthropic community, in addition to recruitment and retention of professionals with a commitment to community development, is vital. Translation of printed materials is necessary, but awareness of cultural nuances and development of Latino nonprofit professionals who can engage the community effectively is needed. Affinity groups such as Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee and the Latino Nonprofit Leadership Class are vital resources to identify and cultivate individuals to meet this need.
The opportunities presented are greater than the crisis itself. Genuine engagement of Latinos represents significant revitalization for urban Milwaukee, particularly the central city and near south side. The potential for economic development and home ownership in the south side, where Latinos across the economic spectrum reside, can match and support parallel efforts in Milwaukee’s African American north side. A strong Latino community in Milwaukee is an affront to the hyper-segregation that has been a blemish to our city. This is not an “either/or” dilemma - this is a pivotal moment for Milwaukee's promise to be fulfilled.