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Open House Highlights Wisconsin’s Hispanic History

Labor leader Jesus Salas, history professor Sergio Gonzales, student Betsabe Ramos and Madison Poet Laureate Oscar Mireles. Photo by L. Malik Anderson.

The Wisconsin Historical Society rededicated its commitment to preserving and sharing the history of the entire state at the Hispanic Heritage Month Open House on Friday, Sept. 20. 

“Our state is very diverse. There’s so many people here and what I love about this is that there’s so many stories to tell,” said Christian Overland, The Ruth & Hartley Barker Director of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

In partnership with the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County, the Wisconsin Historical Society planned a night of live entertainment, access to archival collections reflecting Latino history both in the state and nation, and words from various community members. The program opened with a poem by City of Madison Poet Laureate Oscar Mireles and concluded with a presentation by local high school student Betsabe Ramos. 

The program also included remarks from Latino Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jessica Cavazos, in addition to keynotes by Marquette History Professor Sergio Gonzelez and longtime migrant workers’ advocate Jesús Salas. Each gave an address recapping the history of Latinos in Wisconsin.

“I feel like the intensity of this project is going to leave a legacy for my children to say ‘Hey, we belong here,’ and not just we belong here but we’ve been here and are here to stay,” Cavazos said. 

This event follows a number of efforts by the Wisconsin Historical Society to reflect a more complete picture of Wisconsin’s vibrant history and ethnic groups. Multicultural Outreach Coordinator Tanika Apaloo said the institution has partnered with the Latino Chamber of Commerce on many occasions throughout the last year. 

Back in February, The Wisconsin Historical Society hosted Black History Month Open House where community members could see African-American archival and museum collections on display and participate in a listening session about the creation of a new Wisconsin history museum on Madison’s Capitol Square. Overland spoke about the project during his remarks on Friday evening. 

“We’re building a brand new museum up on State Street and it’s going to be three times as big as the museum we have now,” he said.

The institution held conversations with more than 5,000 people from across the state during listening sessions on the new museum project between October 2018 and July 2019. The Wisconsin Historical Society plans to open the new museum in 2024. 

In the campaign, the institution states their plans to enhance local history partnerships by sharing more collections and stories from around the state and also reveal the state’s distinct identity by sharing stories that find common ground across all cultures and ethnicities.

“For us, we have collections that go back 150 years. We have the oldest surviving newspaper that’s Hispanic in the United States. It’s actually the first published Hispanic newspaper in the United States in our collection,” Overland said.