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New public history collective focuses on neglected history of Latinx in Wisconsin

January 26, 2021 By Kara O'Keeffe

Barbara Medina, as an infant, is shown with her father and grandfather in 1957. The Medinas moved from Texas to Milwaukee for better opportunities. Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Society

Over the next five years, a group of scholars and community researchers in communities across Wisconsin will begin documenting Latinx history in our state through the recently created Wisconsin Latinx History Collective (WHLC).

The Wisconsin Historical Society (WHS) will serve as the archival repository for collections and as a resource to the group.

The group’s 60 members include faculty, staff, and students from UW–Madison, Madison College, UW-Whitewater, UW-Milwaukee, Viterbo University, and UW-Parkside, as well as community researchers from Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, and Waupaca.

The project will not only add critical perspectives and missing facts to the historical record, but will also help combat ongoing racism and bias, according to Andrea-Teresa “Tess” Arenas, WLHC founder and lead.

“Every day we hear the lies, myths, and negative stereotypes that motivate hate crimes against Latinxs and poison our national conversation.  It is up to us to replace these with historical facts,” says Arenas, who is an emerita faculty affiliate of the UW–Madison Chican@ & Latin@ Studies Program.  “That means starting at the local level and seeking a national audience.”

For its part, the WHS is committed to the stewardship of Latinx archival collections and can provide statewide access for researchers through future exhibitions, programing, and incorporation of collections into school curriculum.

Barbara Medina with her parents in Milwaukee. Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Society

“The Wisconsin Historical Society is honored and excited to work closely with the WLHC on this project,” said Christian Overland, the Ruth and Hartley Barker Director & CEO of the Wisconsin Historical Society. “We know that archival documentation and historical scholarship on the history of Latinx Wisconsinites is limited at best and this project will enrich the historical record, spark community conversations, and provide a foundation for the continued growth of historical collections of the Wisconsin Latinx community in the future.”

In addition to expanding the documentary record of Latinx history in the state, the project will create public programming to share the results of the research with a broader audience.  The goal is to “retro-fit” the existing narrative of our state’s history with new information about people of Latin American descent.

The scope of the project is unprecedented in Wisconsin, according to Armando Ibarra, director of the Chican@ and Latin@ Studies Program at UW–Madison.

“While some universities and individual researchers have focused on projects related to particular events and situations in Latinx history, the WLHC’s focus is broader, and we are building a big tent,” he says. “The CLS Program will be the major partner for the collective on the UW–Madison campus.”

To ensure all Latinx subgroups and regions of the state are represented, WLHC is inviting college and university faculty, staff and students all over the state to join in this groundbreaking effort.   Areas of interest may include labor, migration, citizenship, families and genealogy, gender and sexuality, neighborhood formation, religion, political organizing, relations with law enforcement, health, agriculture, industry, business, culture, and the arts.

Public and private Universities, colleges and community members interested in joining this important statewide effort can contact Andrea-Teresa Arenas at

“The need is urgent, and everybody seems to recognize that.  I have been overwhelmed by the positive response,” says Arenas.

The Wisconsin Historical Foundation will serve as the fiscal agent for the Wisconsin Latinx History Collective and receive private gifts to support its work. The Wisconsin Historical Foundation is a 501(c)3, nonprofit organization that supports the Wisconsin Historical Society through private contributions and its membership program. For more information and to discuss donation opportunities, contact Julie Lussier at or (608) 261-9587

The Wisconsin Historical Society, founded in 1846, ranks as one of the largest, most active and most diversified state historical societies in the nation. As both a state agency and a private membership organization, its mission is to help people connect to the past by collecting, preserving and sharing stories. The Wisconsin Historical Society serves millions of people every year through a wide range of sites, programs and services. For more information, visit