Celebrating Hispanic Culture

More than 400,000 Hispanics and Latinos call Wisconsin their home. Since the early 1900s, the community, led by Mexicans, has played an essential role in shaping the state’s identity. Travel Wisconsin has come up with a list of fantastic local attractions, events, stores, and restaurants to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.

Among the highlights are:

  • Alice Good Coffee in Verona. The coffeehouse focuses in Colombian coffee with a goal to “return as much of the economic benefits of its income to the South American country.
  • Make your way to Hillsboro to visit La Marimba Nicaraguan Cuisine for some great food. The Central American restaurant specializes in ‘fritanguero’ style of cooking that one savors in dishes like carne asada or grilled meat.
  • When in Whitewater, be sure to stop in at Miriam De La Vega’s Happy Little Gems, a jewelry and gem shop with all handmade pieces made with ethically sourced stones. 
  • If art is what you’re into, check out Francisco X. Mora’s “Small Works” at Latino Arts, Inc. in Milwaukee. The arts institution is dedicated exclusively to showcasing the works of Hispanic and Latino artists, Latino Arts, Inc. provides high-quality low-cost, and accessible arts programming.

National Hispanic Heritage Month (9/15-10/15) traditionally honors the cultures and contributions of both Hispanic and Latino Americans.

Cover Photo: Fiesta Point 2022

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Hispanic Heritage Month: El Salvador

MANCHESTER – Nearly two dozen people celebrated the raising of the Salvadoran flag in Manchester this month as part of Hispanic Heritage Month (HHM). State Representative Maria Perez, a Salvadoran native from Milford, organized the event.

Perez told NHPR that her goal was to include Latinos and people from other cultures. “I don’t want [other] groups that are underrepresented to feel excluded,” she said.

According to a Pew Research Center analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 2.5 million Hispanics of Salvadoran origin resided in the United States in 2021. Approximately 63,000 Hispanics and Latinos are living in New Hampshire. Just over 1,300 of them are from El Salvador.

Mayor Joyce Craig said Salvadorans contribute to the city with businesses, industry, art, faith, education, and politics. Craig noted Manchester has put forward a Multicultural Advisory Board, and she would like to support similar initiatives at the state level.

Photo: Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig with State Representative Maria Perez, Milford (Credit: Rep. Maria Perez)

The first Salvadorans to the United States before the El Salvador Civil War (1979–1992) began arriving primarily in San Francisco, where they worked as shipyard employees in the early twentieth century. During the ongoing civil war for about 12 years, approximately 1 million Salvadorans fled seeking refuge; about 50 percent immigrated to the United States. Over the past 20 years, more Salvadorans have immigrated to the U.S. due to social inequality, disputes over social and political issues, and increased violence.

The Salvadoran diaspora in the U.S. has established a few large and well-funded organizations. The Salvadoran American Humanitarian Foundation, ENLACE El Salvador, Salvadoran American Leadership & Educational Fund, El Rescate, and Christians for Peace in El Salvador are among them.

Perez emigrated from El Salvador 20 years ago, escaping violence and looking for a better life for herself and her family. The struggles of her fellow compatriots that she knows firsthand are not far from her thoughts. “It wasn’t easy to get here,” she told WMUR. “But I always remind myself I am here because I got the opportunity to be here.”

She grew up in the 1980s during the height of guerilla warfare in El Salvador, witnessing brutal acts of violence. At age 16, her family sold her for an arranged marriage in the United States. Perez said it was not her choice, but got her away from her father’s abuse and the war.

Her arranged marriage lasted 11 years and gave her two children. Perez earned degrees from Nashua Adult Learning and Nashua Community College.

Perez has turned to politics to represent others who need help. She said she wants to be a voice for Latinos and for people in rural communities struggling to be heard.

At the flag-raising ceremony, Perez honored her country by wearing a white embroidered blouse and a red skirt with indigenous patterns from El Salvador. The Central American country celebrates its independence on September 15, the first day of HHM.

Cover Photo Credit: Rep. Maria Perez

Jorge Valdivia: Telling Authentic Stories

Diversity, equity, and inclusion allow broader perspectives to be integrated when developing new ideas, particularly in the performing arts. They shape public ideas about cultural identity and expose audiences to conflicts and discourses they may not encounter daily.

The Chicago Latino Theater Alliance (CLATA) is a transformative cultural engine helping drive the local Latino theater community to a more prominent level.

CLATA’s signature program, Destinos, the Chicago International Latino Theater Festival, kicks off for a new season this month, showcasing Chicago’s Latino theater artists and companies alongside top Latino artists from the U.S. and Latin America.

Jorge Valdivia, Executive Director of CLATA was a guest on the program “3 Questions With…� hosted by Hugo Balta, publisher of IL Latino News.

Valdivia spoke about CLATA’s work in building a stronger foundation for future Latino theater artists to thrive and grow. “To help build more visibility for Latinos on stages across Chicago,” he said when talking about the need to amplify Latino voices and narratives. “Not just people who look like you and me, but people who identify as Afro-Latinos and gender queer. Our mission is to capture the full diaspora and narrative of what it means to be Latine in the USA.”

Valdivia also shared what theatergoers can expect at this year’s Destinos, which begins its six-week run on September 28. The annual event showcases Chicago’s Latino theater artists and companies alongside top Latino artists from the U.S. and Latin America. “Prieto is an autobiographical story about his (written and performed by Yosimar Reyes) experience as a child trying to accept himself – dark skinned and queer,” Valdivia says about the play from San Jose (one of the many imports) that navigates topics entrenched in struggle, search for truth, clarity, and joy.

“I was surrounded by artists,” remembered Valdivia about his childhood. “My mother was an aspiring singer/song writer. I have always been fascinated by how art can elevate the stories of who we are as Latinos. There’s nothing more powerful than telling your story and being authentic.”

For more information about Destinos, including how to get tickets, click HERE.

“3 Questions With…� is co-produced by the Latino News Network (LNN), an independent, multimedia digital news outlet with local newsrooms in the Northeast and Midwest, including IL Latino News  and CAN TV, Chicago’s hub for community centric news, hyperlocal stories and educational resources.

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Our Commitment To Washington Latinos

Like in other states across the country, Latinos in Washington are driving growth in the Evergreen State. They are the second largest racial or ethnic group at 13 percent of the population. Since 2000, the Latino population has grown by 133 percent—more than four times the state’s overall growth rate during the same time (30 percent).

The UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute also reports that Latino men participate in the labor force at the highest rate among the major racial, ethnic, and gender groups in Washington (80 percent). Latinas have the second-highest labor force participation rate (64 percent) among women of major racial and ethnic groups.

However, despite the positive gains, there are significant challenges. The conditions of Latinos are best described as paradoxical. Although Latinos have a high labor force participation, 18 percent of Latino households experience poverty. In Washington, half of Latino families experience a housing cost burden—meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their incomes on housing costs. This rate is three percentage points higher than that of Washington households (47 percent). Latinos are most likely to live in an overcrowded home—meaning they live with more than one person per room.

The stories of contradictions, the ones about Latinos not benefitting from the wealth they are creating, the systemic disparities, including lack of access to health care and food insecurity, that were aggravated by the pandemic and continue to pose a threat to Latinos, are ones we, at the Latino News Network (LNN), know all too well.

LNN has been providing greater visibility and voice to Hispanic Latino communities since 2012. Our flagship news outlet, Connecticut Latino News has been recognized for producing coverage like Reaching Latino Voters Is All About The Message. The in-depth report explores spatial over racial voting techniques in drawing Latinos to the voting booths.

Our newsrooms not only fulfill their responsibility of telling Latino stories seldom seen in mainstream media through original reporting but also by amplifying the work of others in doing the same. Partners like the Latino Policy Institute work diligently to ignite transformational change. In “From Rhode Island To All: Latino Policy Institute’s Vision For America“, Marcela Betancur, Executive Director of the Latino Policy Institute, states, “At the heart of LPI’s mission is the unwavering belief that every child, irrespective of their background, should have access to a rich, empowering education.”

Collaborations like the one with the Boston University School of Communications School of Journalism provide the Latino News Network with opportunities to mentor young journalists and provide them with real work opportunities. “What Does It Mean To Be Hispanic Or Latino?” by student reporters Annika Chaves and Esmeralda Moran is an example of dynamic storytelling from fresh perspectives.

LNN applies the principles of solutions journalism in its investigative reporting. It isn’t good enough to illuminate a social problem for us. Our journalists strive to unravel the responses to those issues by gathering evidence, providing insights, and identifying limitations. There is no better example of that approach than “A “Familismo” Approach To Latino College Enrollment” by Apps Mandar Bichu. Her reporting revealed how pivotal responses in helping Latino students get back on track with higher education required cultural nuances.

WA Latino News is committed to best serving Washington Latinos by drawing from the well of experience of our newsrooms nationwide. We invite you to lead us in our efforts to produce news coverage that is fair and accurate.

Share with us the people and stories to which we should provide greater visibility and voice. Let us know who we should reach out to in exploring partnerships. Please introduce us to schools of higher education to identify students to mentor and work with. Identify the social issues that are worth looking into.

We need you. At the Latino News Network, you are more than just the audience; you are our contributors.

Please reach out to us via info@LatinoNewsNetwork.com

Cover Photo by Eric M.V (ROWDY)

Aguas frescas in Chicago: How a family business out of a front yard grows in a Southside neighborhood 

CHICAGO — What brings people to the Southwest Side neighborhood of Chicago Lawn on any given day? Quality aguas fresca, a homemade beverage made of freshly squeezed fruit, is popular in Mexico and other Latin American countries.

Though many street vendors throughout the city may sell agua fresca, few specialize in the unique drink that most recently, in the mainstream, some began to refer to as “spa water.�

But on 71st Street and Homan, right across from Marquette Park, a family-run small business that specializes in selling aguas frescas and other snacks has been operating from their front yard since 2021.

A variety of aguas frescas and snacks is sold in front of Marquette Park in Chicago Lawn. (Citlali Perez )

The business is a family effort; Gloria Diaz and her husband Oscar Michelle, collaborate to make it possible with the support of Diaz’s sister Martina Guerca. And the youngest, Diaz and Michelle’s son and daughter, help to run the stand on weekends throughout the school year – when the family has the most patrons.

Diaz and her family moved to Chicago Lawn from Brighton Park in 2020. When they lived in Brighton Park, Diaz and Michelle would sell “bolis,� frozen flavored water inside a plastic bag. They were a big hit among children in Brighton Park, so they decided to continue selling when they moved to Chicago Lawn.

But they weren’t selling as much because many people in the area aren’t familiar with the bolis.

So the family began to brainstorm. After consulting with each other, they decided to sell aguas frescas instead. The most common flavors include horchata, hibiscus, and tamarind.

A recent TikTok trend popularized the Mexican staple when content creator Gracie Norton posted a video introducing the drink to her following as spa water, sparking a conversation about the re-branding and appropriation of traditional Mexican food by white people.

Diaz explains that customers unfamiliar with aguas frescas may be more open to trying it because they can compare it to something they are more familiar with. But what sets this apart from juice or any other fruity beverage, is its natural ingredients.

The aguas are all prepared from scratch with fresh fruits that the family sources from a warehouse. A good agua fresca should taste like the fruit or other ingredients that it is made with, and have a good water and sugar ratio, she explained.

The aguas are kept cool throughout the day by pouring in ice and adding more of the agua fresca into the container so as not to dilute the flavor.

When the weather hits at least 55 degrees, Chicago Lawn residents and other loyal customers can count on Diaz and her family to be set up with large transparent containers of aguas frescas.

The colorful row of containers catches the eyes of passers-by. Most days, people line up or drive by the family’s front yard, which is right in front of Tarkington Elementary.

During the school year, children coming out of class and teachers going on their lunch breaks frequent the stand.

Diaz said that she and her family hope to provide this service year-round.

Since September of last year, they have been working to open up a brick-and-mortar location for their business. They began to plan for this a year ago and since then have confirmed the locale, 3115 W. 71st Pl.

Michelle said opening the facility has been a long process because of city requirements and regulations. Though it is a risky investment, it has been a dream and goal of the family, he said.

The couple has been able to subsidize the cost of the project with a side job that has flexible work hours. They plan to name the business “Las Delicias de Michelle,� as it would include the whole family.

Meanwhile, Diaz and Michelle have been working at a different location on 83th St., for three months, aside from selling in front of their house.

“El sol sale para todos,â€� says Michelle who doesn’t view surrounding street vendors as competition and says they all offer something different to the community.

Michelle explains that there are three ways to successfully run a business: quality service, quality products, and loyal customers who help spread the word.

Cover Photo by Citlali Perez 

Publisher’s Notes: You can read Citlali’s Spanish language version of Aguas frescas in Chicago: How a family business out of a front yard grows in a Southside neighborhood by clicking on Aguas frescas forman parte de la comunidad suroeste de Chicago.

Illinois Latino News (ILLN) and La DePaulia are partners in best serving the Hispanic-Latino community.

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Bilingual Teacher Recruitment Programs Face Uncertainty 

HARTFORD—The Paso a Paso and new Caribbean Connection programs at Hartford Public Schools have brought in and retained a total of 25 bilingual teachers for the 2023-2024 school year, amid state-wide teacher shortages.

About nine teachers have been recruited through the brand-new Caribbean Connection initiative—four from the pilot program last winter and an additional five beginning this fall—according to the Hartford Public Schools Superintendent Office.

While about 500 people had attended virtual information sessions on both programs and the Superintendent’s Office had received more than 330 applications in January, limited funding and the complex process of obtaining J1 Visas for hires from Caribbean nations meant that the district could only recruit a certain number of teachers.

“I think in terms of the recruitment and also the retention…that speaks to the support systems that the teams internally here have developed and also that the cohort has developed amongst themselves… So I would say it has been very successful,” shared HPS Executive Director of Communications and Marketing Jesse Sugarman.

However, the Superintendent’s Office shared uncertainty on whether both programs will continue next school year due to a lack of funding. These initiatives have been supported by American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds, which expire in September 2024.Â

Connecticut schools saw hundreds of vacancies this past school year—especially in areas such as bilingual education, special education, world languages, math, and science. Large, urban districts including Hartford, New Haven, and Meriden have been experiencing acute shortages

Currently, Hartford’s public school district has 64 classroom vacancies but a spokesperson for Hartford Public Schools said that number is expected to change as new hires and late resignations are still being processed.

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged teachers and young students in ways most of us have never experienced. Research confirms that educators have felt intense levels of stress and burnout, resulting in waves of retirement and large numbers of resignations across the country.

Amid these shortages, students require robust support from faculty they can trust and relate to, shared Superintendent Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez of Hartford Public Schools.

About 57 percent of Hartford students identify as Hispanic-Latino and 30 percent of students identify as Black or African American, while 25 percent of instructors identify as people of color. More than one in five Hartford students are also English Language Learners (ELL). 

The Carribean Connection and Paso a Paso programs look to bring more educators that can identify with Hartford’s diverse student population, Torres-Rodriguez told CT Latino News.

“Though we have the highest rate, compared to the state, in terms of educators of color, we still have a significant gap. So, every opportunity that we get to be intentional, as to not only our recruitment but also our retention efforts, we’re going to double down on that.�

Superintendent Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez

In the 2022-2023 school year, seven teachers from the Paso a Paso program supported about 230 multilingual learners. Research has shown that English Language Learners typically perform better academically when they are first taught in their native language.

“What helped with Paso a Paso, there’s an already thriving Latino, Puerto Rican community here and there’s a West Indian community here,� Torres-Rodriguez told CT Latino News. “So, there are ties and community support networks that have already been flourishing for years, decades.�

Teachers in both programs were expected to fill positions in bilingual elementary education, Teaching English to Students of Other Languages (TESOL), English, special education, world language, math, science, music, and art.Â

Recruited from the Paso a Paso Pilot Program, Adriana Beltran-Rodriguez is one of two TESOL teachers at Michael D. Fox Elementary School. (Joe Amon/Connecticut Public)

Aside from recruitment efforts, Connecticut educators have emphasized the importance of retaining faculty to resolve the state-wide and nation-wide shortage.

“We can keep hiring the new folks who are coming out of teacher prep programs, but if we’re losing teachers who are 10 years in, 15 years in, it’s not going to solve the problem,â€�  Leslie Blatteau of the New Haven Federation of Teachers told CT Insider.

During informational sessions for both programs, candidates asked about potential opportunities for further education and professional development. In January, Torres-Rodriguez knew of at least two teachers in the Paso a Paso program who were interested in pursuing doctoral degrees.Â

“These are individuals that are coming here not just because they’re here to serve, and they find a connection to this community, but they also want to continue to grow, and grow the profession, and continue to give back, which is in alignment with our value set,� she said.

Central Connecticut State University had shared a strong interest in partnering with the school district to support Paso a Paso teachers interested in pursuing advanced studies, shared Torres-Rodriguez.

At the same time, the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) has been working with Hartford Public Schools in reviewing candidates of both programs to determine their eligibility for Connecticut Teacher Certification.

“We truly believe that having high-quality educators [who] our students can identify with is a benefit not just for students of color, but for all of our students,â€� Torres-Rodriguez said. “We know that there’s a society that is not a monolithic society—that it’s representative of so many things, whether it’s ethnic and cultural and gender and abilities. And that is what we’re aiming for…that every one of our students feel that they are seen, that they are heard, that they matter.â€�

Iris Y. Martinez: Making The Justice System Accessible To All

Judicial process refers to the legal proceedings and actions taken in a court of law. It includes all the steps in a legal case, from the initial filing of a lawsuit to the final judgment or determination.

The Clerk of the Circuit Court is the official record keeper for the courts. The circuit clerk is an integral part of the entire county governmental process. The primary duty of the circuit clerk is to assist in preparing and maintaining court records, collecting fees and fines, and processing paperwork.

The Cook County Circuit Court is the most extensive court system in Illinois and the second-largest unified court system in the world. The staff is composed of more than 14 hundred employees. Leading it all is Clerk Iris Y. Martinez, who made history when she was elected as the first Latina Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County in 2020.

Clerk Martinez was a guest on the program â€œ3 Questions With…â€� hosted by Hugo Balta, publisher of IL Latino News.

Madame Clerk explained the work of the Office and highlighted some of the initiatives she has implemented, like the launch of the Customer Service Call Center in June. “We created the Call Center to streamline calls to all of the different parts of our office, to one area,” Martinez said about the challenges people had in reaching the many divisions in the Office. “We’ve seen over 1,200 phone calls on a daily basis, addressed 77,000 people, 200 different languages.”

She also spoke about expungements and the sealing of records. “I met this young man who said to me, “I did something when I was 18 years old,” he’s now thirty-something, it came back to haunt him when he applied for a job,” she recalled about a person who participated in an expungement petition drive that the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County co-hosts with faith-based organizations. The Office also leads forums to inform and educate the public about the complicated process of expungements. “We are teaming up with pastors that are very in touch with the community that need these services,” Martinez said about the collaboration it takes to help people get their paperwork to file their application.

SUGGESTION: Expungement Event Attracts Community Members Looking To Clear Their Record

Clerk Martinez said that her family is a source of inspiration fueling her passion to serve the public. “One of the things that my father and grandmother were about was helping people,” she recalled. “I used to go around with him (father) to deliver food or help people find jobs.” Martinez credits growing up in a household where caring for the community was a staple for her, leading her to a career in public service.

“I see it up close and personal,” Martinez said about how she and her team engage with residents through Clerk in the Community (CIC), a program that brings services from the seven district offices to where the public lives. “I am hands-on, being part of the decision-making when it comes to what is the best thing we can do to offer these resources and how much more can we expand to make sure that people are getting the very best of government.”

CIC is also a program on CAN-TV. Watch new episodes every month by clicking HERE.

Clerk Martinez’s time as an elected official began in January 2003, when she was sworn in as the first Latina elected to the Illinois State Senate, representing the people of the 20th Legislative District.

“3 Questions With…â€� is co-produced by the Latino News Network (LNN), an independent, multimedia digital news outlet with local newsrooms in the Northeast and Midwest, including IL Latino News  and CAN TV, Chicago’s hub for community centric news, hyperlocal stories and educational resources.

Editor’s Notes: Hugo Balta is the Deputy Public Information Officer in the Office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County.

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New Report: Shocking Low Turnout by Black and Latino Voters in this Year’s Chicago Mayoral Race

Brandon Johnson’s election this past April as Chicago’s new mayor has been hailed across the country as an electrifying victory by progressive Democrats. But a detailed analysis of vote tallies – one that I and Matthew Wilson of the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois Chicago conducted – has found a startling gap in voter turnout along racial and ethnic lines in Chicago.

Our review of all 1,291 voting precincts throughout the city revealed that a mere 29 percent of registered Black voters and just 20.5 percent of registered Latinos cast a ballot in the April run-off, a far lower figure than the 61.1 percent of Chicago’s registered white voters who turned out. For Latinos, in particular, these figures become even more disturbing given that a significant percentage of Latinx resident aged 18 and over are either legal permanent residents or undocumented, and thus are ineligible to vote. Our analysis concluded that just 1 of every 10 Latinos over the age of 18 voted in this year’s Chicago mayoral runoff.

We further estimate that 54.4 percent of those Latinos who did participate cast their ballot for Johnson’s opponent Paul Vallas, as did more than 70 percent of Asian voters, but that Johnson achieved his slim victory by capturing 88 percent support from Black voters and a substantial minority – 34 percent – of white voters.

For more details on the racial and ethnic voting patterns in this election, how those trends compare to the historic 1983 victory of Harold Washington, and possible lessons to be learned from the data, see the full report here: New Great Cities Institute Report – “Chicago’s 2023 Mayoral Race: A Progressive Victory Amidst Shocking Low Turnout by Black and Latino Voters.�

Cover Photo by cottonbro studio.

Juan González is a Senior Fellow at the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois Chicago and co-host of the radio/TV news show Democracy Now. He is the author of Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America and is a founding member and former president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

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Connecticut State Library Receives $249K Grant For Digital Inclusion Efforts

HARTFORD—Over the next two years, the Connecticut State Library (CSL) will design and apply a replicable system that shares digital navigation services to underserved communities across the state.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) has awarded the CSL’s Division of Library Development a National Leadership Grant of almost $250,000 to run this initiative that will be largely executed in the next year.

Eight public libraries will be collaborating in this effort—including the Bridgeport Public Library, Derby Public Library, Hamden Public Library, Howard Whittemore Memorial Library, Naugatuck, New Haven Free Public Library, Wallingford Public Library, West Haven Public Library, and Woodbridge Town Library.

The National Leadership Grant for Libraries Program looks to support a variety of projects, including those that strengthen library services to address the critical needs of its surrounding communities, according to the IMLS website.

The State Library of Connecticut’s Regional Navigator Sharing Plan includes distributing 400 computers and assisting 2,000 residents in need through the eight libraries collaborating in this initiative, along with creating a toolkit that supports other regions to recreate similar collaborative programs.

This plan focused on digital inclusion builds on the CSL’s ARPA-funded Digital Navigator Pilot Program that ran in several districts.

“Connecticut libraries are increasingly playing a role in the effort to close the digital divide,� said CSL’s Digital Inclusion Consultant Chris Gauvreau, who led the Digital Navigator Pilot. “This project is designed to develop a regional sharing model that will help small and rural libraries contribute without strain.�

SUGGESTION: CT Public Library Initiative Seeks To Close Local Digital Divide

In recent years, Connecticut Libraries have led efforts to address the ongoing digital divide across Connecticut, which largely impacts communities of color and other underserved residents including low-income households, senior citizens, and individuals with disabilities.

“We are proud to continue the work started with the Digital Navigator Pilot,� said State Librarian Deborah Schander. “Thanks to IMLS, we can continue to close the digital divide, both here in Connecticut and across the country.�

The 2020 Digital Divide In Connecticut Report found that about 35 percent of Latino residents and 31 percent of Black residents lacked wireline broadband internet at home, while 36 percent of Latino residents and 31 percent of Black residents did not have computer access at home.

“Libraries are at the forefront of the work closing the digital divide and ending information poverty for our most vulnerable citizens,� said Director Dawn La Valle of the CT State Library’s Division of Library Development. “Recognized as a leader in developing programs to address digital equity, CSL’s model project, will inform the rest of the country and provide a turnkey solution for teaching digital literacy skills.�

Publisher’s Notes: CTLN produces stories on the state’s ongoing digital divide to raise awareness on this equity issue that disproportionately impacts historically underserved communities. CTLN is a proud partner of the Connecticut State Public Libraries in serving Connecticut’s diverse Hispanic/Latino communities.

Fight To Win Wisconsin’s Latino Voters

“We defeated Trump and all Trump-like candidates — we defeated you in 2020, and we will defeat you in 2024,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera Action. The immigrant rights activist led a protest on August 23, the day of the first Republican presidential debate. Neumann-Ortiz told the Wisconsin Examiner that the demonstration was meant to send a clear message to Republican leadership that “you are not welcome here.”Â

Inside the Fiserv Forum, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the front-runner of the eight on the GOP debate stage, said, “I’m not going to send troops to Ukraine, but I am going to send them to our southern border.” DeSantis told people in attendance and 11 million viewers watching on Fox News (according to ratings data from Nielsen) that the Mexican drug cartels are killing tens of thousands of our fellow citizens. “We have to re-establish the rule of law, and we have to defend our people… We’re going to use force, and we’re going to leave them stone-cold dead.”

Despite the cold reception by some Latino-led organizations that night like “Voces,” Hilario DeLeon, chairman of the Milwaukee County Republican Party, feels good about his party’s chances of attracting Latino voters in next year’s presidential election.

“You know, we’re not going to win Milwaukee outright. It’s impossible. It’s just a Democrat city. But we can increase that voter percentage to, you know, help the rest of the state, give them breathing room,” said DeLeon. He told PBS Wisconsin that conservatives have more to offer on issues like jobs and high food prices, which are essential to the community.

Neumann-Ortiz said that unless the GOP changes its political stance on immigration and workers’ rights, the party will not make inroads with Latinos in the state.

The Hispanic Latino population is Wisconsin’s largest minority group, according to the 2020 Census report. The group’s numbers rose 7.6 percent in the last ten years, making up more than 447,000 Wisconsinites. The nonprofit Migration Policy Institute reports that many of them make up approximately 70,000 undocumented immigrants.

One hot-button issue affecting undocumented immigrants is Wisconsin Act 126, which prohibits undocumented immigrants from obtaining driver’s licenses. In Clark County, home to more dairy farms than any other county in the state, the number of undocumented Hispanic workers on medium-to-large farms is roughly 6,200, according to a University of Wisconsin at Madison study.

A recent ProPublica report finds that law enforcement officials say the roads are less safe because undocumented immigrants aren’t trained and tested on basic driving rules. Still, they drive anyway — and often without insurance. Court officials say tickets for driving without a license overwhelm their dockets and drain their limited resources.

Democratic Governor Tony Evers included a provision in his biennial budget proposal that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to receive a driver’s license, but Republican legislators stripped it out.

“When people talk about immigrant families, they talk about them being an economic engine for the United States,” Milwaukee County supervisor Juan Miguel Martinez told Urban Milwaukee. “Yes, they are, but we need to realize that they are not just that. Humans are more than the labor they provide to uphold capitalist systems that wish to destroy them when they cannot work. Driver’s licenses are a way for them to live a dignified life, where they will be able to drive, get car insurance, and have a shot at a normal life in society.”

Democrats traditionally have relied on their positions on immigration to attract Latino voters. Still, despite those efforts, former President Donald Trump improved with the electorate in his unsuccessful 2020 re-election bid. Exit polls reported that Trump won 37 percent of the Latino vote in 2020 (vs. 34 percent in 2016). The Atlantic reported that an election-eve poll from the Latino-run firm Latino Decisions showed a shift in Wisconsin, from 10 percent Latino support for Trump in 2016 to 22 percent in 2020

In 2016, Trump won 16.2 percent of the vote in Milwaukee’s majority Latino wards, and Hillary Clinton won 79.5 percent. In 2020, Trump won 21.8 percent of those wards’ votes, and Joe Biden won 76.6 percent. (Biden won Wisconsin overall by about 20,000 votes.)

In 2020, 18,000 Latinos in Wisconsin turned 18 and are U.S. citizens. That’s enough to make a difference in an election in a swing state like Wisconsin.

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