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Ethnic Studies 101: Latino Activism Resources

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Latino Activism at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 1969-1970

The Latino community in Milwaukee had grown steadily since the turn of the twentieth century, and by 1970 there was a vibrant population of at least 30,000 in the city. This community faced an array of urban social issues, including unemployment, competition for housing, lack of social programs, and under-representation in educational institutions. Although a number of Latinos worked for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, only 12 students were enrolled during the 1970-1971 academic year. Many Latino activists attributed this low enrollment to a lack of support at the university: few administrators or advisers spoke Spanish; there existed no support center for Latino students; and there was no means of transportation to the Kenwood campus. The absence of these resources provided very little incentive for Latino students to enroll at UWM.

Officials from the UWM School of Education began outreach efforts in the late 1960s, working with the newly established Committee for the Education of Latin Americans (CELA) to develop plans for a Spanish Speaking Outreach Institute (SSOI) to be housed within the school. It quickly became apparent to education administrators, however, that the proposed scope of such an institute was beyond the ability of the School of Education to implement, and they suggested that Latino activists take their proposals directly to the Office of the Chancellor. Members of CELA, led by Roberto Hernandez, did just that, staging sit-ins, protests, and camp outs at the office of J. Martin Klotsche during the late summer and fall of 1970. Their efforts proved fruitful: in November 1970, UWM opened its Spanish Speaking Outreach Institute, a forerunner of today's Roberto Hernandez Center.

Timeline of Events

Summer 1969: The Council for Education of Latin Americans (CELA) holds a series of meetings with administrators from
the UWM School of Education (SOE), including Dean Richard Davis, and agree in principle to the creation of a Spanish
Speaking Outreach Institute (SSOI) under the aegis of SOE. CELA board members prepare a formal proposal.

 

August 17, 1970: CELA submits its proposal for the SSOI to School of Education officials, who discover that the scope
of the proposal is too broad for SOE to handle on its own and requires a UWM-wide commitment. Chancellor Klotsche
remarked in his memoirs, "[SOE officials] had promised that they would support the [Latino] requests if presented to the
Chancellor's office. Unfortunately, the impression was created that if they came to campus I personally would receive
them."

 

August 27, 1970: About 100 hundred Latino activists arrive on campus for a meeting to discuss the creation of a Spanish
speaking center. They expect to meet with Chancellor Klotsche, but are told he is not on campus. At about 10:30 a.m..
they stage a sit-in at his office. By 5:30 p.m., police instruct the remaining 65 activists to leave. Five are arrested, but the
charges are dropped hours later. Roughly 25 activists remain outside Chapman Hall overnight.

 

August 28, 1970: Klotsche declines to meet with the activists but schedules a meeting for August 31. About 65 Latino
activists demonstrate the necessity of an outreach center by attempting to register for classes, apply for financial aid, and
borrow library books. As expected, these activists encounter difficulties as very few UWM employees speak Spanish. An
estimated 20 UWM student employees walk off the job in support of the activists. The group of Latino activists picket
Klotsche's home in the early evening.

 

August 30, 1971: Klotsche holds a closed meeting with nine activists urging the creation of a Spanish speaking outreach
institute, requesting an expansion of special educational and financial assistance for Latino students. Crucially, the
activists also request that 85 Spanish-speaking students be admitted for the fall semester. Klotsche promises to appoint
a special assistant to the chancellor to coordinate Spanish speaking programs on campus. After the meeting, the activists
express unhappiness with Klotsche's lack of commitment.

 

September 12, 1970: CELA is unhappy with Klotsche’s written response as well, as Klotsche's proposal does not create
a permanent institution for Latino outreach and support at UWM. Some activists go to Madison to meet with the University
of Wisconsin Board of Regents; however, they are told they must go through Klotsche for creating the center. 

 

September 14, 1970: Chancellor Klotsche agrees to create a position of Special Assistant to the Chancellor for Latin
Programs and to find funding to admit and support 50 Latino students. The Latino community remains wary, as no
permanent institutional support is promised in Klotsche's agreement.

 

October 9, 1970: CELA breaks off negotiations with UWM. Both sides support the appointment of Ricardo Fernandez as
the special assistant to the chancellor, but CELA feels the university lacks a sense of urgency regarding the matter. They
state there is still no support for the 50 new students who have enrolled.

October 12, 1970: Latino activists hold a fast outside Chapman Hall; they picket and camp throughout the week.

 

October 19, 1970: Latino activists stage another sit-in in Klotsche’s office. Both sides agree to resume talks and the fast
ends. Two of the main sticking points are resolved: UWM agrees to hire Ricardo Fernandez for the special assistant to the
chancellor and expand its own committee for future negotiations. More talks are scheduled for later in the week.

October 23, 1970: UWM and CELA come to terms. The creation of the Spanish Speaking Outreach Institute is agreed
upon. It is scheduled to open at the beginning of November.

November 2, 1970: The Spanish Speaking Outreach Institute opens its doors and Ricardo Fernandez is officially named
its director. The institute has four purposes in assisting the needs of the Spanish speaking community: 1) provide a place
to effectively manage and employ the university's resources; 2) help use campus programs in the development of the
community; 3) boost the community's involvement in activities, which also helps increase the overall status of the 
community; and 4) add to the cultural contributions to both the university and the Spanish-speaking community.

   

The RHC Digital Exhibit 

https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/9de9be03c534442e93bcbc572eca455f

How to Access UWM Libraries Primary Sources

Further Information

Roberto Hernández

 Who was Roberto Hernández?

Roberto Hernández was one of the most active Latino leaders in the city of Milwaukee during the 1970’s.He became one of the leading voices in negotiating with administrators for the creation of the Spanish Speaking Outreach Institute (SSOI) in 1970.