Archives Collections Inform South Side Mural Honoring Migrant Workers

photo of UMOS mural
Photo courtesy Raoul Deal.

A 90 x 10 foot mural unveiled this May on Milwaukee’s south side—honoring the 50-year history of United Migrant Opportunity Services (UMOS) and migrant workers in southeastern Wisconsin—was nurtured early on in its creative life in the UWM Libraries Archives.

In February 2016, Raoul Deal, Peck School of the Arts faculty member and artist-in-residence in UWM’s Cultures and Communities Program, brought art students from UWM and high school interns from ArtWorks for Milwaukee to the Archives to research Milwaukee-area Latino history.

They wanted to supplement the interviews they were conducting with ten UMOS members—interviews “that provided the heart and soul of the mural,” Deal says, and that are themselves destined to reside in the Archives–with historical primary sources.

Their research included viewing WTMJ-TV News Film Collection footage of Jesus Salas, a Latino activist and early UMOS Executive Director (1969-70), leading a march for migrants rights from Wautoma to Madison, and photos from several collections including the Juan Alvarez Cuauhtémoc Photographic Collection.

“Students could watch original news film footage of Jesus Salas to see his mannerisms, his way of communicating, and then translate that into a more powerful painted representation,” says Abbi Nye, head of Archives, who helped guide the students through the Archives’ resources.

“This creative re-imagining of archival materials in mural form demonstrates the range of undergraduate research projects supported by the UWM Archives,” Nye says.

Deal says that “it was hugely gratifying to see high school students so engaged in archival research.”

“It was easy for them to draw connections between the struggles then and now,” he says. “Recovering these stories and making them visible seemed all the more urgent and important.”

After finishing their research, planning and sketching, the students painted the mural in the UWM Union Art Gallery and in the Kenilworth Building on material used for parachutes.

The mural is permanently installed on the Butters-Fetting building at S. Mitchell Street, S. 1st and S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

Related story: New mural to tell migrant workers’ Milwaukee stories

–Steve Burnham