Roberto Hernández Center celebrating 50 years at UWM

On Oct. 22, the Roberto Hernández Center will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a virtual celebration combining history, community and culture. The event starts at 5:30 p.m. and will be streamed live.

The event will bring together the past, present and future of the center and the Latinx community in Milwaukee. As such, “El Pasado, El Presente y El Futuro” is the theme of the celebration, said Alberto Maldonado, director of the center.

“We wanted to look at where we’ve been – our origins – and where we are now and where we see ourselves in the next 50 years,” Maldonado said.

Many Latinx community, university and nonprofit leaders as well as past and current members of the Roberto Hernández Center will participate in the event. Guests will be welcomed by Chancellor Mark Mone and Chia Vang, associate vice chancellor and professor of history.

A focus on helping students

Students Michael Vazquez, a senior, and Tere Serna, a graduate assistant, will emcee the program.

“We did this purposely because of that is what the center stands for – students,” said Maldonado.

Roberto Hernandez and Jesús Salas celebrate the creation in 1970 of the Spanish Speaking Outreach Institute, which later became the Roberto Hernandez Center. (Photo courtesy of the UWM Libraries Digital Collection)

Representing the past will be Jesús Salas, a former UW System regent, who took part in the founding of the center. Felipe Rodriguez, one of the directors of what was originally called the Spanish Speaking Outreach Institute, a retired School of Education advisor and well-known local musician, will provide musical interludes.

The center will honor the role women have played in the community and at the university with two awards to female leaders. Graciela de la Cruz was a student in 1970 who became a Milwaukee Public Schools teacher, and is depicted on a mural celebrating Latinx history that was installed on the south side in 2017. The late Marla O. Anderson was one of those who took part in the protests that led to the founding of the center, and was the only woman among the five protesters who were arrested.

Helping with financial aid

Alumna Andrea Lozano will talk about how the center’s emergency financial aid support helped her finish her degree. “Helping students find financial support is an important part of the work we do here,” said Maldonado.

Heidi Anoszko of the library will give an update on an oral history project that is part of the 50th anniversary celebration. A video by videographer Marcelo Martinez, a UWM alum and employee, will feature cameos of others involved in the center’s history.

Center staff members Maldonado and advisors Gabriela Dorantes and Rebecca Arcos-Piedra will talk about the center’s current work, and William Velez, a professor emeritus of sociology, will talk about the future.

Coming a long way

Fifty years ago UWM had only a handful of Latinx students. One student commented at the time that “All the Latino students out of 25,000 could sit at one table.” Few administrators or advisors spoke Spanish; there was no support center for Latinx students, and there was no means of transportation to the Kenwood campus.

As of fall 2020, UWM now has 2,340 registered Latinx students, 12.4% of undergraduates. Events like an annual open house (Casa Abierta) are held in Spanish and English, numerous cultural events celebrate Hispanic culture and accomplishments throughout the year, and the center contributes to research and provides regular advising, emergency financial aid and other support services for students.

Seven years ago, the university created a committee to support DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students as they prepare for their futures. These are approximately 300 undocumented students who qualify for temporary protection from deportation and legal work authorization for a renewable period of two years.

In addition, the center is helping the university work toward receiving recognition as a Hispanic Serving Institution.

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