Map of Wisconsin

Wisconsin historical overview

Economics and Migration

The connection between economics and migration has manifested itself throughout Wisconsin’s history. The Russians and Germans first came to work; however, by the early to mid-1900s, Latinos began replacing these workers as the Europeans permanently settled within Wisconsin. The majority of these Latinos migrated from Mexico or south Texas. Even today, economic conditions continue to attract Latinos northward as temporary agricultural or factory workers, although many Latinos have left the migrant stream and now reside year-round in Wisconsin. Though the Latino presence has gained momentum primarily during the last 100 years, limited evidence suggests some Spanish settlers arrived around Wisconsin’s rivers during the late 1700s to early 1800s for trading purposes.

Mexicans and Mexican Americans currently account for the largest Latino group in Wisconsin, although there are large numbers of Puerto Ricans and Cubans and fewer Central Americans. Many Latinos arrived in search of work in agriculture, in food processing, or in factories, and that reasoning continues today. Workers from south Texas and Mexico cite similar reasons for coming to Wisconsin: higher wages and available jobs.1 Throughout the past century, Wisconsin’s Latino population has steadily increased. Census numbers from 1990 show that Wisconsin’s Latino population was just below 2 percent of the total population fewer than 100,000. By the year 2000, that population had nearly doubled, and nearly half of that 10-year increase stemmed from growth in the Latino community. Census estimates for 2005 also indicate an upward trend in this population.2

If the Latino population continues to grow, given migration and high birth rates, Wisconsin eventually could become a majority-minority state.3 Milwaukee earned that label in the late 1990s, given the large African American population and the growing Latino and Asian communities. A commentary that appeared in the May 7, 2000, edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel stated, They bury in Polish and baptize in Spanish, indicating the changing demographics.

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