“When [Executive Director] Karen [Menendez Coller] called me up from Centro Hispano to tell me that I was going to get the Sánchez Award, I was surprised. To me, an award from Centro Hispano is as important as an award from any leading academic association,” says Armando Ibarra. “I think that the work that Centro Hispano does is as important as any of the work that I do with any national association because they reach families. They reach youth. They act as a bridge between the Latino community and the community at large when it comes to dealing with social and economic issues that impact us all as a community.”

Centro Hispano is acknowledging the work of Professor Ibarra by giving him an award named after another Latino professor – Ibarra is the 2017 recipient of the Roberto G. Sánchez Award which honors an individual, group or organization that has demonstrated leadership in advancing educational and career opportunities for Latinos. The award will be presented to him at the 28th annual Centro Hispano Banquet next Friday.

Professor Sánchez, who passed away last year in Santa Barbara, Calif., at the age of 93, had a passion for education and helping others that is very well-known in Madison.

Professor Roberto G. Sánchez

“He was a very impressive person who lived a very impressive life, both personally and in the academy,” Ibarra tells Madison365. “So, to be awarded in honor of the memory of his work and service is humbling. He paved the way for so many and shown us how to go through this type of career as professors while engaging in community.”

Centro Hispano Executive Director Karen Menendez Coller told Madison 365 that Ibarra “doesn’t typically like much recognition for the impact he is having in our community, but he deserves it.”

“As a Latino professor at UW, he serves as an important role model to so many of our youth,” she says. “Also, his research is uniquely informed by his lived experience, something so rare in academia. Through his advocacy, Armando has always demonstrated a true commitment to community and whenever he speaks I am always struck by how important his own family is. I respect him so much.”

Since January of 2011, Ibarra has been an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin Extension’s School for Workers, the oldest labor education program in the country. “It’s been around for about 92 years,” Ibarra says. “The School for Workers mainly does labor education which is education for trade unions and non-organized workers. We teach different types of classes that directly engage trade union members and management on how to operate in this type of environment where we have unions.”

Ibarra was recruited to come to Madison from the University of California-Irvine, where he earned his Ph.D. in political science, because of his labor expertise, community engagement, and applied research experience. Ibarra also holds a master’s degree in public administration and a bachelor’s degree in sociology and Spanish. His research and fields of specialization are Chicano/a Latino/a working communities, adult education on issues of diversity in the workplace, international labor migration, leadership development, organized workplaces, and applied research.

“I’ve been here for almost 8 years now and it’s been an interesting time. When my wife Vero and I first came to Wisconsin, we chose this state because it seemed like the right fit for us as professionals and as people who are interested in community and community issues,” he says. “I felt like this was a place we could make community here. I looked at the place and I looked at the services and I noticed that the Latino community here was a younger community. It wasn’t well-established like the communities we were used to [in California.]

“But I also saw that there was a lot of organizations doing good work outside of the UW and that was impressive to me,” he adds. “After the interview, I called Vero and I said, ‘I think we found home.’ We chose Wisconsin because of the community engagement part … because of the Wisconsin Idea.”

Armando and wife Vero Ibarra at a previous Centro Hispano Annual Banquet

Part of Ibarra’s job is to teach students about Latinos and about social movements, not just in Wisconsin but generally in the United States. Another part of his job is to conduct applied research. “That’s research that connects communities to the university,” he says. “I have a very unique job and I really enjoy doing my job. It allows me to engage in scholarship and scholarly debate and also engage the community on issues that are important to the Latino community into the type of work and research that I conduct. It’s really a unique place and a unique job because it involves traditional teaching and research and it involves community-based participatory research and engagement.

“It also involves being able to engage with different Latino organizations – both advocacy and service organizations,” he adds. “All of this together is my job. It is a unique job … and usually pretty interesting.”

Through his work at UW-Extension, Ibarra has done a lot of applied research on Latinos in Dane County and throughout Wisconsin and on demographic shifts throughout the state. “I just finished one of the largest studies of Latinos in Wisconsin’s history where I engage with Latino community members across the state and see how they are doing, what needs they tell us they have, and then to try and craft some programs around those needs to be able to facilitate the integration of these populations,” he says.

One of the programs that came out of this research was the Madison Path to Citizenship, a collaborative effort among community organizations to offer free citizenship education, legal consultation, and citizenship application services for lawful permanent residents (people with green cards) who want to become U.S. Citizens.

Cathy Kaplan, alder Shiva Bidar and Grisel Tapia greet people at the fall workshop for Madison Path to Citizenship.

“This came out of applied research that we conducted and because UW-Madison saw that there was a fit between research and programming and what the Wisconsin Idea is … so they gave us the seed money to launch that program,” Ibarra says. “Since we launched, we have 16 community organization members including the City and County. We identified that there are between 12,000-14,000 lawful permanent residents in Dane County alone that are more than likely eligible to be naturalized and to have the ability become fully engaged in the governance processes – voting and whatnot – that will directly impact decisions that will affect their lives.”

Through his extensive research, Ibarra comes across many Wisconsinites who harbor unfortunate stereotypes and misconceptions about immigrants and Latinos. What’s the biggest one that keeps people from progressing on immigration relations and immigration reform?

“I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that there are irreconcilable differences because there is a Latino population that wants to maintain some of their language and ethnicity and somehow that is challenging this notion of what ‘American’ is,” Ibarra says. “Something that I’ve been writing about quite a bit is a static identity of who we are as a country, but in reality, identity in the United States is as fluid and alive as our Constitution. Once, we’re able to bridge that, it will be OK and I think we can move forward as a nation that embraces different aspects of different folks.”

“The award is very humbling because I don’t see myself as a community leader or as a person that is doing anything else but what we are supposed to be doing as members of the community. I don’t engage in my community with the idea that there is a payoff. I engage with the community in a more holistic way. I engage in the community to hopefully help make it better. How do we make a space that is inclusive of all walks of life and beneficial to everybody?”

Ibarra also engages in the larger debate on working-class politics and has a couple books out along with a handful of articles as part of his work as a professor. Ibarra’s most recent book is “The Latino Question: Capital, Critique, and Alternative Futures” which will be out next year. “’The Latino Question’ is about how can we talk about the material conditions that this working class that self-identifies as Latino and/or Mexican American without first unpacking what Latino means in this bigger narrative,” Ibarra says. “It’s a challenge. Trying to get down to the specificity of what this label is and what it is not.

“How can we talk about contemporary class and race politics if a label is used which is a homogeneous label that basically brings everything together and lumps it into one group? So we say that you have to unpack that and pull it apart to see how different groups who have very different experiences – both generational and immigrant groups – how their material conditions are made because of that,” Ibarra continues. “That’s what the Latino Question is. It’s part of that larger debate that’s been going on for 60 years.”

Ibarra is excited to be honored at the 28th Annual Celebration of Centro Hispano of Dane County, a mini gala that will be held on Friday, Nov. 17, 5:30 p.m. at the Madison Club downtown.

“The award is very humbling because I don’t see myself as a community leader or as a person that is doing anything else but what we are supposed to be doing as members of the community,” Ibarra says. “I don’t engage in my community with the idea that there is a payoff. I engage with the community in a more holistic way. I engage in the community to hopefully help make it better. How do we make a space that is inclusive of all walks of life and beneficial to everybody?”