Judging from what some state and national politicians have been saying, it can be a very scary time to be a Latino in the United States – from the rich, loud guy with the bombastic demeanor and hardline stance on immigration on down to the local level.

“Quite frankly, we had some really egregious and pretty scary legislation that was proposed last sessions that was affecting Latino folks,” State Rep. Melissa Sargent tells Madison365. “I spend a lot of time in the schools and I talk to the children and I’ve seen that fear from this legislation and the fear from Mr. Trump and his presidential candidacy. I try to assure them and their parents that they are my bosses and they get to tell me what to do and that they get to have a voice in the process.”

For those many Latinos who may feel helpless and inconsequential in the political realm and even in life, Sargent is hosting a “Conversación de la Comunidad” this Thursday, Aug. 4, 6 p.m., at Madison Lakeview Branch Library. This community conversation will allow people to share their stories, and provide a platform for those in our community wishing to speak and engage with local leaders. “There are a lot of people in my district [who are Latino] and I want them to feel valued and for them to feel heard,” Sargent says. “Maybe we can come up with positive and proactive agenda as opposed to playing defense all the time.”

Conversación de la Comunidad is part of the different community conversations that Sargent has been hosting this summer including conversations on gun violence, domestic violence, the environment, and more. “I’ve really enjoyed them and I have been getting important community perspectives,” she says. “The turnout has been great.

Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, serves in the Wisconsin Assembly.
Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, serves in the Wisconsin Assembly.

“I’ve done listening sessions and office hours out in the community at coffee shops and libraries and people have tended to be a little hesitant to come because they don’t necessarily know what they want to talk to me about and they don’t want to come to me talking about the wrong thing,” Sargent adds. “So, I thought, maybe if I came up with different topics, people could pick and choose the one they would want to go to that are of interest to them.”

Sargent will have people available at Conversación de la Comunidad that speak Spanish. “The translator will be for me,” Sargent says. “I need to be able to understand what they are saying. It’s my job to listen. I will do some talking, but mostly listening. I want people to feel empowered to use their voice.”

Sargent’s Wisconsin Assembly District stretches over the north and east sides of Madison and the Village of Maple Bluff. It’s an area, much like the rest of Madison, that has seen a steady growth in Latino population.

“I expect to hear from people who are looking for the tools and resources for their families or talking about college: Why are we not allowed to pay in-state tuition? I expect to hear about access to health care, wage theft, driver’s ID, ability to have insurance,” Sargent says. “I may hear about gun violence or the environment. I’m excited to hear what people want to talk about. Ultimately, these are my neighbors and they care about the same things that I do.”

Sargent says that, above all, she wants people to feel safe and welcome at Conversación de la Comunidad.

“Hopefully, this is the beginning of a relationship and a partnership that we can keep building on,” she says. “I’m really excited about getting together with folks on Thursday night and hearing whatever they might want to share with me whether it is their fears or whether it is their dreams. Maybe, it will be a combination of both.”