Jesus Salas (left) and Sergio González, pictured here at Centro Hispano, will highlight Friday's Hispanic Heritage Month Open House at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

“For me, Hispanic Heritage Month is really about carrying that torch on and teaching community members outside of the Latino community how impactful our community is to the economy, the heritage, and the growth and prosperity that this state is seeing with the presence of Latinos,” says Jessica Cavazos, president of the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County.

The Latino Chamber, along with the Wisconsin Historical Society, will be hosting a Hispanic Heritage Month Open House on Friday, Sept. 20, 5-8:30 p.m. at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

“The event is to really highlight the Hispanic presence in the state of Wisconsin. We’re so happy to partner with the Wisconsin Historical Society,” Cavazos says. “I think it’s important that we increase the knowledge and discussion of the fact that there are Latinos in Wisconsin, the fact that we are growing, and the fact that we have a strong economic presence … and an even stronger cultural presence of Latinos in this state.”

Doors will open at 5 p.m. on Friday night with the program beginning at 6:30 p.m. as the Wisconsin Historical Society and Latino Chamber of Commerce join forces to host their first annual Hispanic Heritage Month Open House. Tanika Apaloo, the coordinator of multicultural outreach for the Wisconsin Historical Society, says it was important to reach out to a well-established organization like the Latino Chamber.

“My first instinct was to reach out to Jessica and the Latino Chamber for this event. I thought that in order for us to be authentic in our representation and to allow the Latino community to tell their stories, I thought it would be best to have a partner,” she tells Madison365. “The Latino Chamber is a great partner and Jessica is such a wonderful person.”

The Wisconsin Historical Society hosted Black History Month Open House back in February where community members could see African-American archival and museum collections on display and participate in a listening session about the creation of a new Wisconsin history museum on Madison’s Capitol Square. Apaloo says that she is excited about hosting the Hispanic Heritage Month Open House, too.

“[City of Madison Poet Laureate] Oscar Mireles will open the event with a poem from his book ‘I Didn’t Know There Were Latinos in Wisconsin,'” she says. “The event will conclude with a reading from a young lady who is Honduran and 15 years old and going to high school in Oregon.”

Tanika Apaloo (left) and Jessica Cavazos (middle) with Chrisitan W. Overland, The Ruth and Hartley Barker Director of the Wisconsin Historical Society, at the Latino Chamber of Commerce headquarters
(Photo by Amadou Kromah)

 Keynote speakers will be Latino activists Jesús Salas and Sergio Gonzalez.

“Jesús Salas has been an inspiration to so many. He’s been such an advocate for immigrant rights and the inclusion of Latinos in the educational system,” Cavazos says. “We are old friends and I admire him for what he’s done to open doors for Latinos in the education system. 

“Sergio Gonzalez is from the younger generation an up and coming. He’s really changing the narrative,” she adds. “He’s a great writer and he has so much insight on the presence of Latinos and how they have contributed to our state. It’s wonderful that we get to have him on this special night.”

Hispanic Heritage Month Open House will feature food, live entertainment, museum and archival collections, and other society department booths.

“We want it to be a celebratory event. We didn’t want it to come off as being academic,” Apaloo says. “We hope people have fun and, more than anything, we want people to feel welcome. We want people to come and hopefully, bring their families and share their stories and ultimately ensure that our collections here are that much more inclusive in regards to Hispanic heritage throughout the state of Wisconsin.”

Hispanic Heritage Month, which just kicked off on Sept. 15, is very personal for Cavazos.

“It’s a month where people can stop and reflect on the contributions of Hispanics and Latinos in our state and in our nation,” Cavazos says. “With all of the malice and bad treatment that Latinos sometimes receive and the questioning if we belong here or whether this country values our contributions … I think this is a time where we can actually be proud to explain to others who we are and talk about our history. 

“And the Latino population is really growing – especially right here in Wisconsin. We have small communities like Delevan, Green Bay and Sheboygan who are seeing big growth in Latino presence and businesses and neighbors. This month is really significant,” she continues. “It’s letting Latino knows that they belong and are big contributors and we will be honoring them for the whole month. 

“This should be an awesome event,” she adds. “We are really looking forward to it.”


For more information about the Hispanic Heritage Month Open House, e-mail [email protected]