In 2006, local Latino community leaders created an unprecedented, in-depth report that surveyed the demographics and state of the Dane County Latinx community. These leaders came together as the Latino Advisory Delegation, which guided research and conducted extensive community outreach — in the framework of Cuéntame (“Tell me” in Spanish) — to provide a rich understanding of the demographics, barriers, and challenges the local Latinx community faced.

Ten years later, Latino leaders have once again come together for a unique collaboration to raise awareness of the successes, challenges, and opportunities for change in Dane County’s Latinx community. At a press conference and luncheon at the United Way Building Sept. 15, the Latino Consortium for Action issued the next generation report with new research and data called Cuéntame Más (Tell Me More). The report finds a need for investment in a holistic, multi-generational strategy to reduce long-term poverty for the Latinx community in Dane County.

The Latino Consortium for Action members are made up of key Latino leaders representing agencies, councils, and associations here in Madison and Dane County. Cuéntame Más, a comprehensive report that documents the needs of the local Latinx community, is their strong statement with calls to action for Dane County.

Juan Jose Lopez speaks at the Cuéntame Más  press conference at the United Way building.
Juan Jose Lopez speaks at the Cuéntame Más press conference at the United Way building.

The full Cuéntame Más report can be found here. Here are a few demographic statistics from Cuéntame Más:
◆ Latinx is the largest non-white racial or ethnic group in Dane County with more than 30,000 residents or 6.1 percent of the county’s population.
◆ Latinx households earn 46 percent less than white households in Dane County.
◆ The Latinx poverty rate increased from 17 percent to 28 percent in a five-year span (2009-2014).
◆ One in five Madison Metropolitan School District students is Latinx. But less than 70 percent graduate from high school.

Renee Moe, CEO of United Way
Renee Moe, CEO of United Way

Renee Moe, president and CEO of United Way, welcomed everybody to the event. “We’re here to celebrate important works of the Latino Consortium [for Action]. We’re also here to deepen our understanding of the Latinx community. Ten years ago, United Way convened with Latinx leaders to broaden the understanding of this vital, important, and growing community,” Moe said. “Hundreds came together to share their experiences, their successes, their challenges and the barriers that they faced in Dane County. Their voices and stories were so powerful.

“A decade later, all of us want to take another look – especially because the Latinx community has grown so much here – and we are all delighted to share Cuéntame Más – tell me more,” Moe added. “Cuéntame Más is a true example of us all listening and learning.”

Dane County’s Latinx population has grown dramatically over the last decade, and projections indicate this strong growth will continue. Latinos are boosting every sector of our local economy with their strong work ethic and purchasing power and they consist of a generally younger population in a region that is aging rapidly.

Latinx (la-TEEN-ex) is a gender neutral pronoun that is inclusive of all people of Latin American descent. “We choose to use the gender-neutral term ‘Latinx’ because it’s the most appropriate for acknowledging the diversity within our community across race, country of origin, and across gender,” Karen Menendez Coller, executive director of Centro Hispano, told the crowd. “Today, the Latinx community is significant to the fabric of Dane County with close to 70 percent living in Fitchburg and Madison and 44 percent being born right here in Wisconsin.

(L-r) Gloria Reyes, Leslie Orrantia, and Renee Moe
(L-r) Gloria Reyes, Leslie Orrantia, and Renee Moe

“While there are many assets, there are also many challenges that persist in our community,” she added. “Our communities are characterized by persistent poverty, less home ownership, overcrowded homes, and great instability for families who may also be struggling with immigration policies that continue to push us into the shadows. As a continuation of Cuéntame, we come together now to unveil here today an important series of actions briefs.”

The briefs, Menendez Coller said, are based upon the follow-up detailed in Cuéntame Más. “The briefs outline specific steps we see as necessary for all in Dane County to progress forward in terms of education, health, and economic development,” she said.

Shiva Bidar, co-chair of the Dane County Latino Health Council and District 5 alderperson for the Madison Common Council, reiterated to the crowd that the Latinx community overall is a young community. “Access to preventive health care is essential for our community to have long-term health and to avoid the real economic costs associated with the lack of preventive care,” she said. “Obesity and mental health are the two top concerns in the Latinx community. Unfortunately, a major barrier in our community is the high rate of uninsured.”

Bidar invited the attendees to join her in three calls to action for the health and well-being of the Latinx community:
◆ Improve access to culturally and linguistically appropriate primary and behavioral health services
◆ Need to hire and retain culturally and linguistically competent health care providers
◆ Increase the capacity for health education programming

“We hope that you will join us in investing in these three areas of importance for the health and well-being of our community,” Bidar said.

Sal Carranza
Sal Carranza

Juan Jose Lopez, the vice president of the board of directors of the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County, said he was at the event to talk about economic development in the areas or workforce and business creation, specifically in the Latino community.

“We have over 226 members in the Latino Chamber of Commerce. There are over 600 Latino businesses and entrepreneurs in Dane County,” Lopez says. “The chamber and Latino Workforce Academy and Omega School and Centro Hispano of Dane County are all working together to empower Latinos in Dane County. We will do this with culturally relevant support and programming which provides participants with the confidence and the enhancement of skill sets needed to develop a robust and thriving workforce in the greater Madison and Dane County area.”

Lopez says that the Latino Chamber is focusing on developing a Latino middle class. “It’s an honor for me today to present to you our new executive director, Jessica Cavazos,” Lopez says. “She, along with the board of directors and community partners, will commit to the economic support and growth of our Latino businesses and workforce in Madison and Dane County. Latinos have unparalleled work ethic. We have an entrepreneurial spirit – we want to start new businesses and create jobs in the communities where we live. We also have a big purchasing power. We are an integral part of American society.”

Oscar Mireles
Oscar Mireles

Oscar Mireles, current poet laureate of Madison and executive director of Omega School on Madison’s south side, said that this was a historic moment in Madison and Dane County.

“Your support today is appreciated and your presence here will not be forgotten,” he told the crowd. “Latinos like myself have lived in the area for generations and share traditional values such as love of family and understanding [of] the importance of hard work and creating a better future for our children.”

Mireles said that Latinos have been described as a “sleeping giant.”

“I want to assure you that this report will not be sitting on a shelf a year from now,” he said. “I offer you my commitment to put forth 100 percent of my effort and my resources to make this, the first day of Hispanic Heritage Month, a special day to remember not only today but for years to come.”