When “Ximena” (not her real name) first came to the US in 1997, she was living in Brownsville, Texas with a valid green card. A green card is issued by the U.S. government allowing a foreign national to live and work permanently in the U.S. A green card is usually valid for ten years, then it has to be renewed.
Brownsville is located next to the border of Mexico. Ximena recalls, “Living on the border was too dangerous, people would get kidnapped,there were a lot of murders, and narcos that were doing drug and human trafficking.” After living in Brownsville for two years, one of her close friends asked her to come to Madison, Wisconsin. “She told me to come up here with her and see if I would like it.”
Originally Mexicans started arriving in Wisconsin in the 1950s, but they particularly settled more in Milwaukee, and there continues to be a bigger Latino population there to this day. When Ximena first arrived in Madison in the late 1990s, there wasn’t a large population of Hispanics, which caused some practical difficulties.
“I remember that when people would have to go to the clinic, they would have to wait a long time, just so they could find an interpreter,” Ximena says. Soon after, the community began to grow; between 2000 and 2010, the population of Latinos increased by 74 percent according to Madison.com.
In the year 1999, Ximena came to Madison for the first time ever, Ximena ended up falling in love with Madison and decide to stay here. But after living in Madison for four years Ximena and her first daughter packed their things, jumped on a bus and moved to a Decatur, Alabama due to relationship issues.
Decatur was really different from Madison. In the south, people were more racist and not as accepting as they were in Madison, Ximena says.
“When I was in Alabama I was working as a waitress, there were times when I would get tipped a penny, or sometimes nothing then the white waitress would get tipped ten dollars,” she says. Ximena felt not accepted and discriminated in Alabama and returned to Madison after just a year.
In year 2007 Ximena’s green card expired; prior to her green card expiring she was able to get a ID and get a driver license. After the card expired, she was not able to renew her ID. In order to renew her green card she would have to go back to Mexico with her daughters, and then come back, with no guarantee that her green card would be renewed. “I just had a feeling that after my daughters were born and if were to take them to Mexico, they would not want to renew it, so I just decided to stay,” she says. Ximena decided that she was going to remain living in the U.S., knowing that now she was considered an illegal immigrant. “I decided to stay in Madison and not go back to Mexico after my daughters were born,” she says. “I didn’t want them to live in Mexico. I wanted them to have a good life here in the U.S.”
When Ximena first arrived to Madison she lived on the east side and three years ago she moved to the west side, for job related reasons. She says that she now prefers the west side to the east side, because she thinks it more calm.
Recently in 2016 there was some tension going on between the Latino community and the Wisconsin Legislature, regarding the Assembly Bill 450 and the Senate bill 533. Assembly Bill 450 would allow police in Madison to investigate a person’s immigration status and detain an undocumented person for deportation. Senate Bill 533 would stop counties in the state to issue identification cards to those who don’t have access to a state ID and, in February thousands of Latinos in Madison participated in “Dia sin Latinos/ Day without Latinos.” During this day dozens of businesses shut down, students did not attend school, and Latino workers went to the capital instead of attending work to protest these two anti-immigrant bills.
Ximena says that Latino immigrants are a big part of our society. “They take on jobs that no one else wants to do, and they don’t get paid very much in doing that,” she says. “If people think that immigrants don’t pay taxes they are wrong. I pay taxes and if they don’t believe me, they can come over and i can show them how much of my paycheck gets taken away just from taxes.”
President Donald Trump ran on an anti-immigrant platform, portraying Hispanics as rapists and criminal and became the president of the United States, but Ximena says that she was just going to continue to work and live her life like she normally has been.
During the past 18 years that she has been living here, Madison has changed a lot. “I feel like it’s gotten a lot more diverse, there’s so many people here from different cultures and different places,” she says. She also says that Madison has grown a lot in the past 18 years. “There’s always construction going on downtown and all over town and I’ve noticed that there are more people coming to Madison on business trips,” she says.
But as of recently, Ximena says Madison has gotten more violent. “Today I’ve noticed that there’s more violence and more murders, that you just didn’t hear of back then,” she says. In the year 1999 the crime rate dropped 4.5 percent from the previous year and in 2004 through the year 2006 there was a total of 9 homicides; in 2007 through 2017 there has been a total of 90 homicides, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
But in the end Ximena says that she’s always loved Madison. “Madison is a good place, I think it’s calm and I think it’s a good place to raise a family,” she says.
I Am Madison is funded by Madison Community Foundation as part of its Year of Giving.