Recognizing the need to learn about the growing Hispanic/Latinx population

Education plays a role in overcoming racial and ethnic barriers, city officials, leaders and educators agree


Rachel Helgeson

Photography by Rachel Helgeson / Luis Solis, 1st generation college student and immigrant, said he wants people to meet immigrants not with pity but with support.

Rachel Helgeson

Luis Solis is an Eau Claire resident and a first-generation college student who immigrated from Mexico with his family 18 years ago. In the past year studying at UW-Eau Claire, Solis changed majors from finance to social work because he recognized the need to be an advocate for people of color and those with disadvantages.

With that degree, he could empower and educate himself on how to help those in need, especially immigrants like himself and others in the growing local Hispanic/Latinx community.

“Originally why I chose social work is because I felt that getting more understanding of the different benefits out there for people of color, for people who are disadvantaged, was important and I think social work gives me a good foundation,” Solis said.

To meet the needs of the changing Eau Claire community and build stronger relationships, cultural learning for other citizen and education for local Hispanics/Latinx and plays a necessary role according to Solis along with local educators, leaders and officials.


Between 2000 and 2010, the City of Eau Claire saw nearly a 1 percent increase in the Hispanic/Latinx population as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau. With the population of Hispanics/Latinx rising, local city officials, educators and advocates agree that education will be a key component in welcoming diverse newcomers to the area.


Understanding "Hispanic" and "Latinx" terminology


Learning about one another to build relationships and break barriers

Community leaders and educators agree that learning how to understand people who are different is a stepping stone to establishing bonds and inspiration for future representative leaders.

Rev. David Anderson and his wife Joyce Anderson, co-chairs of the Immigration Task Force at JONAH, are striving to practice tangible ways to build relationships with Hispanic/Latinx peoples.

JONAH, which stands for Joining Our Neighbors Advancing Hope, is a local grassroots organization with a heart for justice and compassion. Through JONAH, the Andersons give rides to immigrants who do not have drivers’ licenses, they join for get-togethers and meal sharing and provide connections to outside resources when needed.

Most importantly, by learning how to build relationships with the growing Hispanic/Latinx population they hope to inspire leaders within the community, Joyce Anderson said.

“In building relationships with the Hispanic/Latinx community we hope to have some bonds of trust and then help them become leaders,” Joyce Anderson said, “So instead of us being the ones who are co-chairing, it will be Hispanics/Latinx, but always we need to listen to and be led by people who are closest to the issue.”

Breaking barriers of preconceived notions about immigrants is also a common concern for the Immigration Task Force, Joyce Anderson said. Other citizens should understand how to keep undocumented immigrants safe and to respect their story which is vital to keeping good relationships in the community, according to Joyce Anderson.

Joyce Anderson said simply understanding how to have conversations surrounding diversity can help diminish false assumptions.

One innovative woman has found a way to approach these sorts of conversations. Becky Linderholm, co-leader of the Family Conversation Kit projects, has created a tool for young children and adults to begin learning how to speak about diverse populations.

The kits contain informational books that are easy to read for young and old learners alike. These Family Conversation Kits are available at local public libraries, Joyce Anderson said.

Pushing past stereotypes and learning to see an individual as humanly unique instead of a statistic or newscast material is important, local educator Gerardo Licon said. Licon is a Latino assistant professor of history at the UW-EAU CLAIRE Latin American Studies Program. He said he believes in the power of education to break barriers between false preconceived notions of minorities and the truth about the misunderstood people.

Both Hispanic/Latinx and other community members should explore the historical layers that surround a person to understand them and their culture better, Licon said.

“Most people don’t know anything about Latinos other than the bad news they hear on the TV,” Licon said. “Try understanding the challenges and the burdens that we carry regardless of what our background might be, but also in regard to our background. Sometimes some folks may carry additional challenges than other folks.”

The classes Licon teaches contain material he was never taught in early schooling, Licon said. A Los Angeles native and son to Mexican parents, Licon had always wanted to hear more about the history of people like him, he said, but teachers and textbooks skipped over significant events.

“I think it’s important that Hispanics/Latinx learn this history because they don’t get taught this at home, no one’s born knowing their history, someone has to teach it to you,” Licon said. “It’s not taught in school and in most cases it’s not taught at home either. As far as everyone else, non-Hispanics/Latinx, it’s part of knowing who the United States is, is knowing about your largest ethnic minority. It’s indispensable.”

Representing and learning to accommodate Hispanics/Latinx

Inspiring, growing and electing leaders who can represent the people well is essential to success for minorities, Joyce Anderson said.

Eau Claire’s first local Latina councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle agrees.

Elected to the Eau Claire City Council in September 2012, Emmanuelle said she recognizes the importance of her position. Her great-grandmother, a Mexican immigrant, served the people around her during her lifetime and now serves as a source of inspiration for Emmanuelle.

As a city council member, Emmanuelle said she wants to pass policies and services that benefit everybody.

But as a Latina, Emmanuelle said, she wants city officials to understand how to interact with the Hispanic/Latinx population effectively. She sees the difficulty in serving a community that is still working to reconcile what it means to integrate fully with people of color, especially the Hispanic/Latinx population.

“I think Eau Claire and probably every community in our country can do a better job at learning about our neighbors right here,” Emmanuelle said.

Licon said he is pleased with the actions city council has taken politically to advance David Anderson said he is also pleased as Latinx leaders are elected into positions with power nationwide.

Emmanuelle said she encourages local people to interact with individuals with respect, not treating them as a statistic, and recognizing ways to accommodate Hispanics/Latinx.

Asking a person with which ethnic term they identify can be one simple step taken to understand unfamiliar people, opening doors for further conversation. Providing translators when needed is also a tangible way the city council can cater to Spanish-speaking individuals, Emmanuelle said.

El Centro de Conexion de Chippewa Valley (ECCCV) serves as a major local support group for Hispanics/Latinx in Eau Claire as well. David Anderson, who is also on the board for ECCCV, said the group serves as a connection point for newcomers of all ages and provides resources.

Within this group, there is immediate assistance for Hispanic/Latinx if needed. Board members take turns being responsible for an on-duty phone which any member may call at any time.

The need could vary from needing a ride somewhere, to wanting to find furniture for their new place to requiring child care for a short time.

Schools stepping up their educational resources

The school districts also want to pitch in tactics for meeting Spanish-speaking people halfway in the community.

Joe Luginbill, president of the Eau Claire School Board since May 2018, said the board is overseeing the process to implement a Spanish Duel Immersion Program. The program will consist of Spanish language lessons for all elementary students, both native and non-native Spanish-speaking.

The push for the program comes at a revolutionary time as the world diversifies and globalizes, Luginbill said.

The number of Hispanic/Latinx students in the Eau Claire Area School District (ECASD) has increased by 1.7 percent between the 2013-2014 school year and this year, as reported by the Wisconsin Information System for Education Data Dashboard. In conjunction with this increase, the number of white students has decreased by 3.6 percent since the 2013-2014 school year.

“We want to make sure that we’re adequately providing services for those (diverse) students, but also that we’re harnessing our diversity as a real strength in our school district as something that (works with) all students with different needs and different backgrounds,” Luginbill said.

The ECASD also recently passed a Non-Discrimination for Immigration Status Resolution in March 2017, assuring students, regardless of their immigration status, will have access to free education.

At the collegiate level, the increase in the numbers of Hispanic/Latinx students enrolling each year at UW-Eau Claire is prominent. Since 2016, the Hispanic population has been the largest minority group enrolling at the university, surpassing Southeast Asian students according to the UW-Eau Claire Office of Institutional Research.  In the fall of 2017, 2.9 percent of students of color were Hispanic/Latinx compared to 2.5 percent the previous fall.

Emmanuel Castellanos is a senior Latinx UW-Eau Claire student and board member of Student Organization of Latinos (SOL). He said his purpose at SOL is to give UW-Eau Claire Latinx students a reason to stay, to explore and embrace their identity at college while connecting with students with similar interests.

His motivation also came from his experience with a lack of resources coming into college, and he took a role in SOL which he said had suffered from a lack of people available to participate.

“Since Eau Claire is a very white town it’s very hard to find students with similar experiences and similar identities,” Castellanos said, “so we try to have social events, fundraising events to bring the community together.”

Castellanos added that although the university is doing an adequate job of attracting people to enroll, he hopes to see more resources dedicated to retaining students and catering to them post-enrollment.


With integration in mind as the population grows, becoming a part of a white-majority city or university should not require a person to compromise their true cultural identity, Licon said. Giving Hispanics/Latinx people space to be themselves and simultaneously a part of the community is not about erasing their cultural heritage or background.

“It’s not about getting rid of one to make space for another,” Licon said. “There’s room for all of it. I think as a society hopefully we’ve gotten more and more away from the idea that in order to fit in you need to assimilate.”

Sharing the common value of treating people with decency is woven into both sides of the story, Joyce Anderson said, and taking steps forward both personally and politically is imperative to overcoming differences within society.