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Anita Herrara, 1935 – 2019 | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Anita Herrera, 1935-2019

Anita Herrera grew up in a family of migrant farm workers and devoted her career to improving education, employment, and living conditions for people of color in Wisconsin.

Anita Herrara, 1935 – 2019 | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargeAnita Herrera

Anita Herrera

Anita Herrera was born in San Antonio, Texas, in 1935. She was the seventh in a family of nine children whose parents had also been born in Texas; their grandparents were born in Mexico. When Anita was 6 years old, her family became migrant farmworkers. For nine years they traveled back and forth between Texas and Wisconsin, but Anita’s father became ill, so in 1951 they decided to stay in Wisconsin to get better health care for him. 

As a child Anita worked in the fields with her family, picking fruits and vegetables. When she started ninth grade, they were living out in the country, and she had to walk a mile to get to and from the bus that went to her high school in Kenosha. Her mother was afraid for her to be walking by herself and told her she could quit school, but Anita was determined to improve her life by continuing her education. When winter weather made it difficult to live in the poorly insulated housing for migrant workers near Kenosha, the family moved to Racine, where Anita attended racially integrated inner-city schools and “embraced everyone that was around [her].” She then went to Dominican College of Racine for a year before getting married and starting a family. After all of her five children had started school, Anita finished her bachelor’s degree and also a master’s degree.

Herrera directed the Spanish Center of Racine, Kenosha, and Walworth Counties, where she was an advocate for employment opportunities for Latinos, African Americans, and others. In 1980 she became the Governor’s Advisor on Ethnic and Minority Initiatives, where she worked with Latino, African American, American Indian, and Asian advisory councils. Later she directed a weatherization program for the Racine Spanish Center. In the 1990s she returned to Madison, where she was the director of development and training for the Wisconsin Education Association Council and helped start Madison’s first bilingual charter school. Herrera once said that she was proud to have been “a role model for young people who are going to become leaders.”

Information for this article was provided by womeninwisconsin.org, a website created in partnership with the Wisconsin Historical Society, PBS Wisconsin, the University of Wisconsin Women's Studies Consortium, and the Wisconsin Humanities Council.