Mexicans in Wisconsin | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Mexicans in Wisconsin

Mexicans in Wisconsin | Wisconsin Historical Society
Dictionary of Wisconsin History.


The first Spanish-speaking explorers probably reached Wisconsin before the 18th century though exact dates are difficult to determine. Because St Louis was an important frontier outpost for the Spanish government until 1804, trappers, traders, sailors, and soldiers made frequent visits to the upper Mississippi region. Census records show that few Spanish-speaking immigrants had settled in Wisconsin between 1850 and 1910.

Mexicans began arriving in large numbers after the Mexican Revolution broke out in 1910, and remained the dominant immigrant group until the 1950s when many Puerto Ricans began to settle in Wisconsin.  More Mexicans arrived to work in Milwaukee factories in the 1920s but the Depression forced many to return to Mexico. The out-migration continued until the labor shortages of WWII caused a reversal. Mexican-American farm workers, mainly from Texas, also began to come back to rural Wisconsin farms.. Mexican migratory farm workers had first been recruited in the 1920s to work in sugar beet fields and continued to come in increasing numbers until the early 1970s.

The emergency farm labor program, established in 1943 by the federal government, led to the placement of several thousand agricultural workers, most from outside the United States, throughout the remainder of the decade. Wisconsin farmers participated in the Bracero program from 1951 to 1964, which brought workers from the southwestern U.S. to Wisconsin.  Diverse and better-paying jobs in urban areas led more Mexican-Americans to settle in Milwaukee, Kenosha, Racine, and Waukesha in the 1970s. By 1980, approximately 35,000 Mexican-Americans lived in Wisconsin. 

Berry-Caban, Cristobal S. Hispanics in Wisconsin : a bibliography of resource materials; online at //

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