Two Fitchburg residents — an alder and a former mayor — had a single goal in mind when they appeared on Wisconsin Mujer’s ‘Latinx TalkBack’ a month ago.
That goal was to bring awareness to the intersectionality of being Black or Latinx within the arena of local politics, city alder and episode moderator Joe Maldonado told the Star.
The show, which aired live on the Wisconsin Mujer Facebook page Thursday, Aug. 6, was titled the “Latinx TalkBack on Black and Latinx Politics in our Community.” Former Fitchburg mayor Frances Huntley-Cooper, who was the first Black mayor in state history and served from 1991-93, was a panelist.
She appeared with fellow guests Madison Metropolitan School District’s Board of Education president Gloria Reyes, social justice activist Jonathan William Osorio Delgado and Clover Phoenix Capital owner Beny Perez-Reyes, who helps fund businesses in the Milwaukee area.
Madison-based social engagement company Wisconsin Mujer, is run by founder Aracelie Esparza. She told the Star the online show started as a response to the killing of George Floyd in May. Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest, which his family’s coroner said is what led to Floyd’s death.
“We wanted to highlight the struggles of our generation and of our community … to break the isolation of being Latino in the Midwest,” Esparza wrote in an email. “Although we try to represent all voices in each one of our (episodes), we have a long way to go to break down the hundreds of years of white supremacy, but as Latinos to refuse to be active in the Black Liberation movement is to deny ourselves an alliance that is not just necessary, but mandatory.”
Esparza wrote the show and its guests are meant to give voices to the “oppressions that are ingrained in our community and often swept under the rug.”
As for Maldonado, during the episode he said as a member of the Latinx community, he had to be incredibly aware of how the general public might perceive him upon running for office — even with Fitchburg having grown to have a more diverse population than Madison.
“I had to really be aware of how I communicate ... who I was talking to … what their level of understanding is,” Maldonado told the Star in a phone interview. “I was very cognizant of what I look like.”
Huntley-Cooper said during the episode that she had served during a time Fitchburg’s local government wasn’t representative of its communities of color. She recalled having a lot of support during her campaign and having no trouble garnering money for fundraising. But she had to be “strategic” about which committees she would involve herself in, and hadn’t even considered running for the position until people told her she should.
The episode also touched on minority voter disenfranchisement happening in the City of Fitchburg, with all of its polling places being outside their respective boundaries. The location that’s the most egregious is District 1, where heavily traveled Verona Road and McKee Road make it difficult for residents to walk or bus to the Marketplace Drive fire station almost a mile away.
The city moved the polling location to Marketplace Drive after it sold the former Jamestown fire station and ultimately lost the polling place.
There is a significant population of people of color, as well as adults who have socioeconomic limitations, who live in the Jamestown and Allied Drive/Dunn’s Marsh neighborhoods, where access to reliable transportation to get to a polling place is not guaranteed.
Maldonado said that in order to get that to change, there had to be a lot of public support to add pressure on city staff and other alders.
“In Fitchburg, we had to get a lot of public support in order to make sure we are able to maintain our polling places,” Maldonado told the Star. “There was an agenda item last month to consolidate (Fitchburg’s) four polling places to one.”