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Hispanic Heritage Month with Luis (Tony) Baez

Luis (Tony) BaezI have been very clear about my Latino heritage since very early in my life. Originally from Puerto Rico, as a youth I participated in several youth led movements in the 1960's and entered a leadership role in a national group against the Vietnam War called "Comite Sixto Alvelo en Defensa de la Juventud Puertorriquena." Because of my strong involvement, I was ‘forced’ to relocate to Chicago in early 1970, where I immediately became engaged in the Young Lords - a youth group advocating for Latinos and specifically resisting gentrification of Latino neighborhoods and promoting Latino empowerment – and I became the Young Lords Minister of Education at the national level.

I later moved to Milwaukee, where I became active in the Latino community fighting for its civil rights. Among these rights was bilingual education. It was my activism in the City-wide Bilingual Bicultural Advisory Committee (CWBBAC) that caused me to appear before the MPS Board advocating for the creation and expansion of today's nationally recognized Bilingual Developmental Program. Some will call me today the ‘grandpa of bilingual education in Wisconsin,’ because I did not let go, and continue until today promoting the idea --born through my Latino community involvement--of bilingualism for all in the MPS school system. While on the MPS board, I pushed for bilingualism as evidence in multiple resolutions and motions, and for the inclusion of Spanish (and other languages) and culture inclusion in all aspects of the curriculum and preparation of teachers and staff who work with children.

It was my strong engagement in the national effort to uplift the education of Latinos that took me all over this country writing a doctoral dissertation on the history of bilingual litigation in the public schools. While writing it, I met, and I am still friends with the best minds and lawyers engaged in defending and promoting the civil rights of Latinos and other language groups. I (actually) became involved in some of the litigation in other states. Today, I continue to advocate that Latinos have shown us that we can become a formally bilingual nation, and that Latinos cannot be dismissed: we are too many, too smart, and have contributed to America as much as others.

Being a Latino has been at the center of my life publicly, privately, and professionally. I cannot stop being Latino and will continue to advocate for us and for full inclusion in our democracy. To ensure that I am well prepared to promote our heritage and wisdom, I read extensively, especially the literature of our folks; I travel to Latino countries and engage in academic and philosophical discussions with our Latino scholars and community all over this country and Latin America; and I promote our culture as a contributing artist who plays the guitar. sings and uses these skills to teach others about the beautiful social and racial justice experiences of Latinos. Through my knowledge and activism, I also become a stronger contributor to the need for greater solidarity and universality with other ethnic racial groups in America.

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