In the early 1960s, up to 15,000 migrant workers, mostly Mexican Americans from Texas, were arriving in Wisconsin each year to harvest crops and work in canneries. However, the increasing mechanization of Wisconsin agricultural production, bad weather, and overproduction that resulted in crops being plowed under instead of harvested left some migrants from Texas without jobs. All these factors added to the migrants’ economic plight and led them to search for work in cities.
In 1965, an ecumenical group of Christian social activists, concerned with the social and economic condition of Wisconsin’s agricultural migrants, organized United Migrant Opportunity Services (UMOS) to provide assistance to this population. Gladys Zophy, Rev. Ray A. F. McDaniel, and Carlos Perez Pena signed the organization’s articles of incorporation. Rev. Ralph F. Maschmeier became the interim director and Frank Mueller was its first director. Its original board included religious representatives from Fond du Lac, Madison, Racine-Kenosha, and Milwaukee. The organization received federal funding through the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act. UMOS’s first administrative headquarters was in Waukesha, Wisconsin. UMOS’s first program was to open four daycare centers for migrants’ children during the summer (July to September) harvest season months. Gradually, they added services for adults. The Waukesha site included a furniture upholstery class. This settlement of Mexican farmworkers led UMOS to hire bilingual staff. In 1966 UMOS received over $1 million in federal funding and offered services in twelve southeastern Wisconsin counties, including nine daycare centers and adult ESL programs. In 1967 UMOS ran seventeen centers offering daycare, English classes, adult education, resettlement services, and job training.
In 1966, farmworker activists began actively protesting working conditions in the fields. Jesus Salas and Salvador Sanchez began organizing farmworkers in the state into a new labor union, Obreros Unidos. Within UMOS, a debate arose over how many Latinos and non-Latinos UMOS employed. In 1968, Salas and Sanchez, along with Ernesto Chacon and Dante Navarro, demanded that migrants themselves have a central role in UMOS administration and that UMOS expand its migrant services and more forcefully protest low wages and workplace and housing discrimination. In 1968, these Mexican American activists succeeded in taking control of UMOS away from its five Anglo administrators. After the takeover, the UMOS board appointed the labor organizer, Jesus Salas, as the new director.
In 1968, UMOS relocated its headquarters to S. 8th and W. Greenfield in Milwaukee to a building purchased with Office of Economic Opportunity funds. The relocation was an effort to more closely connect to the largest population of Mexicans in the state. UMOS began providing legal advice, housing assistance, bilingual drivers’ education, and family planning clinics to city residents. But by the early 1970s, federal funding had dropped to $700,000. As a result, UMOS began partnering with a variety of state agencies such as the Department of Public Instruction, the Vocational, Technical, and Adult Education System (now the Wisconsin Technical College System), Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, and the State Manpower Council. It received federal funding through the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) to offer job training, as well as English as a Second Language (ESL) and General Education Diploma courses. The Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) funded courses on short order cook training. In 1974, Lupe Martinez became UMOS’s fifth Executive Director. He remained in that position in 2015. In the twenty-first century, UMOS provides daycare, early childhood and adult education, job training, ESL, housing and employment assistance, and health services.
- ^ United Migrant Opportunity Services, Inc. Helping People Help Themselves: Celebrating 20 Years of Service, 20th Anniversary Album. Milwaukee: United Migrant Opportunities Services, [1985?].
- ^ United Migrant Opportunity Services, Inc. Helping People Help Themselves.
- ^ Marc Simon Rodriguez, The Tejano Diaspora: Mexican Americanism and Ethnic Politics in Texas and Wisconsin (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), 98-99.
- ^ See UMOS’ website: http://www.umos.org/index.html, last accessed October 4, 2017.
For Further Reading
Rodriguez, Marc Simon. The Tejano Diaspora: Mexican Americanism and Ethnic Politics in Texas and Wisconsin. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2011.
United Migrant Opportunity Services, Inc. Helping People Help Themselves: Celebrating 20 Years of Service, 20th Anniversary Album. Milwaukee: United Migrant Opportunities Services, [1985?].