Oscar Mireles—I Didn’t Know There Were Latinos in Wisconsin

When I started work on creating the anthology “I didn’t know there were Latinos in Wisconsin: 20 Hispanic Poets” about 25 years ago, I did not fully comprehend what would be involved in putting an anthology together.

In hindsight, I need to really thank Maria Fontanez, who did all the type-setting and layout work, both because I told her to do so (just kidding Maria…), and secondly because she believed in me and the project. Many people who grow up now with the desktop-publishing technology we have today, don’t understand how critical this was, to have access to typesetting.

Secondly, I need to thank a couple of writers who also contributed to the first anthology, there involvement was important to making the project successfull .

Martín Espada and Daisy Cubias.

Martín is a gifted writer and attorney who spent his undergraduate studies at University of Wisconsin Madison.  He lent one of his pieces to the project and gave us a little more notoriety and a national voice.  Daisy Cubias, was from El Salvador and her work described the challenges of living in the midst of a war-torn country. Both writers had been published before and their commitment to the project was vital to garner financial support to the project.

I also want to thank both Walter Sava and Ricardo Diaz for supporting the project. Walter and Ricardo were both my bosses at different times at the United Community Center and were willing to let me start and run projects despite my assurances that we had the money already or that the money was coming shortly, or maybe even a little later than that.

We had a chance at Latino Arts of Milwaukee and its predecessor, Friends of the Hispanic Community to present Latino theatre and musical groups, have poets, guest lecturers, comedians and art exhibits. Each artistic event at first seemed a project on to itself, but became part of a large vision and project of presenting Latino Arts in all its shapes and forms.

My long time friend Jean Berens did the original cover design, and was able to instill elements of Aztec and Mayan cultural along with a Wisconsin sensibility.
Anne Kingsbury and Karl Gartung at Woodland Pattern  hosted a poetry reading to announce the anthology and made us feel a part of the larger Milwaukee writing scene.

There was a review  in the Shepherd Express by Tim Forkes and I think it captured the essence of the anthology.

The second anthology “ I didn’t know there were Latinos in Wisconsin: 30 Hispanic writers’ initially started in 1997.

It was part of the Sesquescentenial or 150th Anniversary of the statehood of Wisconsin and the committee provided a large grant to underwrite the anthology,
Dean Amhaus, former Director of Wisconsin Arts Board and the Sesquescentennial was instrumental in helping the project move forward. They saw the growing impact of the Latino community and the possibilities of a different Wisconsin in the future.

This anthology also demonstrated the emergence of the Wisconsin Latino writer community and it featured a couple of short stories by Tereza Elguezabel and Sarah Teniente. Both Latino Writers had studied communication and writing in college and were pushing the boundaries of women and Latinas.

Craig Castro and Ken Haynes, both former teachers at Omega School wrote reviews of the anthologies that were poignant, timely and honest.

Journal/Sentinel writer Eugene Kane wrote an excellent review.

The impetus for third anthology started at the Wisconsin Book Festival in 2011 and 2012. Here is a video from the 2012 Festival.


Luana Monteiro, a gifted writer with an MFA from the University of Wisconsin Madison contributed two pieces to the latest anthology.

I think the most important aspect of the Latino anthology is having the opportunity to showcase new latino writers and voices. I can still remember having my first poem published and looking at the compilation and reading my poems over and over again, each time not believing my words were finally in print.

The birthing of the third anthology (IDK3 is the tech friendly acronym) is a great reminder of how time flies and how much older and wiser I have gotten over the years. I still remember all the names of the writers and their personal stories who were involved in the first anthology. I have met some new writers over the years and many have become friends, if only writer friends.

Finally, a special thanks to Sarah Busse and Wendy Vardaman for the efforts to promote poetry, serve honorably as Madison Poet Laureates and use Verse Wisconsin and Cowfeather Press to publish Wisconsin writers. The next anthology of I didn’t know there were Latinos in Wisconsin: Three decades of Hispanic Writingis forthcoming from Cowfeather Press.