The New Land

They came to Mil­wau­kee to flee strife and per­se­cu­tion, and to seize op­por­tu­nity. And de­spite the rhetoric from Wash­ing­ton, they’re here to stay.

Milwaukee Magazine - - Features - By BAR­BARA MINER

Im­mi­gra­tion built Mil­wau­kee into an eco­nomic pow­er­house in gen­er­a­tions past. The cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of new­com­ers is chang­ing it again.

ZZIABUR MUHAMMED, a 31-year-old Ro­hingya from Myan­mar, knows lit­tle of Mil­wau­kee’s his­tory. But he is fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Pol­ish im­mi­grants from a cen­tury ago, hop­ing to build a bet­ter life for his fam­ily.

Along with his wife and four sons aged 1 to 9, Muhammed has set­tled in a wood-frame, 1908 home on Mitchell Street on Mil­wau­kee’s near South Side – once at the cen­ter of Pol­ish im­mi­gra­tion.

Muhammed and his fam­ily spent about a decade as refugees in Malaysia af­ter flee­ing Myan­mar, and were re­set­tled in Chicago two years ago. But liv­ing in Chicago was ex­pen­sive, and his two older kids of­ten missed school be­cause of the long walk. So last fall, with the help of cousins who live on the near South Side, they moved to Mitchell Street.

To­day, his chil­dren at­tend Grant School and “it is good,” Muhammed says in halting English. “The bus picks them up.”

As with many new im­mi­grants who lack English skills, Muhammed’s job op­tions are pri­mar­ily in en­try-level, man­ual la­bor. He cleaned planes in Chicago and hopes for a sim­i­lar job in Mil­wau­kee, or per­haps at the box-mak­ing fac­tory where a cousin works.

Mil­wau­kee is be­lieved to have more Ro­hingya than any other city in the United States, but they’re just one im­mi­grant group chang­ing the face of Mil­wau­kee. Our city prides it­self on its eth­nic her­itage – it was the Ger­mans, Poles, Ital­ians and Ir­ish who built Mil­wau­kee into an eco­nomic pow­er­house a cen­tury ago. In the 21st cen­tury, it is im­mi­grants such as Lati­nos, So­ma­lis, Eritre­ans, Burmese, Rus­sians, Hmong, In­di­ans and Saudis who are trans­form­ing the city and re­gion.

There are myr­iad fac­tors in cur­rent im­mi­gra­tion. One is the in­creas­ingly world­wide na­ture of man­u­fac­tur­ing, agri­cul­ture and tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion, from the dairy in­dus­try to high-tech com­pa­nies such as GE Health­care and, soon, Fox­conn. An­other is the global mi­gra­tion and refugee cri­sis, the most se­vere since World War II, spawned by war and po­lit­i­cal up­heaval in dozens of coun­tries. To­gether, these de­vel­op­ments are shap­ing the Mil­wau­kee re­gion, putting stu­dents in our schools, work­ers in our fac­to­ries and highly skilled pro­fes­sion­als in lo­cal tech in­dus­tries.

Given the poli­cies and rhetoric com­ing from the high­est of­fice in the land, ques­tions abound about the fu­ture of im­mi­gra­tion. But if his­tory is any guide, im­mi­grants will con­tinue to be es­sen­tial to Mil­wau­kee’s fu­ture.

“Mil­wau­kee is chang­ing, that’s just the re­al­ity,” says Pardeep Singh Kaleka, a Sikh im­mi­grant ac­tive in pro­mot­ing peace and racial heal­ing. “And I be­lieve that Mil­wau­kee, be­cause of its ap­pre­ci­a­tion of im­mi­grants, will change for the bet­ter.”

IT’S EASY TO LOOK through rose-col­ored glasses and for­get the con­flicts that are at the core of U.S. his­tory, from the en­slave­ment of free Africans to the dis­place­ment and dis­en­fran­chise­ment of Na­tive peo­ples, in­clud­ing the forced re­moval of the Potawatomi from the Mil­wau­kee area in the 1830s.

While to­day’s up­surge in anti-im­mi­gra­tion sen­ti­ment may seem unique, it has lengthy prece­dent in U.S. his­tory. Most in­fa­mously, in 1882 Congress passed the Chi­nese Ex­clu­sion Act, and in 1917 it in­sti­tuted an “Asi­atic barred zone” that pro­hib­ited im­mi­grants from In­dia, most of South­east Asia and al­most all of the Mid­dle East.

Here in Mil­wau­kee, res­i­dents born out­side the U.S. and their chil­dren made up 86 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion by 1890, lead­ing some to call it the most “for­eign” city in Amer­ica. At the time, there were fewer re­stric­tions on Euro­pean im­mi­gra­tion, and the modern sys­tem of pass­ports and im­mi­gra­tion quo­tas had not yet been es­tab­lished.

Amid the global con­flicts of the 20th cen­tury, the coun­try grew sus­pi­cious of even well-es­tab­lished im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties. Not even Mil­wau­kee’s large and pow­er­ful Ger­man pop­u­la­tion was im­mune from the hys­te­ria of World War I. Speak­ing Ger­man be­came un­pa­tri­otic, sauer­kraut was re­named “lib­erty cab­bage” and the Ger­man-English Acad­emy dropped “Ger­man” from its name en route to be­com­ing Mil­wau­kee Uni­ver­sity School (now Uni­ver­sity School of Mil­wau­kee). Dur­ing the next world war, 117,000 Ja­panese Amer­i­cans, mostly cit­i­zens, were forced into in­tern­ment camps on the West Coast.

Over the cen­turies, the main evo­lu­tion in Mil­wau­kee im­mi­gra­tion cen­ters on where one was born and the color of one’s skin. Im­mi­grants of the 19th and early 20th cen­turies were prin­ci­pally white Euro­peans. To­day’s im­mi­grants pri­mar­ily come from coun­tries con­sid­ered “non-white.”

At the same time, evolv­ing im­mi­gra­tion pat­terns com­pli­cate but do not re­place the cen­tral trans­for­ma­tion in Mil­wau­kee’s de­mo­graph­ics – the mi­gra­tion of African Amer­i­cans from the South in the decades af­ter World War II, pro­vid­ing es­sen­tial la­bor for the city’s still-vi­brant man­u­fac­tur­ing economy. Race and racism, whether to­ward im­mi­grants or the de­scen­dants of en­slaved Africans, re­main over­ar­ch­ing is­sues.

SHORTLY AF­TER TAK­ING OF­FICE last year, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump tem­po­rar­ily halted all refugee ad­mis­sions and banned travel to the U.S. from seven Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­tries. The news sent a wave of fear through im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing Mil­wau­kee’s.

Be­hind the head­lines are hu­man be­ings – peo­ple

such as Ubah Abdi, a 43-year-old So­mali busi­ness­woman in Mil­wau­kee. So­ma­lia is in­cluded in Trump’s bans, and un­der the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s poli­cies, she might not have been al­lowed into the U.S.

Thirty years ago, in the mid­dle of the night, Abdi gath­ered a few small be­long­ings. In a group of six fam­i­lies, she left her home in So­ma­liland, a re­gion in north­ern So­ma­lia that was fight­ing for in­de­pen­dence. To evade en­emy sol­diers, they trav­eled at night, on foot. Younger chil­dren were car­ried. Af­ter 50 miles, they reached Ethiopia. Four years later, via a refugee camp in Ethiopia, then Dji­bouti, then Cairo, Abdi ar­rived in Mil­wau­kee.

A grad­u­ate of Wash­ing­ton High School and UW-Mil­wau­kee, to­day Abdi op­er­ates Kids Land Learn­ing Cen­ter at North 80th Street and West Capi­tol Drive. Her fam­ily re­cently moved to Fox Point, and her two chil­dren at­tend White­fish Bay High School.

Un­like many So­mali im­mi­grants in Mil­wau­kee, Abdi was not a refugee, be­cause her de­ceased fa­ther had ac­quired U.S. ci­ti­zen­ship dur­ing World War II. Along with her mother and six sib­lings, she moved to Mil­wau­kee be­cause a dis­tant un­cle lived here.

With a back­ground in so­cial work, and skilled in cross-cul­tural com­plex­i­ties, Abdi notes sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences within the So­mali im­mi­grant com­mu­nity. First, she is from So­ma­liland, which con­sid­ers it­self an in­de­pen­dent state even though most of the world views it as an au­ton­o­mous re­gion of So­ma­lia. Se­cond, the most re­cent wave of im­mi­grants is made up largely of So­mali Bantu, an eth­nic group from south­ern So­ma­lia who are racially, cul­tur­ally and lin­guis­ti­cally dis­tinct.

The ma­jor­ity of the im­mi­grants to Mil­wau­kee speak vary­ing di­alects of So­mali and are pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim. There are close to 1,000 So­ma­lis from the first wave of refugees, mostly on the South Side, ac­cord­ing to Abdi. The So­mali Bantu pop­u­la­tion is sig­nif­i­cantly higher, and most live on the North Side. About 90 per­cent of the chil­dren at Abdi’s day care are So­mali Bantu.

While the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cli­mate is wor­ri­some, the So­mali Bantu she works with are more con­cerned about is­sues that af­fect many North Side res­i­dents. “I have kids who say, ‘We didn’t sleep last night be­cause there were gun­shots,’” Abdi says. “And it is heart­break­ing, be­cause they left So­ma­lia be­cause of gun­shots and war.”

Abdi wears the Mus­lim head­dress known as the hi­jab, and she marks 9/11 as the date when her life changed: “Af­ter that, es­pe­cially for women, your clothes showed that you are Mus­lim. So you al­ways wor­ried you might be a tar­get.”

RE­CENT REFUGEES ARE a frac­tion of Mil­wau­kee’s im­mi­grants, and tend to be the least well-known. Take the Ro­hingya.

The Ro­hingya are a mostly Mus­lim eth­nic group in Myan­mar (for­merly known as Burma). Last Au­gust, the Bud­dhist-dom­i­nated gov­ern­ment in­ten­si­fied long­time per­se­cu­tion of the Ro­hingya with a cam­paign of mass rapes, mur­ders and burn­ing of vil­lages that one United Na­tions of­fi­cial called “a text­book ex­am­ple of eth­nic cleans­ing.” In one of the fastest dis­place­ments of a peo­ple since the Rwan­dan geno­cide in 1994, an es­ti­mated 655,000 Ro­hingya fled Myan­mar be­tween Au­gust and the end of the year.

It is likely to take years be­fore those Ro­hingya re­set­tle

in other coun­tries or re­turn to Myan­mar, but even be­fore the lat­est cri­sis, Ro­hingya refugees had been re­set­tled in Mil­wau­kee. Shaukhat Kyaw Soe Aung Ali, 50, is from the first Ro­hingya refugee fam­ily to set­tle in Wis­con­sin, more than 15 years ago. To­day he is the founder and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ro­hingya Amer­i­can So­ci­ety on South 16th Street and West Ok­la­homa Av­enue.

Ali, mar­ried with three chil­dren, two born in the U.S., is in reg­u­lar touch with Ro­hingya groups across the coun­try. He es­ti­mates about 2,000 Ro­hingya live in Mil­wau­kee, more than any other U.S. city, with the next-big­gest num­ber in Chicago. Over­all, 7,086 Ro­hingya refugees were set­tled in the U.S. from 2009 through July 2017, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures from the State De­part­ment.

Ali fled be­cause his po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism made him a tar­geted man – orig­i­nally go­ing to Thai­land, in 1990, then to Malaysia. In 2002 his fam­ily was re­set­tled in Hart­land, and a few years later they moved to Mil­wau­kee to be closer to the Mus­lim com­mu­nity.

As with many re­cent im­mi­grants, Ali ini­tially found work through temp agen­cies at low-level hos­pi­tal­ity and fac­tory jobs. In 2008, he was hired by the Catholic Char­i­ties’ Refugee Re­set­tle­ment pro­gram, be­com­ing a key player in Ro­hingya set­tle­ment in Mil­wau­kee. To­day, Ali heads his own busi­ness as an in­ter­preter.

Ali be­came a U.S. cit­i­zen in 2007, and he has a deep re­spect for Amer­i­can pro­tec­tions of free­dom of re­li­gion and ex­pres­sion and what he calls “free­dom of op­por­tu­nity, es­pe­cially ed­u­ca­tion.” He beams when he men­tions his 17-year-old daugh­ter has been ac­cepted at UW-Madi­son.

Why have the Ro­hinyga set­tled in Mil­wau­kee? One rea­son, Ali says, is its many well-re­spected refugee re­set­tle­ment and so­cial ser­vice agen­cies, es­pe­cially the lo­cal Catholic Char­i­ties and Lutheran So­cial Ser­vices or­ga­ni­za­tions. An­other is that the Ro­hingya are pri­mar­ily a ru­ral peo­ple, and Mil­wau­kee is less in­tim­i­dat­ing and less ex­pen­sive than many cities.

Ali, echo­ing com­ments made by many im­mi­grant lead­ers, says that lan­guage is per­haps the big­gest ob­sta­cle for new ar­rivals. Lan­guage barriers not only limit job op­por­tu­ni­ties but also re­in­force iso­la­tion. This in turn makes it dif­fi­cult for im­mi­grants to counter stereo­types.

“Be­cause English is new and it is very dif­fi­cult to com­mu­ni­cate, ed­u­ca­tion is the high­est ne­ces­sity,” Ali stresses.

Peo­ple flee­ing con­flict or per­se­cu­tion are pro­tected un­der in­ter­na­tional law, and the U.S. State De­part­ment tracks their num­bers. From 2001 to Septem­ber 2017, nearly 10,000 refugees were re­set­tled in Mil­wau­kee County. The top coun­tries of ori­gin were Myan­mar, So­ma­lia, Laos, Iraq and the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo.

NO GROUP IN MIL­WAU­KEE has been more af­fected by Trump’s anti-im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies than the Latino com­mu­nity. And yet in re­cent decades no group has been more es­sen­tial to sta­bi­liz­ing Mil­wau­kee’s pop­u­la­tion and economy.

Af­ter years of quiet com­mu­nity-build­ing, Mil­wau­kee’s Latino pop­u­la­tion burst onto the po­lit­i­cal scene on March 23, 2006. As part of a na­tional mo­bi­liza­tion against a sweep­ing im­mi­gra­tion pro­posal, thou­sands of peo­ple marched from Mil­wau­kee’s near South Side across the Sixth Street Viaduct. Or­ga­nized by Vo­ces de la Fron­tera, it was the first ma­jor demon­stra­tion by Mil­wau­kee’s Latino com­mu­nity. (The bill, spon­sored by long­time Rep. Jim Sensen­bren­ner, R-Menomonee Falls, failed.)

Ac­cord­ing to a Greater Mil­wau­kee Foun­da­tion re­port, the city’s Latino pop­u­la­tion grew from 39,000 in 1990 to more than 108,000 in 2014. With­out this surge, the city’s pop­u­la­tion would have de­clined sig­nif­i­cantly. In roughly the same pe­riod, the num­ber of Lati­nos in the metropoli­tan re­gion tripled to more than 160,000.

With that growth has come in­creased eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal clout. Lati­nos have been elected at the lo­cal and state level, or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the United Com­mu­nity Cen­ter have ex­panded their in­flu­ence, and ma­jor busi­ness play­ers in­clude Agustin Ramirez of HUSCO In­ter­na­tional.

Vo­ces de la Fron­tera re­mains at the fore­front of or­ga­niz­ing for im­mi­grant rights. Chris­tine Neu­mann-Or­tiz, the group’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, says Trump’s ini­tia­tives, es­pe­cially the re­peal of pro­tec­tions for un­doc­u­mented youth known as “Dream­ers,” have gen­er­ated in­tense fears. “The an­nounce­ment was like a shock wave that hit peo­ple at their core,” she says. “There was a lot of tears, a lot of fear, an uptick in bul­ly­ing.”

Neu­mann-Or­tiz also says there has been an in­crease in raids and de­por­ta­tions by U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment (ICE), in­clud­ing

ar­rests at two dairy farms in Wash­ing­ton County this Jan­uary.

At the same time, Neu­mann-Or­tiz is op­ti­mistic – par­tic­u­larly about Mil­wau­kee, where schools, churches and pub­lic of­fi­cials have shown sup­port for im­mi­grants. Per­haps most im­por­tant, she says, the Mil­wau­kee Po­lice De­part­ment has re­sisted pres­sure from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and has main­tained its pol­icy that po­lice will not rou­tinely pro­file and ques­tion peo­ple about their im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus.

The Latino com­mu­nity has been or­ga­niz­ing for so long, with sig­nif­i­cant vic­to­ries along the way, “that we have be­come aware of our own im­por­tance,” she says. “It’s like we have been in train­ing, and so we are ready. I feel hope­ful.”

AF­TER LATI­NOS, ASIANS – a term ap­plied to dozens of widely dis­tinct na­tion­al­i­ties – are the most nu­mer­ous of Mil­wau­kee’s new im­mi­grants. The Hmong, who have been ar­riv­ing in Wis­con­sin for decades, are the largest of this group, fol­lowed by In­di­ans.

The Hmong are an eth­nic peo­ple in South­east Asia who al­lied with the U.S. dur­ing the Viet­nam War. Af­ter the war’s end, thou­sands were re­set­tled in the U.S. Wis­con­sin has the third-largest Hmong com­mu­nity in the coun­try, af­ter Cal­i­for­nia and Min­nesota. The high­est per­cent­age live in the Mil­wau­kee area.

Three decades ago, Mil­wau­kee’s Hmong faced is­sues com­mon to new im­mi­grants: learn­ing English, find­ing hous­ing and good jobs, es­tab­lish­ing a com­mu­nity. To­day, there are new is­sues. The younger gen­er­a­tion, for in­stance, is in­creas­ingly Amer­i­can­ized, not only los­ing touch with the cul­ture and lan­guage of their el­ders, but re­sent­ful of parental ex­pec­ta­tions that seem out of touch with life in the U.S.

Dawn and Thay Yang, both in their 40s, have made it their life’s pas­sion to ad­dress con­tem­po­rary con­cerns in the Hmong com­mu­nity. Last Septem­ber, in the fin­ished base­ment of their Oak Creek home, they be­gan pro­duc­ing a weekly Hmong news show – “Nyob Zoo,” a tra­di­tional Hmong greet­ing roughly trans­lated as “Hello, how are you?”

Thay, who works by day at Mil­wau­kee Pub­lic Tele­vi­sion, views “Nyob Zoo” as a way to counter stereo­types in the main­stream news. Dawn, who works in so­cial ser­vices, sees it as a way to unite the Hmong com­mu­nity, which tra­di­tion­ally is or­ga­nized by clans that keep to them­selves.

Her ex­pe­ri­ences as a refugee and mother of a grown daugh­ter also al­low her to help bridge gen­er­a­tional rifts among the Hmong. Dawn was born in a Thai refugee camp in 1975, and her fam­ily was among the first wave of Hmong to the U.S. She has lived in both worlds.

The Yangs es­ti­mate that more than 20,000 Hmong, both im­mi­grant and U.S. born, live within “Nyob Zoo’s” view­ing area in South­east­ern Wis­con­sin.

WHILE THE HMONG are cen­tered pri­mar­ily in Mil­wau­kee, the se­cond-largest Asian pop­u­la­tion in the re­gion has grav­i­tated to­wards the sub­urbs.

The In­dian com­mu­nity’s cul­tural and re­li­gious fo­cal point sits on 40 acres in Pe­wau­kee, across the street from a Costco and Wal­mart and next to a Lutheran church: the Hindu Tem­ple of Wis­con­sin, which opened in 2000 and ex­panded in 2016 to ac­com­mo­date the grow­ing num­ber of In­di­ans.

Sus­mita Acharya, pres­i­dent of the tem­ple’s board, and her hus­band are rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the re­gion’s In­dian pop­u­la­tion in that they’re pro­fes­sion­als who came to the U.S. to pur­sue grad­u­ate stud­ies, a com­mon path in the 1960s and ’70s. Acharya, 70, was a chem­istry pro­fes­sor at Car­di­nal Stritch Uni­ver­sity from 1985 to 2014, while her hus­band, Kishore, was an elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer with Gen­eral Elec­tric.

“Most of the In­di­ans orig­i­nally came as pro­fes­sion­als – doc­tors, pro­fes­sors,” she says. To­day, a grow­ing num­ber of In­di­ans in metro Mil­wau­kee work in in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy and re­lated fields. Acharya does not know any

In­di­ans who en­tered as refugees, or who do not have le­gal doc­u­ments.

The In­dian pop­u­la­tion dif­fers from other im­mi­grant groups in a few key re­spects. Be­cause English and Hindi are the dom­i­nant lan­guages in In­dia, most came to the U.S. know­ing English. Se­cond, the dis­pro­por­tion­ately pro­fes­sional pro­file means the In­dian com­mu­nity is gen­er­ally more af­flu­ent, which has led them to pre­fer the sub­urbs. “We bought a house in Brook­field be­cause of the school sys­tem,” Acharya says. Asian stu­dents com­prise al­most 15 per­cent of the stu­dent body in the Elm­brook dis­trict that serves pri­mar­ily Brook­field and Elm Grove.

The num­ber of In­di­ans more than dou­bled in metro Mil­wau­kee be­tween 2000 and 2010, to about 12,000, Acharya says, cit­ing cen­sus fig­ures and adding that the num­ber to­day is con­sid­er­ably higher. Na­tion­ally, for­eign-born In­di­ans are now the se­cond-largest im­mi­grant group, af­ter Mex­i­cans.

A CEN­TURY AGO, im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties in Mil­wau­kee were uni­fied by lan­guage, cul­ture and na­tional ori­gin. Older Catholics in Mil­wau­kee can read­ily re­call which parishes were iden­ti­fied with the Pol­ish, the Ital­ians or the Ir­ish. But for a key im­mi­grant com­mu­nity in to­day’s Mil­wau­kee – Mus­lims – re­li­gion is the only re­li­able com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor.

Oth­man Atta, op­er­a­tions man­ager at the Is­lamic So­ci­ety of Mil­wau­kee, is well versed in the his­tory of Mus­lims in Mil­wau­kee – his grand­fa­ther came to the city in the early 20th cen­tury. Atta, a Pales­tinian born in the West Bank, ar­rived in Mil­wau­kee in 1966, at­tend­ing Ru­fus King High School and earn­ing a law de­gree from Mar­quette Uni­ver­sity.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Mus­lim com­mu­nity was dom­i­nated by Arabs, he re­calls. They were later joined by Mus­lims from the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent, many of them med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als. To­day, many are from the more re­cent points of ori­gin: So­ma­lia, Myan­mar, Iraq, Syria. Over­all, Atta es­ti­mates there are 15,000 to 20,000 Mus­lims in the metro area. They have no sin­gle lan­guage or na­tion­al­ity. “At the Is­lamic Cen­ter, the ser­mon is re­quired to be in English,” he says. “That’s the only com­mon lan­guage.”

Atta dates the be­gin­ning of Mil­wau­kee’s con­tem­po­rary Mus­lim com­mu­nity to 1982-83, when the Is­lamic So­ci­ety of Mil­wau­kee formed. Es­tab­lish­ing the Salam School in 1991, which pro­vides a re­li­gious-based ed­u­ca­tion and is part of the Mil­wau­kee voucher pro­gram, was an­other im­por­tant step. Fam­i­lies have even re­lo­cated to Mil­wau­kee be­cause of the school, Atta says.

Atta views him­self as a bridge be­tween the Mus­lim and non-Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties. He is com­mit­ted to his re­li­gious iden­tity but not nec­es­sar­ily to an eth­nic iden­tity. “I am a Mus­lim, but I am an Amer­i­can,” he says. “And my kids are Amer­i­can. That’s their cul­ture.”

As both an Amer­i­can and a Mus­lim, Atta wor­ries about the “nor­mal­iza­tion” of anti-Mus­lim and anti-im­mi­grant rhetoric. “If a politi­cian run­ning for the high­est of­fice in the land is able to say things that sound hate­ful, dis­crim­i­na­tory, in­flam­ma­tory, that will em­power the nor­mal guy who will crawl out from un­der the rock they have been hid­ing un­der,” he says. “That’s my big­gest fear.”

IT IS A FEAR THAT, un­for­tu­nately, came true for Mil­wau­kee’s Sikh com­mu­nity. In 2012, a white su­prem­a­cist from Cu­dahy burst into the Sikh Tem­ple in Oak Creek and fa­tally shot six peo­ple be­fore com­mit­ting sui­cide. Among the dead were 65-year-old Sat­want Singh Kaleka, a founder of the tem­ple.

The Sikh re­li­gion is cen­tered in the Pun­jab re­gion of what is now north­ern In­dia and Pak­istan, and po­lit­i­cal ten­sions in the re­gion have played a role in Sikh im­mi­gra­tion to Mil­wau­kee. Pardeep Singh Kaleka, Sat­want’s 41-year-old son, ex­plains that his un­cle was among the first wave of Sikh im­mi­grants to Mil­wau­kee, in the 1960s and 1970s. Most were well-ed­u­cated, and Kaleka es­ti­mates that to­day there are about 2,000 Sikhs in greater Mil­wau­kee.

In 1982, Pardeep Kaleka’s un­cle, a vet­eri­nar­ian, spon­sored the Kaleka fam­ily so they could come to Mil­wau­kee. “The long and short of our story is that my fam­ily came here with $20 in their pocket, ful­fill­ing that im­mi­grant dream,” Kaleka says. His mom worked at Ea­gle Knit­ting Mills mak­ing OshKosh B’gosh clothes, and his dad worked at a gas sta­tion. Even­tu­ally they saved enough money to buy a gas sta­tion/mar­ket on the South Side. He and his brother were the first two in the fam­ily to grad­u­ate from col­lege, from Mar­quette Uni­ver­sity.

Kaleka first worked as a po­lice of­fi­cer, then an ed­u­ca­tor. Since the mas­sacre, he has ded­i­cated his life to heal­ing and now works as a ther­a­pist spe­cial­iz­ing in trauma.

Both his re­li­gious be­liefs and per­sonal story lead him to value peace, Kaleka ex­plains. But that does not mean ig­nor­ing un­pleas­ant re­al­i­ties, and he wor­ries about to­day’s “toxic, anti-im­mi­grant en­vi­ron­ment.”

“What are we say­ing?” he asks. “That we want the world’s re­sources, but we don’t want the world’s peo­ple?”

Kaleka has not lost faith in Mil­wau­kee, but he be­lieves it is at a cross­roads. Will it em­brace the world’s new re­al­i­ties, or yearn for a past that can never re­turn? “I’ve been around Mil­wau­kee long enough to have seen the ex­o­dus of jobs in the 1980s,” he says. “Right now, the im­mi­grants and refugees com­ing here, we need them to help re­build Mil­wau­kee.”

Five years ago, Kaleka had a tat­too en­graved on his palm: 8-5-12, the date of the killings at the tem­ple. The tat­too is wear­ing off, but that’s OK with Kaleka: “I see it as a metaphor, to em­brace our im­per­ma­nence.”

And, yes, it could also be a metaphor for Mil­wau­kee. “Change,” he em­pha­sizes, “is the only cer­tainty in life.”

“At the Is­lamic Cen­ter, the ser­mon is re­quired to be in English. That’s the only com­mon lan­guage.” - OTH­MAN ATTA, OP­ER­A­TIONS MAN­AGER AT THE IS­LAMIC SO­CI­ETY OF MIL­WAU­KEE

Ubah Abdi at her Kids Land Learn­ing Cen­ter

Shaukhat Ali at the Ro­hingya Amer­i­can So­ci­ety

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