MILWAUKEE — Step inside Bruce-Guadalupe Community School, on Milwaukee's south side, and you’ll likely find Dinorah Marquez playing instruments and singing.
She’s the visionary behind the Latino Arts Strings Program, which she helped create more than 20 years ago. With the program, Marquez had one goal in mind: To connect more Latino kids in Milwaukee to their cultures.
“I was an immigrant child,” said Marquez. “I lost a lot of that connection as an immigrant child.”
Marquez uses the power of music to bridge the gap between her students’ present lives in Milwaukee and their roots.
The program includes kids as young as 5 years old and as old as 18. It provides them with instruments and lessons. The kids perform concerts throughout the state and beyond.
“We are enriched by every child that comes into our space,” said Marquez.
Seventeen-year-old Carolina Islas, a senior in high school, has been a part of the program since first grade. So has her twin brother, Fernando Islas.
“She’s definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone,” Fernando Islas said about Marquez. “I honestly want to thank her, because without her, I don’t think I would be the performer I am today. When I’m on stage, I become someone else. I enjoy those moments with Ms. Dinorah. Having those moments where we play together is really fun.”
The Islas siblings represent the fourth generation in their family to play Mariachi music. They call it a direct connection to their ancestors.
“It’s able to express everything they’ve been through — the challenges and joys — through my music,” said Fernando Islas. “Express our traditions and the joy of being Hispanic.”
Marquez has worked with thousands of students over the years. She helps instill pride in their heritage, teaches them about music and history and builds a firm foundation for their future. Yet, she says the students give her more in return.
“Everybody says, ‘Oh my God, you give so much to them,’ and I’m like, 'No, it’s the other way around,'” said Marquez. “It is totally the other way around.”
The Latino Arts Strings Program is just one part of Latino Arts, Inc., a nonprofit in the United Community Center (UCC). The UCC is a gathering space that includes an art gallery featuring the work of Latino artists.
Jacobo Lovo, the managing artistic director of Latino Arts, develops the educational programming that Latino Arts, Inc. does for people of all ages.
“The events and workshops we do really give us a strong avenue not only to highlight the culture but also educate others about it,” Lovo said.
Last year, Latino Arts, Inc. had had more than 10,000 people visit its art gallery, exhibits and concerts.