| In honor of Latino Heritage Month, The Capital City Hues will be publishing the stories of three Latino immigrants who came to the Madison area when the Latino community was in its infancy during the 1960s and 1970s. Throughout its history, America has been continuously regenerated by the immigrants who have come to its shores or who have crossed its deserts. Many immigrants -- legal or illegal -- have pursued the American Dream and have found it.
Our first story is that of Marcial Marquez who was born in Mexico, emigrated here with his mother and now works in the parts shop at Alliant Energy's Columbia power plant. Along with his wife Rosie, Marquez owns the building on Commercial Avenue near Sherman Boulevard, which houses The Inferno nightclub that is operated by their son Apollo.
As we sit in an east side restaurant, Marquez listens to the voices of the kitchen help amidst the clatter of plates and utensils emanating from the kitchen. "Mi Raza," Marquez proclaimed. "The backbone of any restaurant, you can almost guarantee, is 'Mi Raza.' I don't know if it is racism or sexism, but in restaurants in Madison, as long as you are in the background, they don't care. But they don't want to front the Latina. They are good workers and good waitresses, but they would rather have their own kind to receive all of the people. Otherwise some of them would feel out of place."
Marquez's life is not that far removed from the Mexican workers who work in the kitchen of that restaurant. After growing up on the Mexican side of Laredo, Texas, Marquez followed the migrant labor stream to Wisconsin with his mother when he became of age. "The contractors work you like cattle," Marquez said. "You go to a plaza in Mexico and you stand out there. People would shout 'I'm looking for workers.' You go up there and give him your papers and stuff. The contractor would bring you out here. And the canning companies would pay you $30 a head for getting them workers, plus they made ten cents an hour each when they worked for commission. So if you were a contractor and you brought 100 workers, you were making good money. They would pack 50 people into a truck. My mother didn't want to do that anymore. When I was a kid, I didn't know where my mom went. But she used to do migrant work." Marquez's mom took them from the fields and canneries near Palmyra to Madison because she said enough is enough and she wanted something better for her children.
The family settled into a house on Beld Street just up the street from St. Martin House, which was a gathering place for the few Latinos living in that part of Madison. Marquez got a job working at St. Vincent de Paul on Williamson Street and would do a little work for UMOS, which had placed its first satellite office there.
Marquez met Rosie whom he would later marry while working at St. Vincent de Paul. "We became good friends," Marquez said. "When you are young, you fall in love. We became inseparable for a while. I told my mother one day that I was moving in with Rosie. We got ourselves a little pad behind the Crystal Corner, in the next block. It was a little street. Then Rosie got pregnant and we moved to Spaight Street."
Marquez left St. Vincent for a job at the Ray-O-Vac plant on Winnebago Street. It ended up being a short-lived job, but Marquez got some good advice while he was there. "Someone told me to get my GED so I could get the heck out of there," Marquez recalled. "That was from some of the older guys who liked me. I thought the GED was a good enough diploma. So I went to MATC and talked to some tutors there. In two months, I had my GED."
Marquez quit Ray-O-Vac and got a job at Wisconsin Bell through the assistance of Verna Hill, the Middleton activist. "Rosie and I were living high off the hog," Marquez said. "I was installing telephones. They sent me to Indiana for almost a year. By then we had our daughter. We moved out there for a year and then came back. The job I was doing here and in Indiana was installing more modern equipment. They then cut back to 400 employees. We were the cause of our own demise. We installed all of this modern equipment, which meant they needed fewer people. After I was done, they gave me my pink slip."
Although he had lost his job, Marquez felt he was pretty lucky. "Luck has always been in my favor," Marquez reflected. "I don't know why, but I have never suffered. To some people, my story might be not too secure, but to me, I always had it good, even when I was a kid. For a while, I wasn't doing anything because I was collecting unemployment. That was my first American dream. They were paying me for doing nothing. Luck is always on my side. But the money wasn't enough."
Marquez heard that Oscar Mayer was hiring and he worked there for three-and-a-half years where he again faced intermittent layoffs. During one of the layoffs, someone encouraged him to go to MATC to get some more training. "I met a lady I used to work with at the unemployment compensation office," Marquez said. "She told me that because I was off for 2-3 months that I was entitled to some schooling that would be paid by the state and Oscar Mayer would have to pay for some of it. She asked me why not go to school. I asked why. They encouraged me to go to MATC to take some classes in order to better myself. I went ahead. They had this fast- track training, a nine-month deal. I would learn minor electricity, how to change fans and receptacles. I would also learn blueprint reading and welding. We also learned sheet metal work, refrigeration and heating."
Just as he was finishing the classes, Wisconsin Power & Light -- now Alliant Energy -- came to recruit some workers at MATC. They were particularly looking for women and people of color. "I was second from the top in my class," Marquez said. "The teacher was recommending the top five in his class and I was one of them. He said, 'They want to see you. I told them you were pretty good and you were learning a lot.' I hadn't finished the course yet, but they were interested in hiring me because the main reason was they had to fill their quota of minorities. This was back in 1979. They told me to go to Portage to the power plant. I went up there and took my papers and my commendations from the teachers. I took a physical and I got a job within three days." Marquez worked maintenance for the first eight years he was at the Columbia plant and has worked in the storeroom for the past 20 years.
In 1994, Marquez decided to open up a club called Rosita's and purchased a building on Commercial Avenue just off of Sherman Avenue. He opened it up as a Mexican bar. "When I opened up my bar, Mexicans came out of the woodwork," Marquez said. "We would have 250 people in there. I didn't know where they came from. A small Mexican grocery store opened up further down on Commercial Avenue. The owner came over to the bar and we became friends. He had a nice little store there that ran for about two years. I don't know what happened to it, but he had to shut down. He opened it because of the big volume of Mexican people who were looking for stores. I had crowds at Rosita's, but there were too many arguments, fights and police calls. I didn't want to hire security because I never felt it was right to put security on my people."
Marquez changed the format of the bar to Country Western and with it came a transition in the clientele. "My people, the Mexicans, still thought it was their place," Marquez recalled. "So they came in and now they were fighting with the Country Western people, which some people call 'red-necks' or Country Western aficionados. It was a 'What are you doing in my bar' kind of thing. So now I had two different cultures fighting each other. So I had to shut that down."
The bar opened a third time under the management of Marquez's son Apollo. Apollo had seen a club with a techno-gothic venue and opened up The Inferno. It's been a success ever since.
Marquez has ambivalent feelings about the success he's achieved since coming to the Madison area. While he has worked hard at Alliant Energy and spent several years fixing up the property on Commercial Avenue himself with the help of Apollo, he somehow feels he doesn't quite measure up. "I know I work plenty," Marquez said. "You hear that Dire Straits song 'Money for Nothing,' I never asked for it. I never really worked hard for it. And I know I have because I go home with two t-shirts wringing wet from work where it can be 100 degrees. Then you go home and take a shower and drink a beer and it is over. Then you go through it again the next day."
"I think of work like the old slave movies such as the Ten Commandments where the old guy is out there stomping on the mud and they are making bricks for the Egyptians," Marquez continued with a laugh. "That's how I see work. I see like the coal miners in the old days with shovels digging against the wall. I should stop thinking of work that way because no one does it like that anymore. Somehow, I think I should be like my grandfather and my uncles. These guys used to dig trenches three feet wide and ten feet deep with no shoring. They shoveled all day long. My grandma used to bring food to them. Sometimes they would lower the food down to them because they wouldn';t let them out of there. Then the whistle would go off and they would start digging trenches again. They were going through the streets and other men were placing the pipe in there. These are my memories of working. They had no backhoe. There are a lot of people doing that in Mexico and other countries. They are working hard. And maybe that's why I have problems comparing myself to them. I don't deserve it. I didn't work. Sometimes you don't know what standard to use. To me, work is like 'I can't get up in the morning.'"
Marquez may never be able to fully enjoy his American dream.
Immigrant success stories
Marcial Marquez: From the fields to business
By Jonathan Gramling
Part 2 of 2