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Darryl Morin: Every voice makes a difference

The son of a migrant farmer who began working at age 11 by shoveling blacktop, Darryl Morin learned to overcome the limitations others placed on him to build a successful communications business, and help manage the oldest Latino civil rights organization in the country. His numerous social justice efforts have also connected local Hispanic groups with Jewish communities and beyond, so that every person in Milwaukee can have a voice and make a difference.

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Q&A

Q: What is the fondest memory of your father, and how did his background as a migrant farm worker shape your youth?

A: Whenever I feel things are difficult, I think back to the image of my father, as just a little boy working in the fields with his parents, and all his brothers and sisters trying to earn enough money to survive. While I have a lifetime of inspirational moments, moments of learning, moments of love and affection, the one that best embodies my father in my mind, occurred when we were moving my younger brother, Jose Orlando Morin, onto campus before the start of his freshman year at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Orlando was the youngest of my siblings and last to go to college. As we traveled with a car full of boxes along the highway, we passed a small building in Kenosha on the way to campus.

I noticed a small tear come down the face of the strongest man I ever knew. This was something we were not accustomed to seeing. When pressed, my father shared that we had just passed a small building next to a field. He explained that his parents, brothers and sisters were working the field picking cabbages, only to learn later that the owner of the field would only pay them in his private script. Script that was only good at his store, that had exorbitant prices. The building we had just passed was once that store. He shared how he could not believe from those days, here he was now driving the last of his three children to college. That was a profound moment that summed up the love our father and mother had for us, and the struggles they overcame to make sure we would have an opportunity to a better life.

Q: How was your childhood different than of current Hispanic kids?

A: Our family grew up in a northern suburb of Chicago. There weren’t other students that looked like us, particularly in the lower grades. Children were children, often making unkind remarks. Sometimes when caught by an adult, the adult would make them apologize sometimes. We also did not have expensive cars like the other families in the area. I look back at those days and I remember feeling embarrassed of my Mexican-American heritage, or of the station wagon my mother would pick me up in. Of course, now I realize these were the feelings of a naïve child. I look back on it all with deep regret and a profound appreciation for not only my heritage, but for the many gifts and opportunities given us from our parents. It was not in the form of riches handed down, but for their work and sacrifice so that we would have more.

Q: What would surprise people to know about you, like personal hobbies and private interests?

A: Today people look at me often in a suit and tie, and more often than not, believe I am well intentioned, but do not know what it means to put in a hard day’s work. The assumption is that I started off life as a person of privilege. That most definitely was not the case.

There are two items that not too many people know. The first relates to education. In the third grade, I overheard my teacher speaking with another teacher, saying she thought I had a learning disability. As such, I was never placed in challenging courses and to my deep regret, I didn’t even try to do well in school. I felt it was pointless since I had “a disability.” It is with great regret that I think back on the knowledge lost, simply because I didn’t try because I accepted the limitation placed on me by another. This was when I learned that we can never accept the limits others will attempt to place upon us.

The second thing is about my first job. I grew up working at my father’s asphalt paving company. He had me start working at 11 years old and for 35 cents an hour. I would shovel blacktop, load and unload equipment and more. I worked from sun up until sun down. I remember many times being covered in tar and sweat, and with a dark complexion, being treated less than human by some. I used to cry wondering why my father would treat me this way. He would later share that it was because he wanted me to learn the value of a dollar, to work hard, and to choose to use my mind, not my body to make a living. He would also repeat, “while others will try to take things away from you, they will never be able to take away your education.”

Q: What has been your personal reaction to being called one of the new generation of Latino leaders in Milwaukee, and all the awards you have earned in recognition of your community service?

A: First, let be clear, I am nothing and I would not be able to do anything without the love and support of my wife. She is the love of my life. In addition, she not only does she care for our children and run our household during my travels, but she is also my business partner. As such, she has tremendous day-to-day responsibilities at our business. I am blessed to have her in my life.

Regarding the honors, I always answer that I am humbled and I am. But honestly, I feel I am not worthy. When I consider my achievements, things I have been able to do with my college education, and compare them to what my father was able to achieve with his third grade education, with all of the challenges he had to overcome, there is no comparison. I still have a long way to go in paying it forward. If anyone deserves the honor it would be him or any of the countless parents that are working day and night, giving up what they treasure most, time with their family, so that they can provide for them, so that they will be able to achieve their dreams. They are the real heroes in our community.

Q: What is the biggest lesson you have learned from your involvement with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)?

A: Every person has a voice, every person can make a difference. LULAC just gave me the clear vision and opportunity to do so. I have also learned that tragedies that I once thought were the exception, sadly, are more the norm than not. We have a long way to go in making sure everyone has an equal opportunity to achieve the American Dream.

Q: How have the immigrant problems of the Milwaukee Hispanic population been different than previous ethnic groups to the city, like Germans, Polish, and Italians?

A: Each ethnic minority that is new has faced issues, discrimination and hardship. That being said, as Americans we all too often forget our history. I am constantly combating the misperceptions that are promoted by those seeking to demonize our community, wishing to instill fear in others as a means to retain power and influence. Their voices are amplified by the technology that is available today. Two misperceptions are quite evident. First, that all Latino’s are undocumented. You see it in supermarket lines, when individual will choose to stand in longer lines than a line that contains others with strong Hispanic features. In fact, the majority of Latino’s in the Metro-Milwaukee area are native born. The second misperception is that Latinos do not want to learn how to speak English. Truth be told, we are battling to keep our bilingual ability alive as our second generation is losing their Spanish skills. In addition, the overwhelming number of Latinos speak both English and Spanish, and those who do not are learning English at a faster rate than any other immigrant group in our history.

Q: How is faith a part of your work, and is the religious community helping immigrants enough to adjust to life in Milwaukee?

A: My wife and I were raised Roman Catholic. We attended church, but it would be a fair characterization to say we did not consider ourselves overly religious. This being said, since we have begun our work in the community we have witnessed events that should never have happened. In one instance, impacting multiple people in different places of the country at the same time. I would not be an honest person, if I denied it happened. Whenever I begin to question myself, if I am meant to be taking on a certain case or issue, or questioning whether I am being driven by ego or righteousness, the Lord always puts an undeniable stepping stone before me, leading me in a particular direction. I have learned that the path of the just is not always an easy path.

Q: What is the biggest educational challenge facing the Hispanic community in the city?

A: Access and aspirations. Access to a quality education, aspirations to greatness that begin within our families and our communities. We witness the state legislator fighting over budgets, administrators trying to make do with what they have, and teachers understandably trying to protect their interest. All stakeholders are well represented at the table with the noticeable absence, in too many instances, of those entrusted to represent the interest of our children: parents. In the words of a past MPS Superintendent, “in other cities there would be riots in the streets if we had these results.” Let me be clear, this isn’t the fault of one group. It is our shared failure. We are all to blame. There are those who try to make it a partisan issue, but all anyone needs to do is look at the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress reports and they will see these challenges existed under both Republican and Democrat led state administrations. It is time we put our children first. After decades and numerous attempts at reform, faith among many that the system can fix itself is quickly being lost.

Q: How does your company Advanced Wireless Inc. compliment your personal mission of community support and education?

A: I am fortunate that between our company, and my wife and my partner, it provides so that we can do the work we do. I cannot say enough about my wife and how her love and support at home, and business skills at our offices, enable all of our efforts.

We are also pleased to have provided over $750,000 in WLAN equipment and services to schools in need of technology through our AWI Wireless School Initiative.

Q: In your opinion, is the local media contributing to misunderstandings about immigrant rights or does the public simply not care?

A: I do not blame the media on this point, as immigration is a complex issue. However, they do have a responsibility to report the facts. In today’s ever-shortening news cycle, and with shrinking staff, it is rare to come across a reporter who understands the issues of immigration, and knows the questions that should be asked. That being said, we welcome the opportunity to share our insights on the issue. Regarding cable television and talk-radio, we are fed a steady stream of “facts” from a panel of experts. But most of these so-called experts are the same night after night, commenting on any number of issue and their remarks are no more than talking points from the party they represent. This does not contribute to intellectual debate, but to partisanship and division.

Q: Can you help explain why the Wisconsin Voter Photo ID Law was unfair?

A: For me personally, this is one issue with two sub-categories. I do believe after reviewing the law and comparing it to others, and when combined with sworn testimony of the motivations of some of our legislators, that the primary motivation of some was to discourage minority turn out at the polls. The main objective for some was not to drive legislation that led to good governance or to protect the sanctity of the individual vote, but to win at all costs, regardless of its impact on the principals they swear to uphold. During all the litigation, not once was the state able to provide evidence of voter fraud. It was also used as a mechanism to further demonize the Hispanic community as it was not uncommon to hear phrases such as “all these illegals are stealing our elections.” Nothing could be further from the truth. It is simply inflammatory rhetoric used to try to justify an unjustifiable position. Any democracy is best served when its citizenry are encouraged, not discouraged from participating in the election process. The day Wisconsin’s photo ID law went into effect, almost 10% of Wisconsin’s entire electorate was removed from the voting rolls. This number was not challenged by the state in court. I believe that is saying something. I am more than pleased by the recent ruling that those without the required form of photo ID will be able to sign a sworn affidavit attesting to their identity and will be allowed to vote. While this is a short term solution, I am hopeful that the law ultimately will be struck down.

Q: What bridges are being built to offer access points for cross-cultural exchange between Hispanic and other Milwaukee neighborhoods? 

A: I am proud to be a founding member of the Latino-Jewish Alliance, a product of LULAC of Wisconsin and the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. I am also proud to serve as Vice-Chairman of the Board for the Hmong American Peace Academy and numerous other organizations. The underlying themes of the organizations I engage with are to ensure the human dignity of all are protected, and they are afforded access to the same programs, resources, and opportunities of every other community. I will never ask for something given, other than the same opportunity to achieve the American dream. When we cheat anyone based on a demographic, we cheat our “one community.”

Q: How was the Milwaukee Latino-Jewish Alliance (JCRC) formed and what has been its impact on both communities?

A: I was first approached by my dear friend Juan Carlos Ruiz, who passed away recently. He approached me with another truly selfless servant of the Lord above, Elana Kahn. We immediately saw the benefits to both communities and agreed to move forward with developing the Alliance.

Q: What has working with Elana Kahn taught you about Milwaukee’s Jewish history and population that you were previously unaware of?

A: I will share an experience I had the good fortune to witness. In 2014, I was successful in being able to bring the LULAC National Women’s Conference to Milwaukee. It is held in March, so trust me, it was not an easy sell. Elana had shared that a group of women advocates would be visiting Milwaukee from Israel during the same time. We brought the two together and, on each topic point, their very real struggles were the same. We have learned the more we share what we think are our differences, they almost always become commonalities. We all spend so much time defining groups of people but honestly, we all came from the same place, and with the Lord’s blessing will wind up in the same place. We are truly each other’s keepers.

Q: What was the main message you wanted people to remember from your speech about hate and human dignity at the recent JCRC Event?

A: That we all have a voice, we can all make a difference. The premise that serves as the basis for every principal our nation is founded, is that every life is equal. That means at the time of creation, the Lord gives us all the gift of human dignity. It is not man’s to takeaway. Defending the human dignity of each other and of others is what makes us great as a nation.

Q: What does it mean to Mexican-American citizens of Milwaukee to have a Mexican Consulate open in the city? Why did the Mexican government bring this service to Milwaukee, and why was an East Side location selected for it?

A: Of all the other cities that were in the running, it is a sense of pride that it came to Milwaukee. It demonstrates our growing community, our organizing capabilities, and our influence. We will continue to develop these until the defense of human dignity is no longer needed. It also creates a tremendous economic opportunity as Mexico is the second largest trading partner for the State of Wisconsin.

Q: What are your hopes, and perhaps even fears, for the future of Milwaukee?

A: While today we are experiencing a renaissance of our city with the construction of the new Milwaukee Bucks Arena, the Northwestern Mutual Building, as well as the Couture Building, our city is growing more and more segregated racially, socially, and economically. And with all these new jobs being created, I hear from CEOs that they are frustrated that they cannot find the workers with the skills they need from here in the city. The longer we fail to give our children a quality education, the longer we will fail them, the longer we will deny them an equal opportunity to achieve the American Dream.

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Read the interview and watch the video series that were produced as a companion features for this profile.

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