Situated on the western shore of Lake Michigan, Milwaukee has attracted diverse communities of people for centuries. The earliest known American inhabitants include the Menomonee, Fox, Potawatomi, Ojibwe and Winnebago Native American tribes. The city is still home to a vibrant inter-tribal community that hosts North America’s largest American Indian Festival, Indian Summer Festival, over Labor Day weekend.
French and German immigrants were among the first Europeans to settle in Milwaukee in the early 19th century. Shortly after, free African American tradesmen traveled to the burgeoning city and helped build many of the historical buildings that still exist today. Over the next century, as the country transitioned out of the institution of slavery and into the Industrial Revolution, African American families from the southern states migrated to the city to take advantage of job opportunities in Milwaukee’s factories. The African American residents of Milwaukee over the years have built strong legacies, especially visible in neighborhoods such as Bronzeville and King Drive.
Throughout the twentieth century, the city’s Asian and Hispanic populations also grew in number and flourished in influence. In the wake of the Vietnam War in the 1970s, a surge of Hmong families from Laos, Vietnam and Thailand relocated to the Midwest to start new lives. Visitors can enjoy festivals year-round hosted by the Milwaukee Chinese Community Center and explore Hmong culture at the Hmong American Friendship Association Museum. Just south of downtown, a growing Latino community boasts a variety of businesses and cultural centers, including the United Community Center and Latino Arts, Inc. Representative of nearly every Spanish-speaking country around the globe, Milwaukee’s Hispanic population is the fastest growing community in the city.
Looking for a convenient cultural exploration trip for the family? Learn more about the Hiawatha route between Milwaukee, WI and Chicago, IL.