Alida Cardós Whaley

words by Eric Mata

You can tell her mind is always working. I imagine it is thinking about people, partnerships, and/or problems that need to be addressed.

This is how I remember Alida from our time together in Madison, WI. Constantly thinking about the next thing that could allow her to make an impact on her community. She is a writer, a mother, a muxer and a community organizer. This is what she’s doing.

Alida grew up on the northside of Milwaukee, partially in America Apartments on the far northwest side but moved to 54th and Burleigh and the Sherman Park neighborhood.  From there she went to the University of Wisconsin – Madison where she attended as a part of the First Wave Hip Hop and Urban Arts Learning Community. While there, she began her search for a connection to her roots and her identity and began organizing first with the First Wave program and then with Movimiento Estudiantil Chican@ de Aztlán (MEChA). It was through her experience with MEChA where she developed the foundation for how to organize effectively, how to interpret the world and began to inform the consciousness she uses to engage the world.

When she first went to college, she told herself that she was not going back to Milwaukee. There was too much anger at the city of Milwaukee and all of the issues that not only she had to deal with, but because of all that was wrong with the city. But that all began to change through some of the connections Alida made as a result of her participating in the First Wave program.

We came to include Alida because of the work she has been doing with STITCH. This experience came out of her participation in the First Wave program where she first cut her teeth in community organizing. She also began to understand the importance of intentional space. Just Bust was her first experience with space and the importance of providing space not just as a physical experience but a space for voice.

As with most students of color who attend historically white institutions like the University of Wisconsin, the idea of space became hyper-critical to Alida and most of the folks she began to surround herself with. She began to organize around accountability and justice. It was through these experiences that she began to think more about Milwaukee and what it was (or was not) providing the young people of her city. It was through this that STITCH started to take shape.

According to Alida, as they began to think through what STITCH would be, they “talked about the city being the most racially segregated. It was our lived experience. What about a name that speaks to that? Jeanette threw out STITCH. They wanted to bring our people together. North and South. To heal, to stitch our wounds, but also like stitch as in clothing. The idea of changing location creates the movement that brings the city together just like if you’re stitching something together.” And thus STITCH was born.

STITCH has happened every summer since 2009. Historically there would be workshops before every open mic from poetry, to breakdance, to stenciling, to know your rights, to emceeing, hip hop, urban arts, culture while always focusing on creating space for people to create.

The STITCH folks are always encouraging young people to bring new ideas. In 2013 an idea was presented for a mural project. Most of the murals here in the city were dilapidated. While Alida was involved in organizing the project, Jeanette Martín and Tia Richardson, a local artist, held the space. More information can be found on their website.

While STITCH didn’t present their regularly scheduled Summer Open Mic Series this year, they did re-imagine the intention via a two-day arts and music festival that will be held on September 12 and 13 with each day being held on a different side of the city. More information can be found here and here. (Check the website for updated information for Sunday’s event)

Festival del Barrio Poster

Milwaukee has a history of challenges. Wisconsin as a state is the worst state to raise a black child. For Alida, it makes her angry to think about the inequality that exists amongst its people. There is a difference in a person’s ability to access basic human rights simply because of the color of your skin, or the neighborhood in which you live. Alida put it best when she said that not everyone has a dignified life and that people are being denied the opportunity to live with dignity. And a part of what makes this a reality for so many is the militarization of our communities through the increase of police presence.

But there is some good happening in Milwaukee that Alida has come to know. Alida shared Alice’s Garden, directed by Venice Williams as an example of a space that has been created to reclaim and nourish cultural and family traditions connected to land and food According to Alida, a part of what makes Venice and her work so great is that she knows the context she works within. Venice connects people and creates spaces, she addresses real issues and invites everyone to the table. Venice is a visionary and a leader and someone Alida and the STITCH collective have come to love as a mentor. Alida believes in the importance of creating autonomous community spaces where the parameters are defined by the community and this is just what STITCH strives to do.

To close out our chat, I asked Alida what makes Milwaukee beautiful. I’ll let her tell you in her own words.

I think about Milwaukee as the land. It was here before we got here. It was someone else’s home before we got here. The spirit of the land lives here. It is alive. It’s its own life source. It has always been beautiful. I think about the spaces that STITCH has created and that’s beautiful. There are babies to grandparents. And it reminds me of how our ancestors would gather.