By Alexandra Oliver-Davila and Vanessa Calderón-Rosado, Ph.D.
While recent elections have ushered in a wave of diversity to the Boston City Council, the one demographic that totally missed the tide is Latinos.
There is no Latino representation on the 13-member council. This is striking because nearly all of Boston’s population growth has been driven by Latinos in recent years, who now make up one-in-five residents.
In this fall’s upcoming municipal elections, these representation woes could be righted with three experienced and well-known Latino candidates running for City Council. The trio recently participated in the first ever Latinx Candidate Forum at the law firm of Locke Lord in downtown Boston.
Approximately 150 diverse community leaders turned out for the event on a Monday night, showing the early momentum and desire for diverse new blood on the council. The candidates did not disappoint, as they shared deeply personal stories, tied to a commitment to authentically represent the Latino community.
Alejandra St. Guillen, candidate for City Council at-large welcomed the diverse field.
“As you look at the City Council at large, you have the opportunity to elect two Latinas, and one more Latino in a district race,” said St. Guillen, referencing the four votes that can be cast for at-large, and one for district council. She said that the three candidates should be seen as complimentary and not mutually-exclusive.
“No one questions when there is more than one white man running,” added St. Guillen.
A Mission Hill native, St. Guillen most recently served as director of Boston’s Office for Immigrant Advancement and previously as a teacher in Boston Public Schools. She said this would inform her commitment to end the “school to deportation pipeline” for many immigrant students.
Ricardo Arroyo, candidate for District 5 (which includes Hyde Park, Mattapan and Roslindale) spoke of his experience as a public defender and how it would play into his public safety agenda.
“Are we a sanctuary city or are we not?” asked Arroyo. “If we are, we need to start acting like one and disband the Boston Police Department’s ICE Task Force.”
Arroyo also brings high name recognition to the race. His father Felix D. Arroyo was the first Latino to serve on the Boston City Council in 2003; and his brother Felix G. Arroyo was the last Latino to serve on the body, leaving in 2014.
The second at-large candidate at the forum, Julia Mejia, spoke of her experience growing up as the daughter of an undocumented parent. Mejia said this taught her about the struggles of many immigrant families, such as having to translate important city messages into Spanish for her mother. “At a very early age, I had to learn how to navigate systems that weren’t designed for us.”
Mejia also spoke of her commitment to social justice from her time in the nonprofit sector, and her work to organize parents of charter and district schools.
The three candidates could dramatically re-frame the discussions happening in City Hall, much like the election of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has disrupted our nation dialogue.
Why is it so important to bring three new Latino leaders to Boston?
In 2017, the Greater Boston Latino Network released its Silent Crisis II report finding that just 11 percent of city government executive positions, and just 5 percent of seats on boards and commissions are held by Latinos.
Latino City Councilors will be in a position to change this troubling representation gap by bringing in new staff, recommending board members, and recruiting civil servants from their communities. In addition to filling the missing Latino leadership void, St. Guillan and/or Meija would also become the first Latina ever elected to the Council.
This all builds a bench of future leaders to run for state Legislature, mayor and Congress in coming cycles. Undoubtedly, this will be an important long-term benefit for the Latino community in general, given that only one percent of politicians nationwide are Latinos, according to Univision News.
That’s the other one percent that we need to be fighting to lift up.
—Alexandra Oliver-Davila and Vanessa Calderón-Rosado are the co-chairs of the Greater Boston Latino Network and helped to convene the first-ever Latinx Boston City Council Candidate Forum on Feb. 4, 2019.
— Photo by Bay State Banner