Shynnah Monge-Cueto took out thousands of dollars in loans to go to college; her guidance counselors didn’t tell her she could have applied for a full-tuition scholarship to Northeastern University.
They have driven the state’s population growth for decades, helping form the backbone of a booming economy.
But Latinos in Massachusetts, a rich mix of Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Brazilians, and more, fare worse than Latinos in any other state by several measures.
The median income for Latino households statewide is just $39,742 a year, while white households bring in $82,029 — the largest gap in the country, US Census data show. Only a quarter of Latino heads of household own their own homes in the state, compared to 69 percent of whites — the largest divide nationwide.
Households in Massachusetts, by comparison, have a median income of $46,381, and 34 percent own homes.
Language barriers and immigration status play a major role in the inequity — here and across the country — making it difficult for Latinos to progress beyond low-wage jobs or speak up about unfair treatment.
But there are added challenges in Massachusetts: a high cost of living and a majority of jobs that require college education, along with long waiting lists for English classes and a 15-year-old law — effectively overturned a few months ago — that eliminated bilingual education from most public schools. There are also relatively few Latino leaders and nonprofits, leading to low levels of civic engagement.
Puerto Ricans, the largest group of Latinos in the state, struggle more than most, with fewer of them working or in school than among other Latino sub-populations.
Then there’s Boston’s history of discrimination against black people, which dominates discussions about race.
“There’s that feeling of, you’re African-American or you’re white, but there’s no in-between,” said a Boston Police Department officer of Puerto Rican heritage who asked not to be identified. “We’re almost like the folks that nobody pays attention to.”
As a number of Latinos put it: They feel invisible here.
In Boston, Latinos are responsible for nearly all the population growth over the past few decades, accounting for 92 percent of the increase between 1980 and 2015, according to the Boston Foundation, and now make up 20 percent of the city’s population.
Martha Frias, 53, moved to Boston from the Dominican Republic four months ago, after a nearly eight-year effort to join her mother and siblings here. Frias was a pharmacist running her own shop in Santo Domingo, but here, she hasn’t been able to find work.
Knowing it would take time to become a licensed pharmacist in the United States, Frias prepared for her move by training to be a cook and a hair stylist. She also took English classes, but the focus was on grammar, and she found herself at a loss to understand much of anything once she got here.
Still, she landed a spot in an English class at South Boston en Acción, and despite the uphill battle ahead of her, she’s hopeful.
“There are more opportunities for me here,” she said in Spanish through an interpreter.
In reality, however, she may not have as many opportunities as she would elsewhere.
Massachusetts has the worst inequality between white and Latino residents of any state, according to a study by the financial news site 24/7 Wall St. that looked at income, housing, poverty, unemployment, incarceration, and educational attainment.
Undocumented Latinos, estimated to be about 63,000 statewide, struggle more than others, afraid to speak up about wage theft or even to go to the emergency room for fear of deportation. But even Latino immigrants who are here legally and speak perfect English can be reluctant to advocate for themselves or file discrimination complaints, said Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, a civil rights lawyer and member of the Greater Boston Latino Network, a collective formed in 2013 to promote Latino leadership.
“As newcomers to this country, we are trying not to rock the boat,” said Espinoza-Madrigal, who came to the United States from Costa Rica when he was 9.
In Boston, 42 percent of public school students are Latino, but because of the state law, only a handful of schools offer dual-language programs, despite the fact that a third of all students are considered “English learners.” In November, Governor Charlie Baker signed a bill allowing school districts to teach students in their native language while they learn English, although schools can choose to continue English-only instruction.
Wilmer E. Quinones-Melo didn’t speak English when he arrived in Boston from the Dominican Republic at age 10 to live with his father. But his father, who worked three cleaning jobs and also didn’t speak English, wasn’t around much, and he struggled in school.
“It was hard for me to communicate with teachers,” said Quinones-Melo. “The only thing they would say is, ‘Grab a dictionary.’ ”
It was only after he started working with English and Spanish speakers at the Roxbury nonprofit Sociedad Latina that he became fluent. Now 23, Quinones-Melo has an associate’s degree from the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology and is planning to get his bachelor’s. But he can’t help but wonder where he’d be if learning English hadn’t been such a barrier.
Many Latino immigrants can only afford to live in low-income neighborhoods with low-performing public schools, meaning their children have less access to advanced placement classes and savvy guidance counselors who can help them get into college.
Shynnah Monge-Cueto’s guidance counselors at Brighton High School didn’t tell her that, as a Latina with good grades, she could apply for a full-tuition scholarship to Northeastern University. Her parents, both born in Puerto Rico, didn’t go to college — like more than 60 percent of Latinos over the age of 25 in Boston — and didn’t know how to help her navigate the maze of applications and financial aid forms.
Above all, no one tried to steer Monge-Cueto toward an affordable school. So when she got into Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, where the tuition is currently nearly $30,000 a year, that’s where she went. “I just went with the first college that accepted me,” she said.
She took out thousands of dollars in loans, even though she didn’t fully understand the financial implications. Three semesters in, with bills mounting, she dropped out. Today, at 26, she’s working toward her associate’s degree at Bunker Hill Community College — and is $13,000 in debt.
Monge-Cueto and her family are among the more than 350,000 Puerto Ricans living in Massachusetts. In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, more than 2,000 Puerto Rican students and their families have sought shelter here, too.
Puerto Ricans are US citizens, and many of them have lived in mainland United States for decades, but they have had less success than other Latinos in the state, according to an analysis of 2016 Census data by demographer Phillip Granberry at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Only about half of Puerto Ricans age 16 and older are in the labor market, 12 percent are unemployed — nearly three times the state rate — and a fifth of 18-to-24-year-olds are considered “disconnected youth,” neither working nor going to school.
Being from a US territory might play a role in why Puerto Ricans struggle, said Maria Idali Torres, a UMass Boston anthropology professor and research associate at the Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy.
Puerto Ricans often feel like second-class citizens, dependent on the United States but without access to the advantages that other Americans have, said Torres, who is from Puerto Rico. In the 1950s and ’60s, American industry descended on the island, gobbling up farm land and transforming the local economy. Many agricultural workers ended up on government assistance; others flocked to New England. But when farm jobs started dwindling here, too, they turned to the government for help.
“The US created a cycle of internalized dependency,” Torres said.
Overall, Latinos in Boston are overrepresented in low-paying occupations, making up more than half of building and grounds maintenance jobs but only 5 percent or less of jobs in engineering, law, and finance, according to the Boston Foundation.
This divide deepens as demand for English classes climbs and funding stagnates. Currently, there are more than 16,000 people on waiting lists for these classes in Massachusetts, according to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education — a wait that can take as long as two years.
The problem is compounded by the lack of Latino advocacy groups around the region — many of which are fairly new. Several have closed within the last few years, including ¿Oíste?, the only statewide nonprofit aimed at getting Latinos involved in politics.
“It’s so important for all of us to see ourselves reflected in our public institutions,” said Espinoza-Madrigal, of the Greater Boston Latino Network. “We need to be reflected in the halls of power in City Hall. We need to see our kids sitting in classrooms at Boston Latin School.”
There have been a few gains. Last year, Governor Baker formed an advisory commission on Latino affairs, and state Representative Jeffrey Sánchez, the son of Puerto Ricans who moved from the island to the mainland, was named chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. And there is hope that as the children and grandchildren of Latino immigrants grow up and move into professional positions, they will have more opportunities to become civically engaged.
But even in Lawrence, where Latinos make up more than three-quarters of the city’s population, a significant portion of the professional class, and a majority on the City Council, in addition to claiming the mayor’s office, there aren’t many Latinos running nonprofits that serve the Latino community.
Some who had done so previously quit because they felt ignored or “tokenized,” said Joan Kulash, executive director of the nonprofit Community InRoads, who started a program with the YWCA in 2013 to get more Latinos on nonprofit boards. One new Latina board member walked into her first meeting and was told, “Oh, you must be in the wrong meeting. They’re meeting down the hall.”
“They” was the Latino recipients of the services the nonprofit offered, Kulash said.
The cultural complexity of the Latino community also keeps it from being more cohesive. Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Salvadorans, and Colombians are all expected to speak in one voice — recent immigrants and the thoroughly Americanized alike.
“Latinos are not a monolithic community,” said Aixa Beauchamp, cofounder of the Latino Legacy Fund, established by The Boston Foundation to invest in organizations serving Latinos.
Navigating cultural differences in the business world can also be a challenge. Reinier Moquete spent much of his childhood in the Dominican Republic and went to night school while working 60 hours a week before founding Advoqt Technology Group in 2012. He doesn’t share many life experiences with others in the Greater Boston tech community.
In an attempt to make the field more accessible, Moquete, 38, is launching a course designed to take women and people of color from entry-level tech jobs to security analyst positions that pay $90,000 a year. Few of the enrollees can afford the $25,000 cost, however, so Advoqt has given scholarships to nearly everyone.
“It’s not going to happen organically,” he said. “It has to be a very deliberate, very focused, very aggressive pursuit.”
The goal is to strategize with Boston and Chelsea leaders about how to increase Latino representation in both cities. The report provides concrete steps to achieve these goals.
First, city department heads must share information about upcoming job, board, and commission openings widely with the Latino community, and develop metrics to assess the success of this outreach.
Second, the city must conduct focus groups on a range of challenges facing Latinos in Boston and Chelsea. These must result in recommendations for building additional networking spaces that will allow city government to reach a broader Latino talent pool.
Third, Latino activists must rise to the challenge of cultivating candidates and holding leaders accountable for closing the Latino leadership gap. As Mayor Walsh states, we are committed to working with our city leaders, rather than turning on each other.
Vanessa Calderón-Rosado Steering committee cochair Greater Boston Latino Network Boston
The administration of Mayor Martin Walsh has made modest gains in the hiring and appointment of Latinos in city government, but Latinos are lacking in key leadership roles, according to a report released last week by the Greater Boston Latino Network.
Walsh joined the directors of the Latino-led agencies who make up the network at the report release event, and pledged to do more to diversify city government.
The report, titled “The Silent Crisis II,” followed up on a 2014 report and found that Latinos, who represent 19 percent of the city’s population, are underrepresented in leadership positions in city government, holding just 10.5 percent of executive positions and 5.1 percent of positions on city boards and commissions. Of the six Latinos who hold one of the 57 executive positions in city government, five of them are concentrated in Health and Human Services, headed by Felix G. Arroyo.
The report authors noted a slight increase in Latino hires during the more than three years of the Walsh administration, but said more work is to be done to make city government truly representative.
“There has been some progress,” said Tufts University professor emeritus James Jennings, one of the report’s authors. “Not as much as we would want, but some progress.”
The report follows up on a 2014 report GBLN commissioned that underscored the lack of representation of Latinos in civic life in Boston and Chelsea. In Chelsea, where Latinos make up 62 percent of the population, there was greater representation among elected officials, but a similar gap between percentage of the population and representation in city government. In both cities, the Latino populations suffer higher rates of poverty, lower incomes and lower rates of home ownership.
Since 1980, Boston’s population has grown from 562,000 to nearly 680,000, with 92 percent of that growth coming from the Latino community. Walsh said the well being of the city’s expanding Latino population is vital to the city’s future.
“If we don’t adapt our power structure to reflect that change, our city will not be ready for the future,” Walsh said.
The apparent underrepresentation of Latinos in leadership positions is mirrored in other levels of city government, with Latinos making up just 12 percent of city employees, not including the Police and Fire Departments.
While municipal jobs have for many been an entryway into the middle class, Latinos and other people of color have long been shut out of the word-of-mouth networks through which municipal jobs are often filled.
The concentration of Latinos in leadership positions in Health and Human Services and at the Public Health Commission, agencies headed by Felix G. Arroyo and Barbara Ferrar, suggests that hiring people of color as department heads does make a difference.
In 2014, GBLN members announced their findings at City Hall. This year the announcement was made at the Hyde Square Task Force, a youth development agency in Jamaica Plain. And in 2017, city government bears more of Walsh’s mark than it did in 2014.
Shortly after he became mayor Walsh appointed a Chief Diversity Officer tasked with helping city departments find candidates of color to fill job openings. But in the initial formation of the office, there were no Latinos on staff. Earlier this year, Walsh appointed Tania Del Rio as diversity outreach director in the office.
In his remarks, Walsh highlighted efforts his administration has made, including the creation of a diversity dashboard, which tracks the city’s workforce by race and rate of pay (the Police and Fire Departments are not on the dashboard) as well as a recent neighborhood career fair that attracted 94 percent people of color.
The Office of Diversity has instituted an alert system for city departments engaged in the hiring process, Walsh said.
“If the applicant pool is too imbalanced, our Office of Diversity is immediately notified so they can do targeted outreach to make sure whatever job is posted in this city builds opportunity,” he said.
GBLN member Ivan Espinoza-
Madrigal said efforts to include more Latinos in city government will have to be deliberate and sustained.
“There is no silver bullet for this,” he told the Banner. “It has to be incremental steps across the board. Every small step matters. In the Police Department, the Fire Department, the public schools, in City Hall — collectively the small steps will make a difference.”
Under the Walsh administration, 90 percent of new firefighters and 75 percent of new police officers have been white. Espinoza-Madrigal, who is executive director at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, was scheduled to hold a forum Tuesday on Police and Fire Department hiring with the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers, the Boston Society of Vulcans and the Boston branch of the NAACP.
When asked about the scant representation of Latinos on boards and commissions — just 5.1 percent — Walsh questioned the importance of the bodies.
“There’s 350 boards and commissions in this city,” he said. “We probably have way too many boards and commissions in this city. I’ll make recommendations, but I’m not going to be fine-tuning every single board and commission.”
The report, authored by Jennings, Miren Uriarte and Jen Douglas, listed several key finding:
There is no particular effort to increase Latino leadership as part of governing in a way that can better address the challenges facing Latino communities. Nor are there explicit strategies in place to support existing Latino appointees in adopting an advocacy role or becoming active representatives of Latino communities
Latino appointees in Boston are few in number relative to the presence of Latinos in the population. Among executive positions, an increase from five to seven Latinos executives was achieved, largely through the presence of a concentration of Latino leaders in the Health and Human Services cabinet.
There are no Latino leaders in the critical areas of education and economic development and just one working in the areas of housing and land use. On boards and commissions, the story is of a small number of Latino appointees spread thinly across a minority of entities. While Latinos are dotted among a substantial number of managerial entities, they have scant presence on regulatory and fund-allocating bodies.
Just one of the Latinos currently in an executive position in the City has responsibility over substantive work related to housing, and no Latinos oversee work in the areas of education and economic development.
Walsh warned against an adversarial approach to diversifying city government.
“What we don’t need is people pointing fingers at each other,” he said. “I think it’s important for us now, at this particular moment in time, that we have an opportunity to work together, to move forward, to advance this report. I ask people here today, as we move forward, let’s not turn on each other. Let’s work together to make sure we continue to advance the needs of the people in our city.”
Boston is still lagging in Latino leadership roles at City Hall, according to a new report that calls for more Hispanics in power positions, but Mayor Martin J. Walsh said he can’t be entirely responsible for turning the tide and called on community leaders to put forward more qualified candidates.
The Silent Crisis II report, released by the Greater Boston Latino Network yesterday, follows an earlier report on Latinos in government from three years ago and shows some progress, Latino leaders said. But they said the city needs to take more action to get members of Boston’s Latino population — nearly 20 percent of the city — into leadership positions, particularly on boards and commissions that require only a mayoral appointment.
“The city has to do a better job of recruiting people,” Patricia Montes, executive director of immigrant advocacy group Centro Presente. “There are a lot of Latino people in the city that have the capacity and desire to participate and represent the goals of our community.”
According to the report, Latinos across 57 executive positions increased between 2014 and 2017 from five to six. But across the city’s 59 boards and commissions, Latino representation dropped from 28 to 24, with Latinos holding 5.1 percent of all board and commission seats and 7.9 percent of seats appointed at Walsh’s discretion over the past three years.
Walsh said increasing diversity at City Hall remains important and he will look into the decline in board members. He said City Hall needs to take a more active role in appointing Latino members, but that he did not have time to focus on every appointment.
“I’ll make recommendations, but I’m not going to be fine-tuning every single board and commission, I don’t have the time to do that,” Walsh said. “We probably have way too many boards and commissions in the city of Boston, to be honest with you.”
GBLN Steering Committee member Alex Oliver Davila said the organization is linking its website to the city site showing vacancies on boards and commissions, and focusing on boards covering issues such as economic development and housing that were crucial concerns for the city’s increasing Latino population. Walsh said department heads should meet with Latino leaders like the GBLN to get a sense of potential applicants, but that those leaders should have people ready to recommend.
“I think the onus and burden in some cases will fall on the Latino community in providing applicants for those boards,” Walsh said.
Three years after researchers warned Mayor Martin J. Walsh about the lack of Latino representation at City Hall, Latinos remain underrepresented in positions of power in his administration, a report released Thursday said.
Only six of City Hall’s 57 Cabinet chiefs, department heads, and other executives are Latinos, and just 24 of the city’s 467 seats on boards and commissions are held by Latinos, according to the report.
The “Silent Crisis II” report was both an assessment and rebuke of Walsh’s diversity efforts, praising the mayor for slight gains — but saying they were not enough. Walsh has promised to have a city government that is reflective of the city’s increasing diversity.
The report was commissioned by the Greater Boston Latino Network, a collection of community-based organizations promoting Latinos in decision-making positions in government. It also examined the Latino leadership gap in Chelsea.
“There has been some progress in both cities, not as much as we want,’’ said James Jennings, one of the study’s researchers and a professor emeritus at Tufts University. “There’s a continuing gap between the growing Latino community and appointment to leadership positions in both cities.”
The report comes as Walsh presses for second term and stakes out communities of color as a key constituency. Walsh had been fending off criticism on the lack of people of color in large city departments. His main competitor, Councilor Tito Jackson, is an African-American who has made increasing the city’s workforce diversity a campaign issue.
Since Walsh took office 12 percent of the mayor’s hires are Latino or of Hispanic origin, and 11 percent of the workforce is of Hispanic descent, city officials said.
Walsh, flanked by the researchers at a press conference Thursday, acknowledged some progress in Latino leadership at City Hall but said it “falls short.” He said that Boston needs more “Latino leadership in our city and in governments across the board.”
“What I’d ask people here today, as we move forward, is let’s not turn on each other, let’s work with each other to make sure we can continue to . . . advance the needs of the people in our city and in our Commonwealth,’’ he said.
The new report follows a 2014 analysis that also revealed few Latinos in Boston, Somerville, and Chelsea governments.
The Latino organization has maintained that active representation is necessary to promote policies and strategies for the betterment of underrepresented racial and ethnic communities.
The report said that despite the fact that the Latino population in Boston continues to surge, few Latinos have “decision-making” authority in Boston’s government.
Walsh said that since 1980, the city’s population has grown 21 percent to about 680,000 people. Much of that growth comes from Latinos, who represent nearly 19 percent of Boston’s population, he said.
“If we don’t adapt our power structure to reflect that change, the city will not be ready for the future, and that’s something that’s really important for all of us,’’ he said.
According to the report, Latinos serving in Boston executive positions increased by just 3 percent over the past three years, and their membership on the city’s boards and commissions declined from 7 percent to 5 percent, further widening a Latino leadership gap, the report said.
The report said that there were 29 new appointments to executive positions from 2015 to 2017, but only four were Latino.
“Since 2014, the number of Latino Cabinet chiefs grew from one to two, and the number of Latino department heads grew to four,’’ the report said.
Only two Hispanics are serving on the school committee. Both were appointed by Walsh. Forty percent of the system’s 57,000 students are Hispanic, data show.
Vanessa Calderón-Rosado, of the Latino group, said the report highlights the importance of grooming another generation of leaders.
The group wants “to narrow our focus on education, economic development, housing, those things we see as really important to giving Latinos greater opportunities,’’ she said.
The study’s researchers were Jennings; Miren Uriarte, sociologist at the University of Massachusetts Boston and Walsh school committee appointee; and researcher Jen Douglas.
The researchers also interviewed Chelsea’s City Manager Thomas Ambrosino. They found that while Latinos represent nearly two-thirds of Chelsea’s population, only 24 percent of the government’s executive positions and just 13 percent of seats on boards and commissions were held by Latinos.
Ambrosino said the report’s summary of Chelsea is fair, and his administration is working to increase Latino leadership.
BOSTON – Thursday, June 15, 2017 – The Greater Boston Latino Network (GBLN) today released its Silent Crisis II report, revealing that Latinos continue to be lacking from Boston and Chelsea city government executive roles, boards and commissions, despite major population growth.
“Latinos are growing our economy, our population and our culture, but remain largely excluded from city government,” said GBLN Steering Committee Member Alex Oliver Dávila. “We need to continue the fight for equal representation in decision-making positions, until our government truly represents the people it serves.”
The 100+ page report includes a review of all executive position holders in city government in Boston and Chelsea, as well as all appointed seats on boards and commissions.
MAJOR LATINO LEADERSHIP GAPS REVEALED:
In Boston, where Latinos represent nearly one-fifth of the total population, only 11 percent of city government executive positions, and just 5 percent of seats on boards and commissions are held by Latinos.
In Chelsea, where Latinos represent nearly two-thirds of the population, only 24 percent of city government executive positions, and just 13 percent of seats on boards and commissions are held by Latinos.
MODEST INCREASES < LATINO POPULATION GROWTH:
The Silent Crisis II report, for the first time, includes three-year trends in Latino leadership in the two cities between 2014 – when GBLN’s original ‘Silent Crisis’ report was released – and 2017, when the latest statistics were compiled.
During the past three years, Latinos in city executive positions have increased by just 3 percent in Boston and 8 percent in Chelsea.
These modest increases are not keeping up with recent Latino population growth rates. Boston’s Latino population grew by 12 percent between 2011 and 2015, and Chelsea’s grew by 9 percent during this time. (Newer Census numbers are not yet available.)
In one metric, Latino representation dropped outright. In Boston, Latinos serving on city boards and commissions decreased from 7 percent to 5 percent over the last three years; further widening the Latino leadership gap.
In Chelsea, Latinos serving on city boards and commissions increased from 10 percent to 13 percent over the three-year period. This small increase does not compare to major changes in the City Council, which now includes a majority of Latinos for the first time, following the elections of November 2015.
GBLN’s report also includes in-depth interviews with numerous local Latino leaders, city officials involved in diversity and hiring decisions, and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and Chelsea City Manager Thomas Ambrosino. GBLN’s report offers several recommendations aimed at overcoming the Latino leadership gap and enhancing the presence of Latinos in city governments of Chelsea and Boston.
Department heads must take charge of increasing diversity:
Leaders of city departments that do not reflect the growing diversity of Latinos in Boston and Chelsea should be charged with developing outreach plans to: a) share information about upcoming careers, as well as board and commission openings widely with the Latino community; and b) develop metrics to assess the impact and success of this outreach; and c) meet periodically with representatives of the Latino community to ensure that diversity goals are met.
City must convene focus groups with Latino community:
City government agencies must convene a meeting of Latino appointees and guests to discuss the findings and implications of the Silent Crisis II report. This must lead to the creation of focus groups on a range of topics and challenges facing Latinos in Boston and Chelsea. The groups should not treat Latino communities as a monolithic group, but rather sub-groups that reveal the different needs and voices of Boston’s diverse Latino community. These focus groups must result in recommendations for building additional networking spaces that will allow city government to reach a broader Latino talent pool from all ethnic backgrounds.
Latino activists must rise to the challenge:
Latino activists in each city must meet regularly with the leadership of city government to hold the community and its officials accountable for meeting these goals. The major purpose of these meetings should be to share concerns, ideas, and suggestions about how the Latino community and city governments can work more closely together to close the Latino leadership gap. GBLN is committed to facilitating as many of these meetings as possible.