EAST BOSTON : TRIUMPHS AND CHALLENGES

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^ Establishment : East Boston leaders at the Greenway ribbon cutting : Alex Rhalimi , Cecelia Bardales, Mr and Mrs Buddy Mangini, Paul Rogers, Joanne Donatelli, State Representative Adrian Madaro, City Councillor Sal LaMattina, former State Senator Anthony Petrucelli, and Sheri Raftery

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Yesterday was a heady day in East Boston, the neighborhood that my Mom’s parents came to in about 1896. First was the 8th Annual Community Breakfast at the Salesians, who give so much to Eastie’s boys and girls; at least 400 people attended, including Lieutenant Governor Polito, Governor baker’s chief secretary Carlo Basile, and just about all of Eastie’s leaders, elected and otherwise. Then, at 12.45 pm, Mayor Walsh presided at ribbon cutting the extension, to Constitution Beach, of our “Greenway” walk and bike path. Again, many community leaders attended, including some who missed the earlier event. It was a day of activism and progress.

Ever since East Boston’s ship piers became destination for immigrants coming to Boston — starting in about 1840 — the neighborhood has boomed; but 1950 it housed over 40,000 people, and today it counts maybe a few more than that. But as people came, investment left; when my Aunt Elizabeth came back to Eastie for my Mom’s funeral in late 1969, she having decamped to a childless marriage in Cleveland, Ohio in 1926, she noted that every building she remembered was still there, even every business.  Not so today. Aunt Liz would scarcely recognize today’s Border Street, Lewis place, Peabody Park, Central Square, Wood Island. Or our people ! When Aunt Liz left, Eastie was Irish and Jewish, Italians just beginning to find their way over from across the harbor; today, 90 years later, Eastie has become overwhelmingly Latino and even somewhat Arabic, not to mention folks from other exotic origins. You can’t roam through Eastie’s heart without being tempted by restaurants of many cuisines or having your head turned by many languages.

This is the East Boston we read about in histories of immigrant Boston, a history which actually lives and, if precedent can predict, portends a brilliant future of innovation, enterprise, and community citizenship ahead for many decades. But…..

I say “but” because recent elections have almost passed East Boston by.

This April we participated in choosing a new State Senator. 2751 of us voted. Last year, in the City Council election,. only 1895 (!) voted. In March of last year we chose our new State Representative : 3561 voted. Almost completely absent from these totals — all of them less than one in five of our registered numbers — were voters of recent immigrant origin. Nor does the registration total account for numerous Eastie people who haven’t taken even that step.

It takes a lot of hard work to establish a Greenway, or to organize the Salesian breakfast and charitable mission. Councillor LaMattina made a point of noting the 20 years of advocacy needed to accomplish the Greenway : and Greenway leader Chris Marchi confirmed the intensity of that =sustained effort. I am quite sure that it will require just as much sustained effort to bring our immigrant citizens into the voting process and to the po9lls on an election day; but i am equally sure that this effort is as necessary as was the Greenway effort,. It is great that we now have walking and bicycling access to most of Eastie’s waterfront. But our community cannot secure its rightful influence, as a community of maybe 50,000 people now, unless we vote in numbers impossible for our public decision makers to brush off.

Our recent vote totals, and the faces who dominate at our leadership events, make clear that our immigrant majority has yet to command its numerical place. Granted that in Presidential elections, all our voters vote; doubtless the coming of Donald Trump will energize an even larger turnout — it is doing so quite fervently, in fact. But community solidarity must exist in every year, not merely those i n which Presidents are chosen. We suffer if we have a community in which 20 percent act while 80 percent do not. I recognize that most immigrants in East Boston work two, even three, jobs beginning at 4.445 A.M.’s bus into Haymarket Square; and that working 70 hours a week to provide for a family leaves scant time for the public effort of voting : leaving home, going to the voting place,m voting, and coming home again can take up an hour, even longer.

So far, a few candidacies have failed to energize more than the usual fraction of East Boston’s immigrant vote. The challenge remains. It’s a challenge bigger than the Greenway, longer than the Salesians, and equally if not more important to our community success.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

Author: hereandsphere

Here and Sphere is an online journal of news, opinion, reviews, advice, & bits n' pieces of everything else - from HERE to SPHERE...... Co-founded by Michael Freedberg, a long-time Boston Phoenix journalist, and Heather Cornell, a South Coast Massachusetts columnist and editor.

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