Yesterday Governor Baker swore in the 27 members of a Latino Community Advisory Commission in a ceremony witnessed by a standing room only crowd. I was pleased to attend and to congratulate my friend Regla Gonzalez, who will without doubt be a force among her 26 peers on this advisory body.
The Governor was wise to appoint this commission and to make it as large as he did. In his 2014 campaign Baker didn’t fare very well with Latino voters, and he definitely wants to do much better with them in his re-election effort. The creation of this Commission, by itself, should help him; Latino voters have been sent a message that they will be specifically noticed, and heard, by Mr. Baker.
Still, the Commission needs to do more than simply exist. It should dedicate itself to aiding Latino residents vanquish the many difficulties that beset our state’s Hispanic communities.
I cannot speak for all such, but I am very well acquainted with the diverse Hispanic communities of Boston, and from what I have observed, the challenges confronting them chiefly are these :
( 1 ) income inequality. Greatly distorted incomes have become an unfortunate norm in post-industrial America, but as I see it, the situation is even worse than average within Hispanic neighborhoods. Successful Hispanic business people and professionals abound and are very successful indeed; at the many Hispanic networking events I have attended, optimism and achievement are on display and are believed in with an almost evangelical fervor. At the same time, for working class Hispanics in Boston, life is two jobs, even three, beginning at four A.M. and continuing well into the dinner hour with scant time for anything but sleep. Most of the workers I have seen at 4.45 A.M. on the 117 bus from Maverick Square to Haymarket — or on the 5.15 Blue Line train to State Street station — are commuting to janitorial jobs earning barely above minimum wage. (Their earnings have improved these past few years thanks to heroic organizing efforts by unions such as Local 26 and the various SEIU locals.) Even more desperate are the people I have seen riding the early morning 450 bus from Haymarket to Salem; they get off at the Salem Home Depot store and stand, often for hours, in all kinds of weather, waiting to be hired for day labor. I am sure that many others ride other early morning buses looking for work of a similar sort.
Theirs are lives of sacrificial toil dedicated to securing a better life for their children : but will their children be able to get that better life, given the cost of higher education and the social exclusion that limits opportunity for immigrant children from families with limited, pay check income ?
( 2 ) family pressures due to long hours of drudge work. I hope that the Latino Advisory Commission has some answers for these workers: How do they afford child care — which they need, considering that for as much as 17 hours a day they are working or commuting ? Do they have adequate health care provisions ? Do they need to improve proficiency in English — taking more time away from their families ?
( 3 ) Freedom from Gangs. Many of our Hispanic communities are beset by gangs originating in central America but with members living here amongst immigrants from there. Kids aged eight to seventeen need plenty of support from adults who can ward off gang associates who prey on kids seeking to belong, or just trying to get ahead in school. Gang pressure is an almost constant presence among families of Salvadoran origin. What will the Governor’s Commission do to provide defence for kids vulnerable to that pressure ?
( 4 ) Political Training. Many of Boston’s Hispanic communities lag badly in degree of political participation, at all levels. Registration to vote lags; registration drives are agonizingly labor intensive and often don’t get done. Those who register do not always vote : they’re too taken up by work, or do not know where the voting place is or don’t understand the procedure once they get to the voting place. The increasing cost of running campaigns for office puts Hispanic community candidacies almost out of reach except for the successful — and the successful are usually quite happy to pursue their success rather than dive into the uncertainties of a candidacy. What will the Commission do to increase the degree and levels of Hispanic participation ?
These challenges and more, I await answers to. The leaders whom Governor Baker appointed have all overcome such challenges and enjoy the sort of successes we all look up to. They understand the obstacles I have listed above. I look forward to reading their recommendations and to seeing them put into practice on the field of struggle itself.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere