As a 22-year-old Latina and Jamaica Plain resident, I was deeply troubled by the Gazette’s July 10 article saying mayoral candidate Michael Flaherty “claims Latinos left out of city government.”
Several of Councilor Flaherty’s claims were not only factually incorrect—as the same Gazette article quoted officials in Mayor Thomas Menino’s administration saying—they were also irresponsible and disrespectful towards the Latino community in Boston.
The councilor’s assertion that “the Latino community does not have a voice” in city government is demonstrably untrue. The Boston Public Health Commissioner, Barbara Ferrer, was born and raised in Puerto Rico. The executive director of Boston Centers for Youth and Families, Daphne Griffin, is also of Puerto Rican descent. Those are two major seats at the highest level of city government. Mayor Menino also created the new position of liaison to the Latino community, currently held by Marco Torres, specifically so that concerns from our community are addressed. Many other Latinos hold positions of leadership within their departments.
Beyond the factual inaccuracy of his claim, what is more disturbing is the councilor’s astonishing statement that he knows of only one department chief who “might be” Latino. The councilor has a remarkably shallow grasp on city government to not know who city department chiefs are. The department heads mentioned above are not in hiding; Dr. Ferrer, a Jamaica Plain resident, was recently honored by La Alianza Hispana at a major cultural event in Boston.
The bigger issue this raises is Flaherty’s misunderstanding of the Latino community. Latinos come in all different skin tones, with names derived from a variety of languages, not just Spanish. Ignorance on this point is dangerously irresponsible. In the end, Flaherty’s claim is false because he does not have a sound grasp of the multiple dimensions of the Latino community and possibly other communities of color as well.
The truth is, Mayor Menino has fought tirelessly to make sure Boston residents of color are represented in city government and that the concerns of those communities are understood and addressed. For example, ours is the only city in the nation with a clear blueprint for combatting racial and ethnic disparities in health. Mayor Menino was instrumental in initiating the City-wide Dialogues on Boston’s Ethnic and Racial Diversity, and was one of the first mayors in the country to address youth violence from a preventative, not just punitive, standpoint.
Racial and ethnic issues must be addressed every day in the work of our city government, and luckily, they are by the current administration. However, these are not commodities to be used for political gain; they are our cultures, our historical contexts, our heritages. We must object when they are misused, and we must hold ourselves and all of our leaders to high standards on these issues.