A Note From Our Executive Director: Hispanic Heritage Month

As we close out Hispanic Heritage Month, I find myself thinking more often about my childhood in Mexico City. In 1985, two months before I was born, an 8.1 magnitude earthquake shook the city. Chaos swallowed the streets, buildings crumbled, people dug through the rubble in search of loved ones. Decades later, Mexican people still exchange stories about that day. I have participated in many of those conversations over the years even though I did not personally experience the tremor.
Many buildings survived the earthquake but were left with structural damage that was not always visible. In many cases, irresponsible landlords ignored the need for urgent repairs in favor of cheaper and quicker cosmetic fixes. Focusing on the superficial can seem less scary than delving deeper and finding that there is much more hard work to be done. The tragedy in this approach is that willful ignorance can (and did) cost lives in the long run.

Today, I worry when I see this type of thinking crop up in discussions about the state of our Latinx/Latine/Hispanic community in Massachusetts. The Latinx community, with the Black community, was disproportionately impacted by COVID due to underlying structural problems. In what is perhaps one of the most cited studies about the wealth gap locally, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston found that the average wealth of a Latinx household is $2,700, compared to $247.500 for white households. Latinas have the widest wage gap of any other group in Greater Boston as compared to white men, standing at .55 cents on the dollar. In our Commonwealth, Latinx students from low income families are less likely to access early education; one in three English learners does not graduate on time and one in seven will drop out. One in three Black and Latinx 4th graders are on grade level in reading – half the rate for the state’s white students. I could go on citing troubling and tragic statistics…
So in the face of these realities, why do we let discussions about our community center so often on academic exercises about “what to call us”? Too much ink is being spilled on debating whether we identify as Latine, Latinx, Hispanic, Latino, or Latin American. While I think it is important for this community to unify under an “umbrella term” in Massachusetts, given that no single national group has the numbers to build meaningful political or economic power, I also wish that more of the discussion during this month revolved around how to bring concrete solutions to the plights of our community in Massachusetts.
Let’s talk about how to protect people from homelessness, displacement, and gentrification. Let’s prioritize equity in our schools. Let’s engage in COVID-safe behaviors to protect the most impacted workers. In sum, let’s act like we really believe housing, education, health, and safety are human rights! I believe we are capable of going beyond cosmetic fixes and getting serious about the urgent, structural repairs we need for our systems to work for everybody. We need to put our money and our policies behind this.


References:
https://eyeonearlyeducation.org/2018/09/26/massachusetts-is-number-one-in-education-but-only-for-some-students/https://www.bostonfed.org/publications/one-time-pubs/color-of-wealth.aspx

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