There are so many feelings going through my head after news that Boston City Councilor Felix G. Arroyo announced his candidacy for mayor, making him the first Latino in the city’s history to run for this post.
The strongest feeling, of course, is one of pride and joy. Arroyo is a Boston boricua, the son-in-law of Hector Luis Acevedo, a former mayor of San Juan. Having lived and worked in my adopted home city since 1986, yesterday’s announcement marked another turning point that Boston is indeed a changing city, one that is changing for the better.
I have rarely felt like this during my time in the self-proclaimed Hub of the Universe, since to me, Boston has always been a city of separate neighborhoods that rarely get connected. The city’s ugly racial past of the 1970s, based on a failed social experiment, lingered for a while—yes, even on the Harvard campus in the mid-1980s. There was this unspoken rule in Boston that the city’s neighborhoods should never mix. The city was segregated: Bostonians would converge in the city’s downtown center for work each day, but when it was time to go home, different groups of people when to their different neighborhoods. Don’t cause any problems. Just know your place.
That image of Boston, of course, has changed, especially with the city’s perceptions of Latinos. I have always credited this to the Red Sox. I have been going to Fenway Park since 1986, and as much as I have always loved it, I truly fell madly in love with it when Pedro Martínez started pitching for the team in the late 1990s. The atmosphere whenever Pedro pitched was magical, but it also brought out so many fans who would have never gone to a Red Sox game before Pedro pitched. Spanish conversations became more common in the stands, Dominican flags flew, and when I heard 440’s “Guavaberry” over the stadium’s speakers for the first time, I knew that a another real part of the city, one that was rarely seen inside one of the city’s most beloved gathering places, was starting to show up.
Then, David Ortiz became a legend in 2004, and all of a sudden it was cool to be Latino in Boston. The Big Papi Effect did more for Boston Latinos than almost anything else. We had arrived.
Arroyo’s news is just the latest example. Boston’s Latino population continues to grow rapidly, and it is part of the reason that Boston is now a “majority-minority city,” which means that “53 percent of residents are of a non-white race/ethnicity.” I do believe that Arroyo will attract new Latino voters, no doubt. But don’t take my word for it, I will let my good friend and fellow WGBH Radio contributor Marcela García explain. Last night, Marcela talked Arroyo on WGBH’s “Greater Boston” show.
Arroyo’s bid matters. Is it on the same level as when the city’s Irish population earned their political stripes at the turn of the century, culminating in the mayoral reign of James Michael Curley? I would argue yes. Granted, Arroyo might not win this year (it is going to be a tough race), but if Boston Latinos want to be part of the city’s political structure, they need to start somewhere. Arroyo could be that.
Yes, Marcela is right that Arroyo would be the first person to shun the “first Latino candidate” label, but he will still energize people. And the other guest who disagreed with her, Jarrett Berrios (coincidentally a Harvard classmate of mine), misses the point. The city now had its first Latino candidate for mayor and Latino voters should just worry about the issues and think beyond ethnicity politics? Sorry, Jarrett, that argument doesn’t work. You seriously don’t think that ethnicity politics no longer occurs in Boston? Do I need to bring you to a South Boston union hall to show you that it still does?
Sure, Arroyo still has to prove himself, but let’s put this all into perspective. This is history.
“I am a son of Boston. I love my city. I love Boston. I believe in Boston because I know that by working together we can and we will move Boston forward.”
Spoken like a true Bostonian. Who also happens to be Puerto Rican and Latino. To me, that is a winning combination, and no one can kill my buzz this morning.
Julio (Julito) Ricardo Varela (@julito77 on Twitter) founded LatinoRebels.com (part of Latino Rebels, LLC) in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. His personal blog, juliorvarela.com, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. He pens columns on LR regularly. In the last 12 months, Julito represented the Rebeldes on CBS’ Face the Nation, NPR, Univision, Forbes, and The New York Times.