Latino/Latina Activism & Identity

Boston’s recent history is marked by the rapid influx of people from Puerto Rico, Haiti, Cuba, Colombia, Honduras, and other parts of Latin America. In 1970, Latinos made up less than 3% percent of Boston’s population; by 2000 Latinos represented over 14%, the largest gain of any ethnic group. The majority of Boston’s Latino population is Puerto Rican; however, while 70% of Boston Latinos were Puerto Rican in 1970, by 2000 only 32% were. Boston’s Latino population is increasingly an ethnically and racially diverse group.

“Latino” encompasses an aggregation of people from many countries in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean and from Central and South America. Because many Latinos in the U.S. identify first with their nationality, the unification of these diverse peoples in the pursuit of political and social justice is a significant accomplishment. To forge a common identity, Latinos have recognized the common challenges they face to be included into the political, social, economic, and educational life of Boston.

The 2000 census paints a pessimistic picture of Boston’s Latino population: Latinos have the highest poverty rate, the lowest levels of education, and the highest school drop-out rate of any group in Massachusetts. Latinos who only speak Spanish face high unemployment rates or low wages. The high cost of housing and urban renewal threaten the stability of living situations and have dispersed Latinos throughout the city. Furthermore, Latinos believe that they are excluded from many social programs that affect the lives of Latino families and children. Because their most pressing needs had not been met, in the late 1960s and early 1970s Latinos began to follow the pattern of the African American community, developing grass-roots social service organizations to address concerns, such as education, English as a second language, job skills, employment, health services, youth violence, cultural programming, and affordable housing. Two of the most significant organizations: La Alianza Hispana (LAH) and Inquilinos Boricuas en Accíon (IBA) have provided human services for Latino populations for over three decades. LAH was incorporated in 1970 to focus on education, housing, and employment training for Latinos in the Dorchester and Roxbury neighborhoods. IBA was established in 1968, largely by the Puerto Rican residents of Parcel 19, a South End community threatened by urban renewal. After developing affordable housing, IBA established a number of programs to ensure the social, cultural, and economic health of the neighborhood.

Latino organizations have also fostered the preservation of traditional heritages and the artistic expressions of the diversity of cultures that make up Latino identity. For immigrants establishing themselves in a new homeland, the need to maintain contact with the cultures of their origins can not be underestimated. LAH and IBA developed a range of programs for celebrating the uniqueness and diversity of Latino heritage, ranging from the neighborhood festivals of Three Kings Day and the Festival Betances, to the youth empowerment programs for educating and developing pride in Latino culture.

This exhibit highlights the efforts of Boston Latinos to organize to better their lives and to preserve the vibrancy of their diverse heritages. Materials from the Archives and Special Collections have been selected from the records of LAH, IBA, Sociedad Latina, and Northeastern University to show the active and growing presence of Latinos in the Boston’s civic life.

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