The mayors of Boston and Praia, the capital of Cape Verde, sat at a 10-foot-long mahogany table in City Hall Thursday discussing ways to strengthen the economic, social, and political relationships between their cities, separated by the Atlantic Ocean but connected through their people.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Mayor Ulisses Correia e Silva agreed that the two communities must work together on decreasing violence in Boston and Praia, increasing opportunity for small and midsize businesses, and tapping into the growing political muscle of a community that for years has been more associated with gun violence than political activism.
“The Diaspora is very important; it is an important factor for the development of Cape Verde,” Correia e Silva said before the meeting about a community in New England that is almost as large as the population of the West African Island nation, about 500,000 people.
Walsh is taking “a different approach here in Boston than my predecessor” by looking beyond the city’s borders to create economic growth. “It’s important for the city to have relationships with other countries, particularly those countries that have a large population here in Boston,” Walsh said.
Because of the strong inter-generational connection between New England and Cape Verde, one that goes back hundreds of years, Correia e Silva would like to see greater investment from the region in Cape Verde’s health sector, tourism, renewable energy, and culture.
He would also like to build on and formalize existing relationships with places such as Berklee College of Music and the Boston Police Department. Praia’s mayor said two Boston police officers of Cape Verdean descent recently traveled to the small nation off the coast of Senegal to share their tactical and investigative experiences with the local police force.
Seated around the table with the mayors were some of Boston’s highest-ranking Cape Verdean political figures, including John Barros, Walsh’s economic development chief; new state Representative Evandro Carvalho; and Alberto Montrond, head of the Cape Verdean Democratic Party in the Americas.
“This meeting alone means a lot,” said Carvalho, who emigrated from Cape Verde at 15 and now represents parts of Roxbury and Dorchester. “It’s what we need as a community.”
“You should know that our representative was born in the city of Praia,” Barros told the small group.
“And I go back often,” Carvalho responded. “Anything I can do to help.”
Walsh acknowledged the growing political clout of Boston’s Cape Verdean community, saying Carvalho’s election and Barros’s rise from nonprofit director to political figure was a sign of things to come.
“You can see in Boston the Cape Verdean community has a big political impact,” he said. “The Cape Verdean community is very, very strong, very, very united. And you’re going to see a lot more out of the Cape Verdean community. That relationship will be very helpful to us.”
Still, Walsh said his priorities differ from Correia e Silva’s.
“I’m less so concerned right now about the economic development from Cape Verde to Boston as I am about solving some of the problems in some of the neighborhoods,” Walsh said. “We have to work on that.”
The people of Praia, Walsh said, could “help us get messages to young people to respect one another. They’re shooting each other. Too many parents are coming here working hard, two and three jobs, and their kids are causing violence and killing each other.”
Still, Walsh said tourism and helping local Cape Verdean businesses expand to the other side of the Atlantic are issues the relationship can help.
As the child of Irish immigrants, Walsh said, he knows the vital role that tourism plays in helping to keep families connected while boosting economies at home and abroad.
Correia e Silva ended his pitch to strengthen Boston’s ties to Praia by inviting Walsh to visit the archipelago that gained independence in 1975.
“I would love to go,” Walsh said. “I’m not going anywhere in the first year, but we will make it to Cape Verde at some point.”