Civic doors opening for Latinos

Adult education students listen at Centro Latino in Chelsea, where the Ltino population  has boomed.
David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
Adult education students listen at Centro Latino in Chelsea, where the Ltino population has boomed.

Witch City is swarming with tourists this time of year, visitors packing the wax museums and haunted houses, sightseers zipping through centuries of history on Segway tours.

But the vacationers rarely see a neighborhood of small shops and apartments a few blocks south of the city center. The Point, which has long attracted Salem’s newest immigrants, is now home to much of the city’s growing Latino population.

In the decades since Latinos, many from the Dominican Republic, began to move to The Point, relations with City Hall have often been tenuous at best. But now, the Latino Leadership Coalition meets monthly with Mayor Kimberley Driscoll. Last year, the Salem Education Foundation began publishing the city’s first bilingual newspaper. And last week, the city announced it would hire a part-time Latino affairs coordinator to help foster connections between Latinos and city government.

David L Ryan/Globe Staff
Adult education students follow along at Centro Latino in Chelsea. The Latino population in the city rose 29 percent.

“The moment is finally coming when the city is recognizing that it is a community that is growing,” said Rosario Ubiera-Minaya, executive director of the Salem Education Foundation, who moved to The Point from the Dominican Republic when she was 16. “It’s a community that is vital to the city.”

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The number of Latinos in Salem increased by about 42 percent, to 6,465, between 2000 and 2010, according to the US Census. That increase roughly mirrored what happened across the state, where the number of Latinos increased about 46 percent during the same decade. This took place as total population in the state rose just 3 percent.

The increase of Latinos in Massachusetts reflects what is happening — and what is projected to continue — in the rest of the country, said Phil Granberry, research associate at The Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

“There’s a demographic shift going on,” he said. “And we’re not [even] an immigrant destination place for Latinos.”

David L Ryan/Globe Staff
English safety signs are studied during a Centro Latino adult education class in Chelsea.

Between 2000 and 2010, nearly every community in the state saw its Latino population increase — from tiny Tolland, on the Connecticut border (where the number of Latinos rose from five to six), to Boston, which added 22,828 Latinos (a 27 percent increase). Only six communities out of 351 in the state had Latino populations that stayed the same, and in just 12, Latino populations fell.


And around the state, cities and towns are beginning to change with their populations. In Marlborough, the senior center has started English and exercise classes designed to bring in Brazilians who live in the community.

In North Andover, the children’s room of the library began stocking books like “Buenas Noches Luna” — “Good Night Moon” — and other Spanish or bilingual titles. North Andover’s Latino population increased dramatically between 2000 and 2010: from 541 to 1,398.

In Attleboro, Francisco Amaya and his family, who moved to that city from El Salvador, opened a restaurant, Papagallo, in 2011 with a menu that includes food from their home country. Amaya came to Attleboro in 2008, and he now sees many other Central Americans in town. Although Latinos only make up about 6.3 percent of Attleboro’s population, the total number of Latinos increased by 53 percent between 2000 and 2010, to 2,765.

“I think it’s a lot of people speaking Spanish in Attleboro,” said Amaya, who attends a Seventh-day Adventist Church that offers Spanish services.

In Marlborough, the number of Latinos nearly doubled between 2000 and 2010, to 4,174 people who identified themselves as Latinos in the US Census — nearly 11 percent of the city.


Actual numbers are likely much higher — Granberry said only about 20 percent of Brazilians in Massachusetts identify themselves as Latino.

But when the employees of the Marlborough Senior Center looked around a few years ago, they saw that their clients did not reflect the community outside their doors.

“We knew our community is comprised of a lot of Portuguese families,” said Jennifer Claro, the center’s executive director. “We knew there were a lot of seniors that we weren’t seeing in our center.

So the center added some classes. Now every Tuesday and Thursday morning, Brazilians come to the center to learn English. On those same nights, they exercise in Zumba classes. In the fall, the center will begin offering computer classes geared toward Latino seniors.

“I think now if you came into our center, you’d just see a better reflection of what our population is comprised of,” Claro said.

At the center’s first Portuguese festival a few weeks ago, more than 100 people turned out.

Juan Vega, chief executive officer of Centro Latino, a human services agency in Chelsea and Cambridge that offers education and health services in surrounding communities, did not need the census figures to tell him that the local Latino population was increasing.

“The growth has been exponential,” Vega said. “At the community level and anecdotally, the growth has been consistent and far surpasses what the census could capture in their door-to-door campaign.”

In Chelsea, the Latino population increased about 29 percent from 2000 to 2010, when the city’s 21,855 Latinos made up 62 percent of the population.

“The family ties are so deep now,” Vega said. “Businesses are thriving downtown.”

Salem, despite its significant Latino population, is still a largely white city. About 76 percent of residents identified themselves as white and non-Latino in 2010. The Point was once home to earlier immigrants, especially French-Canadians.

The Rev. Silvestre Romero, born in Guatemala, became the pastor of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in 2012. He is bilingual and celebrates services each week in both English and Spanish. When there have been tensions in the community, he reminds the non-Latinos that they, too, came from families of immigrants.

“It’s been helpful to realize that this reality is also a reality that was lived 100 years ago,” he said. “Maybe it’s been a cultural context of where people are coming from, but the reality is still the same.”

The Point covers 144 acres and has 4,100 residents, according to the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. Immigrants have settled there partly because the rents are lower than in other parts of the city.

Lucy Corchado’s family came to The Point from Puerto Rico in the 1960s, one of the first Latino families to settle there.

“It’s always mostly like they start out in The Point neighborhood because they see the bodegas,” Corchado said. “Then slowly but surely, depending on their economic situation, they own their own homes.”

Corchado served two terms on Salem’s City Council, a rare Latino voice in city government. Now, she said, she hopes the Latino affairs coordinator will help convey the concerns of the residents of The Point.

“The hope is this person will be able to bridge the gap that exists between Latinos and City Hall,” she said. “There’s not that much diversity in City Hall.”

Ubiera-Minaya, who graduated from Salem public schools and Salem State University, said previous city administrations did not understand the needs of the Latino community. At the same time, she said, Latinos distanced themselves from city government.

“Historically, we’ve been discriminated against and just not welcomed, looked at as a problem,” she said. “Baby steps, but it’s finally coming together. It’s been a long, long time.”

Kathleen Burge can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Kathleen