Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu’s campaign on Wednesday announced the support of more than 100 Latino leaders from across the city.
Latino voters represent an increasingly important constituency in Boston; just last week, a new US Census report found a nearly 17 percent growth in the city’s Latino population since 2010. The number of Latino Bostonians — which includes Puerto Rican and Dominican families who’ve been here for decades as well as new immigrants from Central America and Mexico — has increased from 107,917 to 126,113 since 2010.
Not all are eligible voters but Luis Jiménez, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, said the number of Latinos participating in the midterm and presidential elections has been rising steadily.
“People always talk about the Latino vote being the sleeping giant and all this kind of stuff,” he said. “They always vote less than other comparable minorities like Black people or Asians. This time around in the presidential election, they voted at a higher rate than either Blacks or Asians, and so that makes me think that there’s something happening.”
Our stories & families’ histories built Boston. That’s why I’m proud to have 100+ Latinx leaders across our city on Team Wu.— Michelle Wu 吳弭 (@wutrain) August 18, 2021
Nuestra diversidad es lo que hace a Boston una gran ciudad. Por eso, estoy sumamente orgullosa de tener el apoyo de 100+ líderes Latinos en la comunidad. pic.twitter.com/QfmbBKHaiC
In an interview, Wu said her experience as the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants helped her understand the language and cultural barriers that new immigrants face, and the “disconnect between your day-to-day life and what’s reflected in policies and government.”
“I now have a decade of experience in City Hall, knowing just how to move the levers of government to close these gaps and to deliver change by bringing communities into the conversation,“ she said.
Though Latinos make up just 3 percent of the electorate, one out of three likely Hispanic voters is undecided in the mayoral race, according to a June poll by Suffolk University and The Boston Globe of likely voters.
Some of the leaders who endorsed Wu said in interviews that her immigrant background and family story resonated with them, as did her proposals for free public transportation, universal preschool, and more affordable child care.
For Tania Del Rio, a resident of East Boston, a defining memory of Wu came during a house party she hosted for the candidate.
A few guests at the party could not speak English, but Del Rio said Wu could quickly switch to Spanish, understanding not only “the language part” but the actual life experiences and adversity the guests described.
“I feel like Michelle is the candidate that understands us best, that understands our struggle because she’s lived it, and the fact that you can communicate with people in our language, that’s just the cherry on top,” Del Rio, who is from Mexico, said.
Enrique Pepen, the former chair of the Latino Caucus for the Young Democrats of Massachusetts, said he was impressed with Wu when he first met her in 2016. Since then, he said Wu reached out to him before she announced her mayoral candidacy to talk about the needs of the Latino community.
“I was able to sit down with her and just chat about it,” Pepen said. “And I saw her commitment to the community, and I haven’t seen that from other candidates.”
Some said Wu has distinguished herself from political figures who court Latino votes but fail to understand their needs.
Wilnelia Rivera, the president of a Boston-based consulting firm, said that Wu is willing to “confront the establishment.”
“Michelle has really shown that she’s not going to do the kind of old-school electioneering when it comes to pandering to the Latino community, but she’s going to sit at the table and really . . . understand the specific issues that we care about, but most importantly, how it impacts us differently, depending on where we come from,” Riveria said.
Endorsements from leaders like the ones Wu received are an important step in courting a diverse group of Latino voters, Jiménez said.
Wu had previously won the endorsements of City Councilor Lydia Edwards who represents a heavily Latino district, as well as the support of leaders from the Puerto Rican Community. Acting mayor Kim Janey has been endorsed by the politically influential Arroyo family.
The new Census numbers show Latinos will continue to have a bigger foothold in Boston, but what role these new constituents will have in shaping the city’s electoral politics remains to be seen, Jiménez said. Still, he noted that politicians are now starting to prioritize outreach to the Latino community.
Jiménez noted that former Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III spoke Spanish on the campaign trail when he was running for Senate last year and held a number of Spanish-only town halls without a translator during the race.
He also noted that the new groups who are fueling the rise in the Latino population in Boston — including Central Americans, Mexicans, and Venezuelans — may become just as important in city politics as Puerto Ricans and Dominicans are now, but it’s still too early to tell.
“The newcomers usually are not citizens. But even after they’ve been here for a while, they might still not be citizens, some of them might be ineligible to become citizens, and others just haven’t gotten around to it. So this is kind of a delayed effect, regardless of eligibility,” Jiménez said. And, he said, it tends to take “even longer for them to become engaged in the community.”
Jiménez said research has shown that Latinos who are most likely to vote are educated and have some wealth. He said the number of Latinos showing up to the polls is growing, based on statistics from the past midterm elections and the 2020 election.
“I’m optimistic that this pattern is going to continue [and] that turnout is going to keep increasing,” he said.