The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team’s series on racism provided an important public service in prodding Bostonians to look at ourselves and the city for what it is: still a work in progress in dealing with racial acceptance. This topic is vitally important, for Boston’s future as a global city depends on our collective ability to embrace diversity and change.
While Boston’s long history with racial tension needs to be part of an ongoing civic dialogue, there is a parallel dynamic that we should not ignore: Boston’s invisible — yet resilient — Latino community. Latinos also have to be part of the conversation about race and diversity in Boston. And yet Boston’s most storied institutions insist on using a binary paradigm when it comes to race: black and white. What about brown?
The growth of the Latino community in what some view as an unwelcoming city is an amazing story of perseverance yet to be fully told and embraced. The growth of the Latino population in the past two decades has been staggering: More than 20 percent of Suffolk County residents are of Hispanic descent, and now nearly 1 in 5 Bostonians and almost half of the Boston public school population are Latino. Fact: Without Latinos immigrating to Boston, the city’s population of children would have declined considerably.
Yet, despite this demographic wave, Latinos have been quasi-invisible – not nearly as prominent or powerful as their numbers would suggest. But the tide is turning, a trend most recently made manifest by the appointment of Representative Jeffrey Sanchez, who served for 14 years in the House of Representatives, as the chairman of the House Way and Means Committee, one of the most powerful positions on Beacon Hill. It is the first time a Latino has reached such an echelon of power in the state’s legislature.
There are also at least four high-ranking Latino officials in Governor Baker’s administration, two in his office and two in the Cabinet. On the private side, one of Massachusetts’ largest companies, Steward Health Care System, is is led by a founder and CEO of Cuban descent, Dr. Ralph de la Torre.
Meanwhile, the Latino cultural impact in Boston continues to grow in prominence. Some of our best restaurants are owned by Latinos. And I would be remiss not to mention Junot Díaz, the Dominican-born Pulitzer Prize-winning author, who is a professor of writing at MIT, or Alex Cora, the new Red Sox manager, a Latino of Puerto Rican descent.
However, a large influx of immigrants, many of whom lack English-language skills, creates challenges for all of us. Unfortunately, Latino students in Boston public schools continue to have the highest dropout rates, and many Latino students in Boston — approximately 25 percent — are not proficient in English. Given their growing presence and their importance to our economy, we must address this problem head-on and do so together as a community.
The Latino community is helping to build, change, and transform Boston into a world-class city, where immigrants of all ethnic backgrounds and races can thrive. It is a classic immigrant story that we, as a unified city, must learn to embrace and celebrate, or risk losing this vigorous talent and energy to other cities that are harnessing the Latino intellect and work ethic, as well as economic buying and spending power.
David Morales is the chief strategy officer for Steward Health Care System.