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Diversity in government: Increase Latino political clout

Political representation of Latinos in state government has not kept pace with the Commonwealth’s changing demographics over the past decade. A recent report commissioned by a group of 11 organizations called the Greater Boston Latino Network found particularly notable gaps in municipal government.

In Boston, Latinos represent 17.5 percent of the total population but make up the largest ethnic group in the city’s public schools, at 41 percent. However, they only make up 7.5 percent of all appointed leadership positions in Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s administration — these include senior staff, cabinet chiefs, heads of departments, and other executive jobs. In municipal boards and commissions, the representation of Latinos is similar, at 7.1 percent.

In Chelsea, Latinos account for 62 percent of the population — the largest of any municipality in the Greater Boston area — but only 14 percent of executive positions at Chelsea City Hall. Similarly, in Somerville, where 10.6 percent of the population is Latino, there are no Hispanics in city leadership.

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The current numbers are deplorable, to be sure. But they also raise concerns about the future: Political power comes from engagement and from mentoring by established political leaders. It is clear there’s a shortage of Latino political role models who can lead the way for the next generation.

In that sense, Boston’s first-ever chief of diversity could play a major role by ensuring the city hires more prominent Latino leaders. “When people see themselves represented they are going to be more likely to be engaged, to come out to vote, to support candidates that really speak to the needs of their own communities or their own families,” Vanessa Calderón-Rosado, CEO of Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción and a member of the Greater Boston Latino Network, told WBUR.

Political power also comes from unity, and in that sense the Greater Boston Latino Network is on the right track in continuing to raise awareness about the disconnect between Latino population and political power. Attention to demographics, mentoring, and engagement could help strengthen the clout of the state’s growing Latino community and, ultimately, help guide the policies and politics of the Commonwealth.

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