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Latino representation seen lacking in Boston’s civic leadership

Yawu Miller | 3/12/2014, 10:39 a.m.

At 43 percent of the student population, Latinos are the largest group in Boston’s public schools. Yet just 10 percent of the teachers in the system are Latino. And of eight School Committee members, only one is Latino.

Along with African Americans and Asians, Latinos suffer the same pattern of underrepresentation in virtually all spheres of Boston’s civic life — a high concentration at the bottom of the pay scales and decision-making chains with little to no representation at the top.

Now a group of Latino nonprofit leaders is working to break down the glass ceiling in the city’s corporate, nonprofit and government sectors. Calling themselves the Latino Network, the group has held a series of meetings with representatives of city and state government to press the case for greater Latino representation.

The genesis of the group came a year ago after the national organization Hispanics in Philanthropy released a report which found that Latino-led organizations received just 1 percent of philanthropic dollars in the United States.

“We don’t have enough voices at decision-making tables to point out the issues that impact our communities,” said Vanessa Calderon Rosado, executive director of Inquillinos Boricuas en Accion, the community development corporation that built the Villa Victoria housing development.

The members of the network are representatives from Latino-led organizations in Boston, Chelsea and Somerville, including the Latino political organization ¿Oiste?, the Chelsea Collaborative, Sociedad Latina, Centro Presente, the Hyde Square Task Force, La Alianza Hispana and the East Boston Ecumenical Community Council.

The network has commissioned a study to look at Latino representation in civic life in Boston, Chelsea and Somerville. Calderon Rosado says the study will better enable the group to advocate for Latino representation.

“When you look at corporations and quasi-public agencies that have a lot of power in Massachusetts and look at their boards and structures, there’s no color, no blacks, no Latinos, no Asians.”

They’ve met with city and state officials and later this month are scheduled to meet with Boston Mayor Martin Walsh.

“Our first step is dialogue,” says Juan Leyton, interim executive director of ¿Oiste?.

Latinos make up 17 percent of the population of Boston, 62 percent in Chelsea and 10 percent in Somerville.

But people of color make up just 6 percent of board members of publicly traded companies in Massachusetts, according to Commonwealth Magazine. And many of the councils and organizations that advocate on behalf of industry in the Greater Boston area and the state — the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, the Massachusetts High Technology Council, Associated Industries of Massachusetts — have no Latino representation.

“When you look around at the representation we have, it’s always the same people,” says Alexandra Oliver-Davila, executive director at Sociedad Latina, a Mission Hill-based youth services organization. “I think this notion that there’s not enough Latinos to fill board positions is ridiculous.”

With little Latino representation in key decision-making positions, Latino organizations get short shrifted when funding is distributed and the needs of their mostly Latino constituencies are often not given thorough consideration. Calderon Rosado says that lack of consideration may have led to the Department of Justice finding in 2010 that the Boston Public Schools failed to provide adequate educational services to thousands of English Language Learners.

“It’s my opinion that not having that kind of voice at the school committee level and up and down the ranks led to that,” she says.

Oliver-Davila says the teens who Sociedad works with in high school and college often have trouble finding jobs in Boston after graduating.

“They graduate, they’re looking for jobs, but they don’t have networks,” she says. “The job situation is not good, whether you’re white, black or Latino. But for Latinos it particularly tough because they don’t have the networks.”

Leyton says ensuring Latinos are represented in City Hall is among the group’s more urgent tasks, given that the Walsh administration is still filling positions.

“The city changed a long time ago to 50 percent people of color,” he says. “That has to be reflected in City Hall. We have to make that happen. It’s something we have to work for, not just for Latinos, but for all people of color.”