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Latinos underrepresented in state politics

Despite increase in voting, few Latinos in state, local govt.

Morgan C. Mullings
Staff reporter covering state and local politics. Report for America Corps Member. VIEW BIO

Though Boston has the highest total number of Latino residents in the state, the city shows a lack of Latino representation in key political roles, according to a report from UMass Boston.

The “Latinx Political Leadership in Massachusetts” report, released last week by UMass Boston’s Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy, highlights the disparities in representation at both the municipal and state level, with the State House the most lacking in Latino representatives.

Boston’s Latino population percentage exceeds its Latino political representation percentage, but not by as much as other cities. Lynn, Holyoke and Springfield fare much worse, with representation ranging from less than a quarter to about half of each city’s Latino population.

Because of a recent upward trend in city-level representation across the top 20 cities with the highest Latino populations, Boston’s constituents can see themselves in City Hall. City councilors like Ricardo Arroyo, who covers Hyde Park and part of Mattapan, and at-large Councilor Julia Mejia, account for that representation boost.

Boston’s most diverse city council was sworn in last January, marking the historic transition the city is making in its representation.

Overall, there has been a notable increase Latino leaders taking office. Despite this, underrepresentation persists.

Boston also lacks elected representation in its school committee, according to the report — though there may be school committee members who self-identify as Latino or Latina, the body is appointed by the mayor, not elected by the people.

Ernani Jose DeAraujo, a Boston school committee member from East Boston, grew up in the Latino community there and has been a member of the committee since February. Though he has previously represented East Boston as a liaison to City Hall, he isn’t counted as a technical representative of Boston’s Latino students and parents in his role on the school committee, because he was not elected. The School Committee recently lost two Latina members as Lorna Rivera and Alexandra Oliver-Dávila both resigned this month.

In all of the other top 20 cities, school committee members are elected, putting them at a higher level of representation in some cases.

The Massachusetts Legislature is the least representative body for Latinos, despite Latino voter population increases in the state. Writers of the report noted that electoral candidate data is limited, so measuring if the increase in Latino voting participation matches candidacy is difficult.

Suffolk county currently has two Latino legislators at the State House — Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz and Rep. Jon Santiago. Santiago is running for Boston mayor, a seat that has been held exclusively by white men.

Santiago told the Banner that he is focused on obtaining support from a growing Latino electorate, not just because he is Puerto Rican, but because they are a valued group of voters.

“We can work across communities in Boston to make sure representation is upheld and strengthened,” he said.

Between 2010 and 2020, Latino registered voters in Massachusetts doubled, and the number of registered Latino voters who actually voted went from 48,000 to 227,000.

The report shows that the electorate is increasing, and that the total population of Latinos in Massachusetts is only going to grow. The lack of representation at the state level could prove to be a disadvantage to the population, especially when it comes to crucial housing and racial justice reforms.

Latino people were disproportionately affected by the non-medical troubles of the pandemic — job loss and eviction. Latino communities in East Boston, Chelsea and Hyde Park were already struggling with displacement when many of them, frontline workers, lost their main sources of income. State and local legislators have brought up recovery for heavily impacted communities — but with only a couple of Latinos with a seat at the table, it is not guaranteed that their voices will be heard.

Latinos and politics, Latinos in Boston, Massachusetts Latino elected officials