Immigrant women stand out in politics and community leadership

By Nioves Mejia

Yvette Gonzalez, Coordinator of SCFDB. Photo by Yvette Gonzalez

Immigrant women  are becoming a political force in the community and encouraging others to make their voices heard in 2020. The Latino vote in Massachusetts had gained prominence during the last few years; despite of being targeted by the criticism of the current political climate.

More Latinos are willing to go to vote. In this time where some immigrants feels like their rights often had been disregarded.  Rosa Ayala has been living in Massachusetts sin 1993 and became a US citizen in 2005. “Ever since I became a citizen I go voting. Now I will go to vote to get things changed,” she said.

Polls are showing President Trump as the main candidate for the Republicans. While Democrats voter’s preferences seems more fragmented. Ayala wants to vote because she wanted to do it for the people who cannot vote. “I want to go to vote, because there is a lot of a people that don’t have documentation and has been mistreated and often wrongly accused of being criminals,” she said.

Among the well-known controversy between President Trump and the immigrant community; a new wave of politicians run for electoral places. In Boston, the elections for City Council at Large were disputed by several runners. Only four places were to be filled.

Julia Mejia, a Dominican woman who came to the United States in her early ages won one of the places in past the election.  “I came to this country when I was very young. I grew up in a not so diverse city,” she said. Mejia emphatically mentioned that this is the time for the Dominican community to have representation in politics.

According to Mejia, Latinos and Dominicans make great contribution to the economy and it was about time to have representation in the City Council.  The newly elected councilwoman recognized that Latinos and other minorities needs more representation for their voices to be heard.

This political climate needs the participation of the constituent to make the changes needed. Boston experienced a big change in the neighborhoods mainly populated by Latinos. Roman Ramirez is a resident of East Boston and said that he will vote for the first time in the upcoming elections. He is very aware of the importance of voting because it show the robustness do the American democracy. “This is one of our duties and responsibilities as citizens. If we want things to happen, we have to go, become a US citizen and vote on election days,” he said.

“I will vote, I will vote to make a change. In this neighborhood, we need more opportunities for Latinos. Here, seems like some people don’t want us in this area, someone is making rent higher and building luxury condos that we cannot afford,” said Ramirez. The Colombian native is referring about the gentrification that across the city of Boston, including neighborhoods such as East Boston mainly populated by Latinos.

According to him the municipality has to do something on behalf of the less fortunate. “we need new leaders, the ones we have are not doing anything for the poor people,” he said. With this new council, Ramirez hope that things would change for the better. In Boston, new incumbents had been recently elected.

According to the Boston Planning and Development Agency, in 2016 roughly half of the East Boston’s population is foreign born. That is up from almost 42 percent in 2000. In the past four years the number of voters in East Boston have increased significantly (see below).

Number of registered voters in East Boston since 2015. Source: City of Boston

Mejia’s winning was fogged with the controversy because her closer contestant Alexandra San Guillen impugned the results. San Guillen did not accept the results and forced a recount of the votes. This election proofed the expression “every vote counts” is not a simple cliché.

After the final recount, Mejia won for only one vote. “This event demonstrates the power of one vote and how every single vote matters,” said Mejia.  The recently elected Council at Large shared her commitment with the overlooked sectors of the Bostonian society. “we stud out to do one thing, and is to build political power in low-income communities, “she said.

The elections happened at the beginning of November. It was not until the second week of December when the voters finally knew who will be occupying the fourth seat available at the Council. For the last few weeks was an intense debate between supporters of both candidate that were disputing the spot with a very close margin.

The elected city councilwoman called upon unity and work together for a better Boston. “It is very important to keep our city together and not further divided. A community that already felt divided we had to choose on or the other,” said Mejia.

The participation of immigrant women in politics increased by the current political environment. In Boston women are present in the School Committees, activism and politics.  “This is the way our voices could be heard,” said Yvette Gonzalez, Coordinator of the Dominican Festival in Boston.

“Immigrant women are more decided to get involved in politics than before; and are entrepreneurs.  In the past was not uncommon to see men leading local organizations, community and political groups. In this regard, I believe immigrant women had advanced,” said Gonzalez.

According to the Dominican community leader, today exist more opportunities for immigrant women to obtain leadership. However, Gonzalez think that women have to work harder than men to obtain their goals. “Immigrant women even harder than the rest of the women,” she said.

Local Latino organizations could focus more on the development of the community for families and individuals to obtain a better life. “I believe that local community organization should foster programs to promote well-being and empowerment of self-esteem, personal autonomy and professional skills. Emphasizing in new technologies, and learning the English language,” said Gonzalez. With these programs immigrant women can look and obtain better jobs.

Gonzales also understand the troublesome political timing in the nation. Immigrant communities have been closely monitored by the government; and local organizations have to do their best on behalf the Latino community. “Yet, there is a lot more that could be done,” she said.

Gonzalez said that in this current political environment our communities have to get organized and fight for their rights. The Dominican activist affirms that voting is one of the ways communities achieve their goals. “People has to get out and vote, it doesn’t matter if is Presidential Elections or municipal elections,” said Gonzalez.

Latino vote in Boston continue to be important. Local organizations as well as politicians focus their efforts engaging the Latinos into politics and civics. Even though the current political timing could be challenging for the community, the contribution to the US economy and society is undoubted.