Monday, October 3, 2016

Latino Heritage in Massachusetts

National Hispanic Heritage Month takes place between September 15th to October 15th and, appropriately, you may see events celebrating Latino heritage, culture, and community throughout Massachusetts. While the date range may seem odd, the period was chosen in order to encapsulate the independence days of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua (all on September 15), Mexico (September 16), Chile (September 18), and Belize (September 21) as well as the date on which Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas (October 12, 1492). The Southwest United States has long been home to many Latino or Hispanic communities, but New England’s Latino population has a shorter, though not less substantial, history.

“Individuals of Latin American descent who today would be called Latinos have lived in Cambridge [Massachusetts] for decades,” Deborah Pacini Hernandez wrote (Torres). In the early 20th century, many of the earliest Latino immigrants would have moved to the greater Boston area to attend Harvard, MIT, and other prestigious universities. One of these students was Pedro Albizu Campos, a student who contributed to The Harvard Crimson regarding Puerto Rican perspectives to international contemporary events. Campos graduated from Harvard Law School in 1921 and went on to become a leader of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, fighting for independence from the United States.

Large numbers of Latino immigrants did not begin to arrive in Massachusetts until the 1950s. The first major group came from Puerto Rico, which is part of the United States and therefore does not require immigration documents, and travelled to the major cities on the East Coast, especially New York and Boston. Many settled in Cambridge and Cambridgeport, which had been a large manufacturing center since the 1800s. Other Spanish Caribbean immigrants, specifically those from the Dominican Republic, often settled within or close to emerging Puerto Rican neighborhoods. Immigrants from Mexico as well as Central and South American countries began arriving in large numbers in the 1980s, many leaving their original countries due to economic issues or political conflict. However, these communities did not flourish without impetus. Many school systems were not equipped to serve Spanish-language students, a struggle which lead to Massachusetts implementing the first state-mandated, transitional bilingual-education program in the United States in 1969 (Uriarte, Chavez). Further, many Latino students were involved in the 1970s busing desegregation. But as communities continued to grow and Latinos became the largest minority group in Massachusetts, so did their impact in state-wide and local politics.

Today, the number of those that identify as Latino is steadily increasing in Massachusetts. Over all, Latinos grew more than any other ethno-racial group in both New York and New England between 1990 and 2000 and almost all communities in Massachusetts saw an increase in their Latino populations between 2000 and 2010, with an overall 46% population increase in the state (Torres).  Boston neighborhoods like East Boston and Jamaica Plain have large Latino communities and the Hyde Square Task Force has been campaigning to label their neighborhood Boston’s “Latin Quarter”, succeeding in gaining approval for the designation from the Boston City Council in April 2016. Lawrence, Massachusetts in Essex County is now almost 75% Latino (US Census 2015). Other Massachusetts cities and towns with large Latino populations include Springfield, Worcester, Lowell, Holyoke, and Chelsea (Hardy-Fanta, Gerson).  Despite the growing diversity of Latino immigrants to the North East, Puerto Ricans continue to be the largest Latino community in our state and the Festival Puertorriqueño de Massachusetts continues to be the largest Latino cultural festival in New England.

So this Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrate Massachusetts’ fastest growing community by attending events like the Festival Latino of the Berkshires in Lee, MA or checking your city, neighborhood, or networking organization calendars for events celebrating the history or culture of the many different Latino communities throughout our state.

Further Reading:

Alexandra Bernson
Reference Staff