Latinos in western Massachusetts share struggles, ideas with Gov. Healey's advisory council
Bianca Romero arrived from Queens, New York, to Springfield, Massachusetts, five years ago looking for new opportunities and a chance to explore her Puerto Rican heritage.
Romero, who is Guyanese and Puerto Rican, said what she found in western Massachusetts was a diverse community of people — some very familiar with and proud of their heritage and others, like herself, looking to learn more about the culture and history of Puerto Rico.
Romero shared her experiences during a listening session held Saturday at Springfield Technical Community College. The session was organized by Gov. Maura Healey's Advisory Council on Latino Empowerment.
"I've actually never been to a listening session before. This is my first one. I was actually really excited to come out because it gives people that aren't in political roles an opportunity to share their voices," she said. "And I believe that every voice matters."
The 40-member council kicked off a series of listening sessions in Springfield to hear from western Massachusetts Latinos on what issues they want Healey's administration to tackle.
Josiane Martinez, chair of the council and CEO of Archipelago Strategies Group, a multicultural marketing agency, said what the council really wants are solutions.
"What we didn't want to come here to do is to ask people what the problems were, because we're not new to the problems and the issues facing Latinos," she said.
The council, which started meeting last month, has already put in place recommendations for Healey to consider based on three categories: prosperity, well-being and equity.
Backed by research conducted over several years by the Gastón Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston, the council is looking to get feedback from Latino communities across the state.
"What we are doing is bringing those recommendations and asking people if they will support it or not or if they have other ideas," Martinez said.
The listening session included folkloric music and food from a local Puerto Rican restaurant, Felix's on Liberty Street. It was held at STCC, a school that is designated a Hispanic-Serving Institution, meaning more than 25% of the student body identifies as Latino.
Lidya Rivera-Early, director of community engagement at the college, attended the listening session.
"It is absolutely important for us to live up to our middle name, our community. And as a Latino-serving institution, any initiative that has to do with moving forward the agenda for our community and Latinos, we are willing to partner up with," she said.
Rivera-Early said she found the listening session to be engaging and she appreciated the opportunity to take part.
"Actually, instead of like a traditional listening session, we were able to sit down in groups and discuss ideas in reference to different topics that all relate to the well-being of the Latino community," she said. "It is always a pleasure to be having those conversations and being able to to know that our concerns, our input, is being taken back to the higher leadership."
The council also has listening sessions planned today in Lynn; June 17 in Lawrence; and June 20 in Worcester. In the fall, the council will share information from the community meetings with the governor.
Martinez said the council plans to return to these communities quarterly to update residents on how Healey's administration has been implementing the recommendations and to get more feedback.