District 7 City Councilor Tito Jackson greets spectators during the Puerto Rican Festival Parade. (Yawu Miller photo)
|City Councilor Felix Arroyo greets future voter Avi Gonzalez as Michelle Colon and Amaya Hernandez look on during the 45th annual Puerto Rican Festival Parade. (Yawu Miller photo)|
For the thousands of spectators gathered on the sidewalks of Columbus Avenue Sunday, the 45th annual Puerto Rican Festival Parade was a display of cultural pride — flags, salsa music, low-riders, marching bands and, of course, more flags.
For the elected officials who marched in the parade, the festival was perhaps the best opportunity for a high-visibility pitch for votes from the city’s Latino community.
If this year’s turnout was any indication, the candidates are not taking the Latino vote seriously. Of the seven candidates running for the four at-large seats on the council, only three marched in the parade: John Connolly, Ayanna Pressley and Felix G. Arroyo, who served as Grand Marshall for this year’s parade.
None of the candidates for U.S. Senate were present. Nor was the mayor. The only other elected officials present were state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz, state Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez and District 7 City Councilor Tito Jackson.
From their vantage point at the corner of Seaver Street and Walnut Avenue, the absence of candidates was particularly blatant to Democratic Party activists Melvin and Tina Poindexter.
“You have your festivals and cultural events that you have to go to over the summer,” Melvin said. “This is one of them.”
“I’m kind of surprised that there are candidates here,” added Tina. “Not one politician missed the Gay Pride Parade.”
Nor did candidates miss the Dorchester Day Parade, the Bunker Hill Parade and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade — all mandatory for city-wide candidates.
At-large council candidates who did not attend the Puerto Rican Festival Parade were incumbent Councilor Stephen Murphy and challenger Sean Ryan.
Challenger Michael Flaherty had a float in the parade, but did not attend. Candidate William Dorcena did not march in the parade but attended the Puerto Rican Festival in Franklin Park.
The paucity of candidates in this year’s parade may reflect the cold calculus strategists use in targeting votes in an election year when there is no mayoral race and, therefore, less visibility and lower turnout in black, Latino and Asian neighborhoods.
For Arroyo, who is Puerto Rican, the festival has political and cultural significance.
“We have had a Puerto Rican Festival in Boston for decades,” said Arroyo. “I see it as a celebration of our culture and also as an acknowledgement that we live in this city and that this is our city too.”
Arroyo said he makes it a point to attend all neighborhood and cultural parades except the St. Patrick’s Day parade, which he boycotts because of the organizers’ policy of excluding gays.
“I’m asking for votes across the city,” he said. “One way to show you respect people is by participating in their cultural events. It’s a way of letting people know you respect them, you want to get to know them and you want them to get to know you.”
Other candidates who did attend the festival said they are making special efforts to reach out to Latino voters. Pressley, who is back on the campaign trail following the tragic death of her mother earlier this month, said her campaign is reaching out to Latino print and radio media.
She said her legislative agenda in City Hall has included many issues of importance to Latino voters.
“The overall strategy to reach out to voters is in the work you do,” she said. “I’ve been doing the work on issues like health disparities, violence in our communities, teen pregnancy and teen parents. We’re disproportionately adversely impacted by every economic, social justice and health disparity.”
Connolly also said his record in office reflects his commitment to the Latino community, citing his work obtaining more resources for English Language Learners in the school system and fighting for improvements to the school system.
And if Spanish speaking voters aren’t aware of his work on the council, his campaign will provide them with literature that will educate them.
“Part of being a candidate in Boston today, you have to have multi-lingual outreach or you’ll go nowhere,” he said.
For District 7 Councilor Tito Jackson, whose district includes Roxbury and parts of the South End, Jamaica Plain and Dorchester, outreach to Latino voters happens when he goes door-to-door on the campaign trail.
Latinos account for 28 percent of the population of Roxbury.
“The most important thing is to talk to our Latino brothers and sisters face-to-face,” Jackson said. “All of the issues our Latino brothers and sisters have are the same issues we have.”
Last weekend, Boston's Puerto Rican Festival was back in force, with three days of salsa superstars, traditional Puerto Rican foods, customized cars, carnival rides and - of course - lots and lots of Puerto Rican flags.
"This feels like a re-birth, compared to what's happened in recent years," said attorney Apolo Catala, vice president of the festival.
With live salsa rhythms, freshly made Puerto Rican food, traditional dances, amusement rides and appearances from many of Boston's elected officials, last month's Puerto Rican parade and festival were a cultural celebration.
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