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A push for political gains at Amplify conference

Latino group convenes around ‘Claiming Our Power’ theme

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
A push for political gains at Amplify conference
Gathered for the Amplify Latinx conference Saturday are Natalie Sanchez, co-founder Betty Francisco, U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Executive Director Rosario Ubiera-Minaya and co-founder Eneida Román. PHOTO: BOBBY GULIANI

Speaking before several hundred activists gathered for the Amplify Latinx conference at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute Saturday, U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley spoke about a transformation of politics at the national level.

“This transformation is being led by women of color,” she said. “This transformation has nothing to do with magic or waves. If there is a wave, it’s not a wave we’re riding, it’s a wave we’re creating.”

Latino Victory Vice President Mayra Macias and Brookline Select Board member Raul Fernandez during a panel discussion at the Amplify Latinx conference at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Dorchester. PHOTO: BOBBY GULIANI

Pressley’s messages, that representation matters and “identity is power,” echoed throughout the conference. Republican strategist Ana Navarro-Cárdenas echoed the theme of representation during her remarks at the close of the conference.

“It sends a message to little boys and girls of all ethnicities and creeds that they can achieve anything,” she said.

The representation message comes at a pivotal moment for the Latino community in Boston. While Latinos now make up 20 percent of the city’s population, there are no Latinos on the City Council and just two of the 26 Legislative seats representing parts of Boston are held by Latinos. Statewide, there are just seven Latinos elected to the Legislature. Were their representation proportionate to their share of the state’s population, that number would be 23.

The Amplify Latinx conference this year was organized around the theme “Claiming our power.” Participants broke out into panel discussions on Careers in Politics and Public Service, Strategies to Empower Our Electorate, and Getting Latinx on the Ballot: Mission 20 by 2020.

“We would like to see 20 Latinos running for office by 2020,” said panel moderator and political strategist Doug Chavez, kicking off a discussion of the opportunities and challenges facing candidates in the current political climate.

Chavez said that with Ricardo Arroyo running for an open seat in District 5 and Julia Mejia and Alejandra St. Guillen running for citywide at-large seats, the chances of a Latino being elected to the City Council are better than ever. To date, just two Latinos have been elected to that body, Arroyo’s father, Felix D. Arroyo, and his brother, Felix G. Arroyo, both of whom served at-large.

Mayra Macias, vice president of the group Latino Victory, said the notion that Latino voters are a sleeping giant is outmoded.

Former state Rep. Juana Matias, who vacated her Lawrence-based 16th Essex District seat to run for the 3rd Congressional District vacated by Nikki Tsongas, said many in the Latino community are feeling the lack of representation in the State House. One issue of concern is that the Legislature has refused to pass the Safe Communities act, which would bar local police departments from detaining nonviolent offenders for federal immigration enforcement officials.

“We’re talking about a Democratic body that isn’t willing to take a stand on immigration right now,” she said. “Representation matters. Things aren’t going to change until the makeup of that body looks different.”

Jonathan Rodrigues, representing the national progressive political group Mijente, said prospective candidates shouldn’t shy away from taking stands on issues before they decide to run.

“If you’re running, I would love to have seen you at a Fight for $15 rally or an education justice rally,” he said.

Rodrigues said it’s important for Latino candidates to represent the full spectrum of the Latino experience.

“We could be the agents of transformational change, or we could be the agents of anti-blackness,” he said. “We need more Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and less Henry Cuellar.”

Rodrigues noted that his group supported Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins candidacy, helping her win a ward in Revere.

“We were happy to hear her say she would fight against ICE in the courts, and she has,” he said.

Raul Fernandez, a Brookline resident who was recently voted to that town’s five-member Select Board, also stressed the importance of supporting Latino candidates who support women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and other issues.

“Who we are matters,” he said. “It’s not just about being a window dressing. Our policies have to be measured by how they affect people.”

Not all the breakout sessions at the Amplify Latinx conference dealt with politics. Latinos for Education CEO Amanda Fernandez led a session on amplifying Latino voices in education policy. Surfside Capitol Advisors Managing Partner Juan Carlos Morales led a session on economic inclusion through Latinx entrepreneurship.

The day of sessions was bookended by politics, with Pressley’s and Navarro-Cárdenas’ remarks. As conference participants mingled during a reception following the event, former City Council candidate Angelina Camacho, who hosted a panel on increasing voter participation, said the Amplify Latinx event was a step in the right direction.

“Things have to change,” she told the Banner. “The fact that we’re talking about Latinx issues is encouraging. The fact that people are talking about the need to have Latinx representation is important.”

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