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New documentary celebrates Boston’s ‘Latin Quarter’

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
New documentary celebrates Boston’s ‘Latin Quarter’
Monica Cohen, filmmaker COURTESY PHOTO

Colombian filmmaker and Jamaica Plain resident Monica Cohen had lived in the neighborhood for several years before she decided to turn her camera lens onto the vibrant community. The resulting half-hour, bilingual documentary, “Boston’s Latin Quarter,” celebrates the Latinx enclave that many Jamaica Plain residents are fighting to keep intact.

Damaris Pimentel, owner of Ultra Beauty Salon STILL FROM THE FILM "BOSTON'S LATIN QUARTER"

Damaris Pimentel, owner of Ultra Beauty Salon STILL FROM THE FILM “BOSTON’S LATIN QUARTER”

On Monday, Aug. 12, Cohen premiered the film in conjunction with Hyde Square Task Force at the Connolly Branch of the Boston Public Library. Following the screening, Cohen spoke on a panel with other influential Latina voices in the community. Though “Boston’s Latin Quarter” has served as a powerful tool to advocate for the neighborhood, it also illustrates the importance of having a cultural space.

Mozart Street in Jamaica Plain, Mass. STILL FROM THE FILM "BOSTON'S LATIN QUARTER"

Mozart Street in Jamaica Plain, Mass. STILL FROM THE FILM “BOSTON’S LATIN QUARTER”

“When you’re in a country for generations, slowly you start to lose a lot of your home country,” says Celina Miranda, executive director of Hyde Square Task Force. “So having a place where you can go and immerse your children in the practices, the culture, is so important to stay connected.”

In the film, Cohen included interviews with Miranda and with Damaris Pimentel, the longtime owner of Ultra Beauty Salon, among many others. Both Miranda and Pimentel spoke on the panel at the library screening, along with local resident Elaine Mondy.

Alex Chimi, owner of Alexs Chimis Restaurant STILL FROM THE FILM "BOSTON'S LATIN QUARTER"

Alex Chimi, owner of Alexs Chimis Restaurant STILL FROM THE FILM “BOSTON’S LATIN QUARTER”

Pimentel revealed that she had been advised early on to speak English in her salon. She refused. “I want everyone to know who crosses the border to the salon, that this is a Latino salon,” she says. Thirty years later, the business model is still thriving for this Latina entrepreneur. 

Though the film is definitively celebratory, it does touch on the complicated issues of gentrification and how the neighborhood is attempting to navigate newcomers while retaining the unique culture of their space.

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In September, “Boston’s Latin Quarter” will be screened at City Hall for Latinx Heritage Month. Viewers can also see short films with interviews of local luminaries (also by Cohen) on the Hyde Square Task Force Facebook page. Cohen says her film can be screened anywhere, and she encourages community organizations to reach out if they’re interested in showing it. She and Hyde Square Task Force are also hoping to make an audio guide for the neighborhood that visitors can listen to as they walk through the dynamic community. 

“I felt compelled to tell the story because people needed to know the amount of effort the residents and activists and business owners in this area have put in to make this neighborhood what it is,” says Cohen. “I can eat the food that I love, I can speak in Spanish, and I can find a little bit of me in America.”

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