This article originally appeared in the February 22, 1983 issue of the Boston Phoenix.
From Aguadilla and San Lorenzo, from Barranquitas and Arecibo, they made their way to San Juan and hopped a $75 flight to Boston. Or they took the subway from the Bronx to the New York Port Authority terminal in Manhattan and caught a bus to Boston for eight bucks. Like so many groups before them, they found fetid apartments in once stately row houses in the South End and settled in to wait. They waited in the barely furnished apartments with the stained ceilings and the cracked plaster, waited for opportunities that could not be found in Aguadilla and Arecibo. They waited under the anxious gaze of their kids, under the compassionate eyes of the painting of Jesus, under the compelling gaze of the photo of the other messiah, Kennedy.
A few died waiting. Some migrated elsewhere. Some gave up. Some made it. Carmelo Iglesias, a young social worker in the 1960s, walked up and down the creaky stairs to their apartments to console them. He drank with the young men in a Tremont Street bar. He talked with the kids and old-timers on the corners of a South End just beginning to gentrify. One night, with a reporter in tow, Iglesias looked up from the street to the Pru, all lit up with the promise of a night out on the town - if you had a fat wallet. What does a Puerto Rican kid think, he was asked, if he stands there, looking up at such a sight? “If he’s introspective,” Iglesias said, “he’d probably want to take a rifle and blow every damn light out.” It was 1966.
It is 1983. The other night, Carmelo Iglesias, still counseling the needy, met with 20 others, many of them Latinos, in a nice restaurant. Nobody in the room believed that life here and now for the Puerto Rican, the Costa Rican, the Colombian, the Dominican is easy and full with promise. But in the years since he looked up at the Pru, Iglesias has seen Spanish-speaking teachers hired in the schools, translators put on duty in hospital emergency rooms, bilingual education implemented for the kids. Creating such change was not easy, nor are the changes enough. But they are the beginning of what is, in part, a political story of a community scrapping for its place in this most intensely politicized state. The meeting the other night was to discuss building a sophisticated city-wide organization to run a Puerto Rican, Felix Arroyo, for the Boston School Committee.
Ten Democrats were fighting for two state-rep seats in a district encompassing parts of the South End, Jamaica Plain, Back Bay, Mission Hill, and Parker Hill. The seats were traditionally Irish, the incumbents spawned from the political breeding grounds of Mission Hill and Parker Hill. A guy at the city’s election department had a tough time with one of the names, Alex Rodriguez. He accented the wrong syllable. There were three incumbents - William Carey, Joseph Loughman, and David John O’Connor - and at least one of them was going to lose, because redistricting had turned three seats to two.