My name is Carmen Pola. I was born in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico and left the island in 1956. I first went to New York City and a few months later went to live with my aunt in California. That is where I settled. You arrive in a strange country and even though they say you are an American citizen; you are not treated like one.
I love Boston, but to tell you the truth, I disliked it when I first got here. I arrived at the beginning of school desegregation when they were bringing black and white students together. Notice that I’m saying black and white students because Puerto Rican students were not wanted anywhere.
I lived with my husband’s family in Mattapan and didn’t feel very comfortable there. The situation for my girls who were in the 3rd and 4th grades was difficult. The neighborhood was nasty and racist. We did not fit in so I went back to California. I told my husband that unless he found me a decent place to live, I would never return to Boston. Finally, my husband found a place in Mission Hill where I still live.
One day, I got a flyer under my door about a meeting at the Catholic church to discuss funding that was coming into the state. I went to the meeting and there were about 100 people, the majority of whom were white. There was one African American, a Puerto Rican young man and myself. I learned very quickly that we Puerto Ricans were invisible. A young man named Rafael raised his hand and said, “I would like piece of this money to teach English to Puerto Ricans in the housing projects.” A white man got up and called him a spic. I didn’t know what that was. I never heard that word before. I had heard the word “greasers” which is what Mexicans were called in California but not “spic”. Suddenly, the room got loud. I took off my shoe and hit the table very hard with it. The whole place grew silent for a few minutes and then people walked out.
The schools were unacceptable. I will never forget going to the Farragut School with my children. Because Massachusetts was the first state to make bilingual education the law, I became very interested in the topic. I love politics. I eat politics. I dream politics. I believe that politics is the way to solve people’s problems, especially for poor people.
I personally had a positive experience with politicians like Mayor Kevin White and Mayor Ray Flynn, among others. In Kevin White’s administration, I worked in a summer program where we brought arts to different neighborhoods. In 1983, Mayor Ray Flynn appointed me the Constituent Services Coordinator.
I was the first Hispanic to run for office in Mass. I did not win, but I opened doors.
I would like to see Hispanics in Boston with a better school system, better jobs, better housing and medical services. I am Hispanic and so proud of it. It’s important for all of us to be proud of who we are. As a group, we Hispanics are so rich!
I want my grandchildren to remember to never look down on anyone or think of making people feel less than they are.