I came to Boston in 1973 to get medical care for my little girl. We stayed with my sister who lived in the Mission Main housing development. Sometimes things don’t go the way you plan. In 1950 I had moved to New York City from Puerto Rico and kept my apartment thinking I would return from Boston. It didn’t make sense to go back to New York once my daughter started her treatments because they took longer than we expected. So I registered my two children for school and I decided to go to college.
Between school and the treatments, everything fell into place. My husband asked me what I was doing because he didn’t think Boston was the best place to raise a family. My daughter was getting better and I told him we couldn’t run away. If there’s a problem you have to try to fix it and not get stuck.
I moved into an apartment in Mission Main and began organizing a community group called the Mission Main Tenants’ Task Force. It still exists. The first lawsuit we filed against the Boston Housing Authority brought us notoriety. What began as a local lawsuit became a federal case called, “Perez vs. Boston Housing Authority.” There were two people who put their names on the case – Mr. Armando Perez and Mrs. María Laboy (who has since passed onto a better life). The case went “viral” as they say today and it paid off.
You had to be there. We were constantly calling city officials to report the abuses and disrespect towards our people by the Boston Housing Authority. During the cold winters there were broken windows, no heat, vandalism, and cars set on fire. Sometimes people would move into the apartments without permission; there was no control over anything. If a good person moved into an empty apartment, it was set on fire.
We also launched a cleanup campaign, which was approved by the Boston Housing Authority, to clean and rent the apartments as there was such a demand for affordable housing. I sent a letter to the Boston Housing Authority with a list of items we needed for the cleanup: trashcans, paper towels, plastic bags, brooms and shovels. I was thrilled because the big do-for-nothings that worked there didn’t dare show up to clean. We cleaned everywhere and were so happy working together to improve our community. Thank God there is now a park for children that came out of the struggle. Previously, it had been a disaster!
When I became a probation officer, I always treated people well. I would put myself in the shoes of those who came to Court. Who goes to court without getting nervous? I treated everyone with the respect they deserved.
My son Jeffrey grew up in Mission Hill and loves the community. When he ran for state representative, the community supported him because they knew him his entire life. I am proud of him.
God has been very good to me. He has given me what I needed and the ability to express myself. If I had the chance, I’d do it all again, the same way. I have no regrets. I always say, “If someone doesn’t have what you have, and you can help, then help.”