I was born in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. My mother migrated to New York City when I was eight years-old. I came to Boston in 1965 after I married to someone who was going to attend Harvard University. I got my college degree from The New School in New York.
I thought I would easily be able to get a job at the Welfare Department which is where I wanted to work. It was awful for Latinos to get jobs then. After a few months of trying, I finally got a job at the welfare office.
I got assigned to the Grove Hall office and I was disappointed because I knew that there were Spanish-speaking families in the South End and I was needed there. As I began reading the case records to learn about the families, I discovered the Welfare Department used to hire ex-seminarians when they dropped out of the seminary. These people had no idea what life was like for single mothers who were struggling. The prejudice was unbelievable.
I moved to the South End when I got separated and went to work at the Roxbury Multiservice Center. Hubie Jones, who was the director, mentored a lot of people and he mentored me. My first assignment was to identify agencies that were serving the Hispanic community as there were increasing numbers of Spanish-speaking people living in Boston. Hubie had grown up in Harlem and was concerned; he didn’t want to see a repeat of the tensions between Blacks and Hispanics that had existed in Harlem. When I conducted that survey, I found that the best organized agency that kept wonderful records was IBA (Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción).
I made a presentation of my findings to the Multi-Service Center Board. Spanish-speaking children were going to school hungry and not properly dressed for winter. Dennison House had begun to organize and hold meetings with parents at night and that’s when the idea of starting another agency to serve Spanish-speaking families emerged. We decided to put together a proposal to try to get funding through the Model Cities program. We ended up getting $500,000 to open the Alianza Hispana.
At first, we operated out of a storefront on Blue Hill Ave. We provided social services and education for adults.
Mayor Kevin White was very supportive. He had hired a couple of bilingual people to work for his Administration. At one point, Kevin White told me that he identified a bit with the experience of Hispanic people because he was of Irish descent.
I left my position as the director of Alianza Hispana a year later to begin my journey at MIT in the Community Fellows program which was wonderful. Then I went to work for Governor Frank Sargent.
Somebody asked, “Excuse me, how I got a park named after me?” I think it had something to do with the fact that I’ve been in Boston for many years and ended up on about 80 boards and committees. I tell young people to take advantage of the opportunities and join boards.
These days when there is so much negative talk about immigration, we don’t stop to think about what it takes for someone to leave everything that is familiar to them and move to a place where you don’t know anyone. That takes an incredible amount of courage and demonstrates individual strength. It should be applauded!
I want my Latino mothers to know they have overcome so many obstacles in Boston.