On Thursday, December 17, State Representative Jeffrey Sánchez invited nearly fifty elected Latino officials to the Massachusetts State House to celebrate recent electoral gains in Massachusetts and to build a support network for future success.
The luncheon was celebratory: Twenty years ago there were just seven Latino elected officials in the entire Commonwealth of Massachusetts. After the November elections there are now almost 50. Over half of those elected officials were present in the luncheon, representing a wide range of communities including Boston, Lawrence, Chelsea, Fall River, Haverhill, Springfield, Holyoke, and Revere across every level of government.
“I was watching the election cycle and saw all these names of Latinos who are running for office across the state and I thought to myself ‘wow, that’s pretty impressive. Let’s see where we end up,” Sánchez said. “And to see at the end of it how many of you won and how big of an impact you had in your own communities was even bigger. It just shows that when we put our minds to it that we can make a difference and become an elected voice.”
After brief introductions, the business began: “The purpose is not only to celebrate you, but to provide you with the names, relationships, and resources so you can do what you need to get done in your communities.” Sánchez described his experience working with the other Latinos in the House of Representatives as a collaborative effort: “I notice one thing. We go into things talking to each other. We don’t go in having an agenda. When we need to get something in front of the Speaker, what is our angle, and how do we go about doing it to not only benefit Latinos, but to benefit the community?
This luncheon was a launching point for all the electeds to share experiences and resources. Some have been in office nearly twenty years, while others just entered the political arena. Many officials shared the sense of pressure they felt to make an immediate impact in their communities, and recognized the value in sharing stories.
In addition to building relationships and networks, the luncheon provided several important resources to give the elected officials the building blocks to be effective public officials. Arturo Vargas, the Executive Director of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO), presented the organization, which promotes the participation of Latinos in the American political process.
“I wanted to talk to you about what we’re doing to help you, the Latino community,” Vargas said. “The only way that Latinos are going to be empowered is if Latinos empower themselves.” Vargas described NALEO and its national network of public servants to develop and agenda.
One of NALEO’s most important functions is “constituency services,” or providing resources to the many elected and appointed officials who are members. “Once a Latina or Latino is elected, we want to make sure they are the best at their job, whether they are a state representative, city councilor, sheriff, whatever,” said Vargas. “We want you to make a difference. I tell people that it’s not enough to change the complexion of our legislative body. If we just turned everyone white to brown, and nothing changes, then we haven’t done anything. We need to step up the game of public services and help you to be as effective as possible in your office.”
Also presenting was Dr. Lorna Rivera, a Research Associate at the Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy at UMass Boston, who gave a comprehensive picture of the Latino population in Massachusetts.
Noah Berger of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center gave a comprehensive overview of the budget process. Although not the typical lunch topic, the budget process is especially important for local elected officials that wish to bring more resources to their municipalities. Along those lines, Geoff Beckwith from the Massachusetts Municipal Association spoke about the organization as a resource to municipal officials, from city councilors to school board members.
Representative Sánchez was excited after the luncheon. In addition to a slew of resources, attendees left with a directory containing the contact information of every Latino elected official in the Commonwealth. Prior to this event there was no such inventory containing every elected official from school board to state representative.
“This is just the beginning of a support network,” stated Sánchez. “I remember how daunting it was when I was first elected, so I hope this guidance will make the transition to leadership a little easier. I can’t wait to work with everyone.”