One of Miguel Chavez's main goals as Boston's new Latino Liaison is to reach the newer generations of Latino populations throughout the city's neighborhoods.
In some places, that's easy—East Boston and Jamaica Plain are known for their Latino population, with Latino festivals, business signs and streets in Spanish—but Chavez isn't focused on just those communities.
"There are tucked away Latino communities spreading out in Boston," said Chavez. "and the Mayor understands that and wants them to know we're here for them... and accessible. As communities evolve so do we as a city."
Reaching out to programs like the English as a Second Language class at Charlestown's JFK Center, Chavez said, is a good way to reach neighborhoods that don't have a strong Latino identity or local organization he can lean on.
"Basically I dig and search through any places that services the Latino population and try to do outreach through partnerships through businesses, service agencies, Boston Main Streets programs," he said. "ESL at libraries - any place I find groups of folks. Everywhere has some kind of presence, it’s trying some form of means, whether it be businesses or community events. On a day-to-day basis I pop all over the city."
Statistically speaking, according to the US Census, in 2000 Boston's Latino population was 14.4% of the city's total population, and in 2010 it was 17.5%.
Chavez, had been the Director of External Affairs for District 7 Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson, before being named the Latino Liaison in April. He's also pulling double duty filling in for the vacant South End Neighborhood Coordinator position in the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services. (The former coordinator left for a different position.)
Recently, Chavez visited several Latino-owned West Roxbury businesses. The congenial Chavez ordered lunch from Pedro Rosa at the restaurant in Spanish. He asked Rosa how long he's worked at the restaurant and whether he likes the job. Chavez asked if the owner were available, which he wasn't, and after eating Chavez left his business card, and he explained to Rosa how Boston's Latino Liaison can help the restaurant.
"If I can assist with anything, I'm here to assist the mayor. Whatever city department it is... Sometimes it can be overwhelming. Departments do have Spanish speakers," said Chavez, adding he's there to point residents in the right direction.
"I'm not an expert. I'm a conduit. They don't know about DND (Department of Neighborhood Development), or maybe they don't know about getting a license or what happens when it expires, and fines," said Chavez. He said his job is about establishing relationships so businesses know him as an ally, and that he can help with something as simple as filling out a form. He said handing out business cards is essential because it could be months down the road when someone needs his help.
A couple feet away from the restaurant was another business, practically waiting for someone like Chavez to help them. storeowner Luisa Blasencia explained how cars park illegally in the handicapped ramp at the intersection of Washington and Birchwood streets. Blasencia and her daughter, Maria, had photos already printed out, which Chavez looked at, and said he'd talked with the proper officials to enforce parking regulations at the location.
While her mother spoke to Chavez, Maria spoke about Chavez's role, "It's really nice. My mom can speak in her native tongue and express herself. He knows it's core in our culture to work with family and share with the community - our bigger family."
Chavez also stopped in to and , after seeing their business signs were in Spanish.
After leaving the grocery store, Chavez said that store owner Marlene Perez knew a little about West Roxbury Main Streets. But Perez was not aware of a first home buyers program, or a program on receiving grants for improving store signage.
Chavez, a Jamaica Plain resident, grew up in New York City, and settled in Beantown after being a field community organizer for the Governor Patrick re-election campaign. He currently a board member of ¿Oíste?
And it doesn't matter what country you're from, or what your accent is like, "At the end of the day we share a common bond. We all have our own sense of vocabulary and accents. I grew up in New York City with a lot of Puerto Ricans and Dominicans. But being Costa Rican and Colombian, and going to college (UTEP) in Texas with predominantly Mexicans - I adapt," said a smiling Chavez.
To reach Miguel Chavez, Boston's Latino Liaison with a City-related issue please call 617-635-2185.