Latino immigrants’ path to progress should not be impeded
Katie Johnston’s front-page article “Invisible: Mass. Latinos fare worse than in any other state” (March 9) did an admirable job of succinctly laying out the socioeconomic dilemmas facing many Latinos here in Massachusetts. As a veteran of Spanish-language television in New England, I have seen firsthand the hurdles Latino immigrants in our Commonwealth are forced to jump while others run straight ahead in the American economic race. I am glad to report that over those more than 20 years, Massachusetts Latinos made significant strides socially, economically, and, more recently, politically.
It would be sad to see that progress impeded by the current administration in Washington, particularly since it was not so many years ago that William Weld, then governor, addressed the Boston Chamber of Commerce on the importance of accepting and helping the immigrant worker as an economic engine in Massachusetts, New England, and the United States. Unfortunately, it appears that message isn’t being heard by a large portion of the American public, even here in Boston.
The writer migrated from Puerto Rico in 1959 and was senior vice president and general manager of WUNI-TV (Univision Boston).
Stakeholders must push to ease language barriers
Katie Johnston’s “Invisible: Mass. Latinos fare worse than in any other state” compels us to think hard about what we can do, in a state with one of the strongest economies and educational systems. Challenges facing Latinos in the workforce are shared by many immigrant groups, with English proficiency the main barrier.
Massachusetts’ economy thrives largely because of immigrants, who account for 20 percent of the workforce. It’s in our best interest to address the challenges.
In a 2016 statewide survey of ESOL students, 85 percent of respondents were employed or looking for work. Of those who were working, half said they had coworkers needing English for speakers of other languages. Many wise employers have invested in workplace English. Benefits are clear: Workers who were embarrassed to speak are communicating with customers and coworkers, sharing ideas, being promoted, improving work environments.
Latinos and other immigrants are an economic development engine, responsible for 61 percent of business starts. Massachusetts should also attend to language barriers constraining entrepreneurs.
Governor Baker, elected officials, and educational and business leaders should take heed. Cutting state ESOL funds is a nonstarter.
We invite leadership, including the Latino Advisory Commission, to join our English Works campaign along with business executives, mayors, and residents and determine the best strategies to invest in research, policy, and expanded ESOL.
A healthy dose of community activism in Lawrence
As doctors who choose to work in Lawrence, we bear witness to the inequalities that Latinos face in Massachusetts. There is much work to do, but the March 9 article paints an incomplete picture of our majority Latino community. Lawrence has a strong tradition of community activism, but for years the Latino community had been excluded from the more traditional organizations. In response, they created many of their own nonprofit institutions, and one of the largest is the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center.
The center has served the community since 1980, growing from a storefront operation to the second-largest federally qualified community health center in Massachusetts, serving more than 60,000 patients. Half of our board and most of our employees are Latino. Employees are able to take advantage of tuition support and career advancement opportunities to move into the higher-paying jobs that can reduce the inequalities noted in the article.
Addressing racial and ethnic disparities is a complex and difficult task. We have been working to improve the health of our community for close to 40 years and will continue our effort until the job is done.