Despite a rapidly growing population of Latinos in Boston and across Massachusetts, the community continues to be underrepresented in local politics, according to new research.
At 636,000 people - or 11.5% - the Latino population in Massachusetts is the 18th largest nationally, according to a newly released report by the University of Massachusetts Boston's Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy.
By 2035, the figure is expected to rise to more than 1.15 million, representing 15.3% of the state's population.
The number of registered Latino voters in the state also doubled, from 134,000 in 2010 to 271,000 in 2020 - making Latinos the second largest voting population of all racial and ethnic subgroups in Massachusetts.
Despite these figures, the number of Latinos holding local elected office continues to be disproportionately small when compared to population.
There are currently 68 Latino officials holding 69 seats in local elected bodies and in the state legislature - a 43.8% increase in representation.
Of the various elected bodies in the state, the Massachusetts legislature is the least representative body for Latinos, with the report's authors noting that measuring increases in Latino voter participation is difficult as a result of a shortage of data.
"There is no regular, systematic collection of standardized data on racial and/or ethnic identity of electoral candidates in Massachusetts," the report noted. "The lack of electoral candidate data makes it difficult to verify if the increase in Latinx voting participation aligns with increased Latinx officeholding."
Additionally, the report noted that "candidate data is needed to understand factors contributing to limited Latinx representation at the local and state levels in Massachusetts, as well as in other elected positions such as country offices and in the Congressional delegation."
Suffolk County - which includes the city of Boston - currently has two Latino legislators at the Massachusetts State House. One of them, Representative Puerto Rico-born Jon Santiago, is running for mayor in what many consider a historic election for a seat that has to date only been held by white politicians.
Santiago, a former emergency room doctor, Peace Corps volunteer and US Army Reserve Captain, has already been endorsed by the progressive Latino Victory Fund.
"Jon's top priority is to steer Boston out of the Covid-19 pandemic with a plan centered on equity, which is critical for communities of color, including the Latino community, who have been hardest hit by the pandemic and continue to face economic, health care, and education disparities," Latino Victory Fund President and CEO Nathalie Rayes said in a statement sent to LPO. "At a time when more Latinos are breaking ground in elected positions, Jon's historic race is a testament to the fight for representation in diverse cities across the country."
A recent poll conducted by Suffolk University's Political Research Center found that a huge number of Latino voters - 33% - remain undecided, making the Latino electorate the "Crown Jewel" for the city's mayoral candidates.
"Frontrunners have a real opportunity to make their case to this group of voters," said David Paleologos, the center's director.
As of June 30, Santiago stood in fifth place with only 5% survey respondents identifying him as their preferred candidate, behind Boston-at-Large Councilor Michelle Wu (23%), Acting Mayor Kim Janey (22%), At-Large Councilor Annisa Essaibi George (14%) and District Councilor Andrea Campbell (11%).
"It's still early," an LPO source close to the Santiago camp said. "But whatever happens, it's historic and extremely important that he's running for mayor. Suffolk County is changing and will continue to change."
Aaron Lopez, a Puerto Rican-born resident of Boston, told LPO that he believes it's a mistake to assume that Latinos in the city will vote on identity alone.
"There's a lot of issues in this city, like housing, jobs or crime," Lopez said. "I'm not going to vote for Santiago or anyone else just because we're both Latinos. I'm going to vote for the candidate who I think can help solve issues the most."
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