‘I want to belong here’: Michelle Wu’s mayoral victory offers hope for Boston’s Latinx community

Supporters pose for a photo at the “Cafecito con Wu” campaign event in East Boston. (Photo by Anna Guaracao/BU News Service)

By Anna Guaracao
Boston University News Service

BOSTON – The smell of freshly brewed cafecito wafted through the narrow corridors of East Boston’s Colombian eatery, Las Chivas, on the Saturday morning before Boston’s city election. 

The event, which the campaign advertised as “Cafecito con Wu,” drew enthusiastic supporters of Michelle Wu’s campaign for mayor three days before Election Day. 

Dozens of attendees — many immigrants or children of immigrants — could be heard chanting a synchronized “Wu” on the restaurant patio. All were unbothered by the nonstop rain as they waited for a chance to shake hands with Boston’s next mayor. 

Narda Peña, a Peruvian immigrant who has lived in Boston for more than 20 years, felt she had a personal stake in Wu’s candidacy. 

“I don’t want to just feel like I live here,” she said. “I want to belong here.” 

Peña is not alone in her desire for a different experience in the city. Her sentiments are shared by many in the Latinx community, which has seen an almost 17% growth in population since 2010, according to the 2020 U.S. Census. 

Today, the Latinx population amounts to over 100,000 people living in Boston. 

Las Chivas, a Colombian eatery in East Boston, hosted a campaign event for Mayor-elect Michelle Wu, who ended up receiving about 70% of the votes in East Boston. (Photo by Anna Guaracao/BU News Service)

Boston’s Latinx community comprises migrants from places like Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Colombia, and Mexico — and makes up 18.7% of the general population.  

Analyses conducted by the Boston Planning and Development Agency Research Division show that the community’s largest share lives in East Boston, home to Wu supporter Maria Del Rio, originally from Mexico City.  

“Michelle has an agenda in climate change which is so important for me because I want my grandchildren to have the same quality of life that I had when I was a little girl,” Del Rio said. “I help take care of my grandchildren, too, because the child care in Boston is so expensive.”

Del Rio explained that Wu’s platform — tackling climate change, affordable housing, child care, and public transportation — will create a better Boston for her and her three grandchildren. 

She also said that Wu’s plan to create an equitable public transportation system is essential for working class people who spend money on MBTA services. Del Rio does not want to spend so much going to work or picking up her grandchildren. 

“For example, for us who have minimum wage salaries, it’s important how much we spend on transportation,” Del Rio said. “I love Michelle because she is a decent person who is not attacking the opposing candidate … she proposes ideas. I want a leader who thinks and offers solutions and that is what Michelle will do.” 

As the Latinx community’s numbers and political power have increased in Massachusetts over the years, it has made its demands increasingly known.

In a 2020 report provided by the Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development & Public Policy at UMass Boston, professors Phillip Granberry and Luis F. Jiménez said that the Latinx population in Massachusetts is expected to grow from 12% to 15% of the state’s population by 2035 — influencing their voting power in future elections.  

In midterm elections between 2003 and 2018, Latinx registered voters grew by 236%, with the most remarkable increase between 2014 and 2018, with 94,000 new registered voters in Massachusetts. 

“Latinos are discovering their own political efficacy,” Jiménez wrote. “A collective realization that their vote matters would be the clearest predictor of future higher turnout.”

With its highest populations in East Boston, Dorchester, and Roxbury, the ever-growing community influenced Wu and her opponent, Annissa Essaibi George, to hold campaign events there, targeting the Latinx residents eager to express their concerns. 

Among those concerns is the belief that the push for development in the city pushes out residents from their neighborhoods and significantly affects the climate. 

“East Boston specifically has a lot of environmental concerns that are urgent,” said Tania Del Rio, of East Boston. “With flooding or with the station that they’re trying to put up in American Legion Park, Michelle understands and will make sure that we aren’t overburdened as we have been over the years.” 

Del Rio explained that voting Wu into office was crucial because it will affect everyday lives.

“I’m a parent in the Boston Public Schools. I have nightmare scenarios happening weekly with the school bus,” Del Rio said. 

She said that Wu also shares her fear of school buses dropping children on random corners or the bus failing to arrive in the morning. 

“I think Michelle understands that because she has kids in the public schools and wants to do something about it,” Del Rio said. 

Latinx voters like Peña and the Del Rios, who make up the largest ethnic population in East Boston, may be the reason why Wu carried home so many votes over Essaibi George. 

Early unofficial election results provided by the city of Boston’s Election Department on Nov. 2 show that over 70% of East Boston’s votes were for Wu. Her domination at the polls throughout the city —65% of the total vote — led to Essaibi George’s concession late Tuesday night. 

For Tania Del Rio, Wu’s victory as the first woman, Asian American, and daughter of Taiwanese immigrants elected mayor signalizes a new beginning for those tired of being ignored or shut down.

“Michelle is not afraid to invite us to dream big,” she said. “She has the ability to get big things done.”

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