What Does It Mean To Be Hispanic or Latino?

BOSTON—Earlier this year, the Biden administration sparked a national and reflective conversation after it proposed to rephrase Hispanic as a race on the U.S. Census. Latinos have been split over their support for the controversial change.

In the 2020 U.S. Census, over 43 percent of Hispanics either marked the “some other race� box or simply did not respond to the form’s question on race. For decades, many Latinos have struggled to answer questions about race when Hispanic or Latino wasn’t an option. A longstanding sense of confusion and exclusion had led to inaccurate data on the state’s diverse populations.

Currently, the form first asks for a participant’s ethnicity—if they identify as Hispanic—and then separately asks them to select a race, which does not include a Hispanic/Latino option. This follow-up question has long-confused many Hispanic/Latinos across the country.

An interagency group that works with the U.S. Office of Management and Budget has proposed to combine those two questions to be “What is your race or ethnicity?� The Hispanic/Latino category would also include a sub-question for respondents to check off their country of origin.

The White House’s Office of Management and Budget accepted public comment on the proposal this spring and looks to make a decision next year.

So, what does it mean to be Hispanic/Latino?

Boston University student reporters Annika Chaves and Esmeralda Moran set out to create a multimedia project by asking Latinos in Boston that very question — one that is personal for the two reporters.

For Moran, who is from the Dominican Republic, it’s the comfort she gets from her maternal grandmother’s cooking and their special moments watching telenovelas. For Chaves, who hails from Colombia, it’s being part of a larger immigrant community who left their home for the U.S. so she could get a better life.

From Puerto Rico to Bolivia, being Latino means something unique for everyone.

This report was published in collaboration with the Boston University School of Communications School of Journalism. The journalism student is a member of a Reporting in Depth class taught by former Boston Globe reporter Meghan Irons.

As a musician, Nina del Rio does not want to be boxed in

BOSTON — The blue lights behind the Red Room’s stage at Cafe 939 in Berklee College gave the space a velvety feel, matching the softness of tonight’s singer: Nina Del Río. Her musical introductions in English were fused with Spanish lyrics that came to life with the soulful melodies produced by her band.

This is Del Río in her element.

Her music is a mix of R&B and neo-soul, but she said she does not want to be boxed into a single genre. 

“You don’t have to choose where you’re from if you feel like you’re from a lot of places,â€� Del Río shared in an interview.

Del Río’s musical exposure began with her dancing to The Beatles and attending concerts in Brooklyn—many of which centered around jazz—said the artist’s mother, Bibi Calderaro, in a phone interview. Her parents also made frequent trips to Argentina, her cultural origin, with Del Río “to give her the freedom to experience it on her own,� said Calderaro.

Del Río, currently 21 years old and living in Boston part-time, took the opportunity to experience Buenos Aires on her own when she took a gap year there during the first year of the pandemic. 

This time in her life inspired her second studio project, “What I Loved About You Es Lo Que Amo De Mi.�

“When I wrote the last album, I was in a situation where my world was in Spanish because I was living in Argentina, but I was going through a breakup with someone [in the US],� said Del Río.

In the album, the lyrics mirror what she describes as her “stream of consciousness,� in transitioning between English and Spanish.

“In that moment, it was the most natural way to explain how I was feeling because there are things that you can say in Spanish that you can’t say in English and vice versa,â€� said Del Río.

These two identities also mesh in her improvisational musical approach, influenced by the collective practice of practicing Argentinian folk music and being exposed to jazz artists in New York.

“I got really used to environments where you could kind of just show up with chords and not much else and just play songs,� said Del Río. She said she often heads into practice with the perspective of seeing where the music takes her, said Del Río.

“She had a very good way of letting the musicians add their own flavors to the music,â€� said her partner Alejandro Vilarrasa-Corriero, who played in a band with Del Río during their high school years. 

“We always got to participate in some way,� said Vilarrasa-Corriero.

Music has been the common thread sewn throughout Del Río’s life. When she was four, she declared that wanted to be a singer, Calderaro recalled.

“Nina has always wanted to sing,� said Calderaro. “It might have been a fantasy at the beginning, but then she kept at it and we encouraged it.�

She sang in choirs and began playing the piano at a very young age. Through enrichment programs, she became exposed to the way music can hold a variety of meanings. 

In the traditional school setting, she learned musical theory, classical composition, and the distinctive elements that made up the genres she pulls from today.

Del Río’s musical history impacts the way she thinks of her current higher education institution, Berklee College of Music.

“My goal is to make school feel like it’s just nourishing everything else that I’m doing,â€� said Del Río. “[Berklee is] a space that gives you the structure to [make music] and also gives you feedback and guidance.â€�

This report was published in collaboration with the Boston University School of Communications School of Journalism. The journalism student is a member of a Reporting in Depth class taught by former Boston Globe reporter Meghan Irons.

Dance instructor uses Brazilian Zouk to challenge cultural norms, inspire peace

When all distractions fade away, the soothing flow of Brazilian Zouk dancing takes hold of José Cuadra. 

Tilting his head and turning to the music, he begins to feel as though he’s in flight. “It’s very flowy, and yet it’s very complicated,� he explained.

Cuadra shared that Zouk embodies the mission that he imparts as a gay immigrant leader in Boston’s dance community.

He teaches the dance style as an instructor and director at Urbanity Dance, a nonprofit arts organization in the South End.

Derived from Lambada, known as the “forbidden danceâ€� in Brazil, Zouk opens up a new world of acceptance and exploration to his students. He tries to capture this self-awareness and authenticity in his classes and performances. 

Urbanity Director and Founder Betsi Graves said she is grateful that Cuadra is part of their community.  

“It is clear that he cares deeply about dance as an art form and the Boston dance community,� Graves said.

But embracing this sense of peace and community was not always easy for Cuadra.

Many styles of dance can be strict with rules and traditions. For Cuadra, Zouk was fresh and new. “I felt like I was early enough in it so I could make changes about it,â€� he said. 

Cuadra, 44, was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and immigrated to Massachusetts as a child. He worked in Boston for 20 years as a green card holder, which became an issue last May when he lost his job after 15 years. He said he’d lost the card and had applied for a replacement. But as his application was being processed, he said his employer fired him. “It felt like an excuse to push me out,â€� Cuadra said. 

As immigration officials looked into the situation, Cuadra said he experienced a newfound freedom to pursue his passion for dance. 

Cuadra has adopted many roles at Urbanity. He is a director, chief of staff, and member of Urbanity’s residency program.

But Cuadra said that as a gay man, he has also faced discrimination in dance—particularly in Latin dance where participants tend to prefer more traditional dancing roles. 

He said he was ridiculed and stopped from dancing with other men or experimenting with changing up traditional leader-follower roles. Cuadra was not dissuaded from ending his dance career. Instead, he embraced it. His goal was to enact change from the inside. 

“Something in me told me not to give up,’’ he shared. “I teach now because of this so people don’t have to experience [what I experienced].â€�

Despite his early troubles, Cuadra found pockets of peace in Boston. An eye-opening instance for him was at a social event in Cambridge when he first discovered Zouk. He recalled loving the openness of the dance. 

With Zouk, “I can relax and enjoy a dance without having these extra things attacking me or making me feel uncomfortable,â€� he explained. 

Finding acceptance in dance gave Cuadra the drive to teach Zouk. “Because I was exposed to that feeling of being at my own peace with dance… I was like I need to see how I can help others to experience this more,” he said. “Something in me told me not to give up.â€�

Cuadra gained more exposure in and around the city, distinguishing himself as an instructor of Zouk and a gay man. He has co-hosted a Facebook group called Zouk On The Docks, for the past six years. This nonprofit group has gained much of its traction by word of mouth.

He dances now with “a higher purpose,’’ even on tough days. “I know the struggles I’m going through,â€� he said, noting that if he hangs on, “change will happenâ€� soon for the better.

This story was published as part of a collaboration with Boston University’s School of Journalism in the College of Communication. The student journalist is a member of a Reporting in Depth class taught by former Boston Globe reporter Meghan Irons.

Author Jennifer De Leon details her new book “Borderless”, being Latina, and feeling like an ‘imposter’

Jennifer De Leon was preparing for her creative writing class in 2010, rummaging through her bag, when a student approached her and asked about the teacher. 

“Hey, do you know when the instructor is gonna get here?� the student said to her.

“I’m sitting right here,â€� she responded. 

De Leon, who recalled the encounter in an interview, is very familiar with being made to feel like an imposter in a classroom even though she is an accomplished editor, speaker, professor, mother and Juniper prize-winning author.

She said she spent the rest of the class wondering if she was even qualified for the job. 

De Leon released her latest book Borderless in April and has made it her mission to showcase the multidimensional reality of Latin cultures and being a Latina in white spaces. She’s written multiple books and essays that amplify complex Latino voices and is teaching a new generation of ‘unknown storytellers’ how to write their own stories.

“I feel strongly about writing (and) bringing (people who) traditionally have been in the margins to the center,� she said.

De Leon, the daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, had never read a book by a Latina author until she was 19 years old and in her freshman year of college. 

That’s when she read The House on Mango Street by Mexican-American author, Sandra Cisneros. De Leon described the book as “crispâ€� and “alive,â€� with sprinkles of Spanish dialogue that echoed the voices of her family members. 

Until then, she did not know authors were “allowed� to break the stylistic statute set by the white and male authors, like Ernest Hemingway or Raymond Carver, that she was typically assigned. De Leon said Cisneros’ dialogue spoke to her on so many levels that, “I honestly thought the professor made a mistake.�

To relay an authentic story arc in her recently published book, De Leon traveled to the US-Mexico border at McAllen, Texas, to document first-hand accounts of people who risked their lives to come to the United States. 

When De Leon was two years old, her parents moved 1,182 miles south of Boston to the suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama, so she and her sister would have the “best education.� But her life started to become divided. 

She said she felt stereotyped in high school and was forced to assimilate in her largely white school. In one troubling incident, De Leon recalled one of her teachers telling her to hurry up or she would miss the “Metco bus.� Metco is a desegregation program that transports students of color to schools in the suburbs. But the teacher had no idea that De Leon lived near the school and could walk home.

De Leon, the only person of color in her class, said she did not have the language to name what she was experiencing.

But she said she felt like she did not belong there.  

Now, through her writing and other work, she’s helping people in her community embrace their cultural differences and promote diversity, equity and inclusion through storytelling. Her organization, Story Bridge, also explores stories from participants’ own lives. 

At a book reading in Porter Square this past February, De Leon and Patricia Park—author of “Imposter Syndrome and Other Confessions of Alejandra Kimâ€�—spoke candidly about how growing up in white spaces as children of immigrants is a dual battle. 

Park explained that beyond her own expertise as an Argentinian-Asian American, she’s still learning about who confronts imposter syndrome and how it manifests itself in society. 

De Leon said she will keep pressing her issues to students and others in her workshop. 

In her classroom story about feeling like an imposter, De Leon said she spent the entirety of the creative writing class battling her inner voice that doubted if she was qualified for the job. 

“I am the professor,’’ De Leon said, “you shouldn’t doubt that.â€� 

She recalled the words of her mother that gave her some peace.

Do not be an imposter, her mother had told her, take up space. 

This report was published in collaboration with the Boston University School of Communications School of Journalism. The journalism student is a member of a Reporting in Depth class taught by former Boston Globe reporter Meghan Irons.

Why one man says ‘speaking’ for the trees can address inequity in Boston

When you think about trees, a few things probably come to mind: the bristling of their leaves in the wind, the crunching of their branches when they’re on the ground, the feeling you get when you’re surrounded by them — which can be rare in a city like Boston. But what does it mean to “speak” for trees?

“I’m a big fan of Dr. Seuss and ‘The Lorax.’ And in the book ‘The Lorax,’ the Lorax sort of says at a certain point, ‘Stop cutting down my trees. I speak for the trees, for they have no tongues.’ He doesn’t say because they have no voice. The trees actually do have a voice. They just say things in ways that we don’t necessarily hear,” said David Meshoulam, executive director and co-founder of the advocacy group Speak for the Trees. “And it’s time that we come together, building community around, speaking together in one voice for the trees.”

Meshoulam joined several volunteers at Kevin Fitzgerald Park in Mission Hill for a recent clean up ahead of Arbor Day. Last year, the group planted about 20 trees. This year, they came back to mulch, water and check in on those same trees, as well as replace the trees that didn’t survive with four new ones.

Mission Hill is home to Northeastern’s student population, as well as longstanding Black and Latino communities in the neighborhood. It also has fewer trees than some other neighborhoods.

Read the full story at GBH News: www.wgbh.org/

Publisher’s Note: GBH and Massachusetts Latino News (MALN) are partners in providing greater visibility and voice to local Hispanic-Latinos communities.

Boston startup YUNG DUMME raises awareness on community violence

ROXBURY—As snow gently fell onto the Roxbury Community College campus, the smell of burger patties and hot dogs wafted into the Student Commons, where booths lined the foyer and people of all ages wore red and black—the official colors for homicide awareness.

In the back corner stood a mother, daughter, and best friend selling a variety of clothing items with the logo YD for YUNG DUMME. Their mission, however, extends far beyond just fashion. It was turning their anger into action.

The trio started YUNG DUMME, a Boston apparel startup, and hosted their first event on Feb. 25, called “Break the Silence, Stop the Violence,�—a pop-up affair that featured local vendors and resources. The aim was to unite the urban community through arts and culture while also educating the public on the enormous impact of homicide and violence of all kinds.

Kidiah Roberts, Stephanie Wilson and Tanaijsa Brutus pictured left to right in front of red and black balloons at Roxbury Community College. Their business acronym, YUNG DUMME, stands for “Your Universe Navigates Greatness. Discipline Undoubtedly Made Me Exceptional.”

As of March 12, 2023, there have been nine recorded homicides, 28 victims of shootings, and 154 cases of domestic aggravated assaults citywide.

“I see a lot of comments like what’s being done about violence,â€� said Tanaijsa Brutus, the 27-year-old director of creation and design at YUNG DUMME who lives in Chelsea, Mass. “This event is a step in the right direction.â€�

Brutus, Stephanie Wilson, and Kidiah Roberts founded YUNG DUMME last year, after losing KeAndre’ Roberts, their best friend, son, and brother, to an unsolved homicide on Aug. 31, 2022. The brand is their homage to KeAndre’ as he had originally wanted to create the urban apparel line himself. 

KeAndre’ also came up with the name YUNG DUMME, which stands for “Your Universe Navigates Greatness. Discipline Undoubtedly Made Me Exceptional.� After facing his own trials and tribulations with the corrections systems and violence, he wanted to create something that showcases how everyone makes mistakes but taking those next steps to learn from them would make one exceptional.  

Stephanie Wilson speaking at the event with Kidiah Roberts to her left, and Tanaijsa Brutus to her right. Here, Wilson spoke about what YUNG DUMME means and how everyone has a YUNG DUMME in them.

Through their personal social media accounts, a business website, and over 60,000 views on Pinterest, Roberts, Brutus, and Wilson have taken KeAndre’s vision and brought it to light via e-commerce. 

While their business is primarily online, the organizers wanted to bring everyone together in person, said Roberts, the 28-year-old director of community outreach and resources from Dorchester. 

“Feeling the energy, support, and emotions… it’s totally different than sitting on the computer screen listening to a seminar talking about the same things,â€� she said.

The “Break the Silence, Stop the Violence� title highlights the need for more openness about issues such as abuse and trauma, said Wilson, the 45-year-old director of operations.

“If you’ve been abused, if you’re a victim… just talk about it, speak about it. We need to break this saga of nobody saying anything.�

Stephanie Wilson

At the event, 20 small businesses sold paintings, jewelry, personalized cups, and other items. The Louis D. Brown Peace Institute and the Boston Neighborhood Trauma team were among the organizations at 13 booths, offering resources to individuals affected by violence and homicide.

A series of resources booths in the foyer of the Roxbury Community College Student Commons. Some of the Organizations at these booths included, Mothers for Justice and Equality, One love Sports Academy and the Massachusetts Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department.

Aretha Maugé, outreach coordinator at Mothers for Justice and Equality for the last 10 years, said after losing her son to violence on the MBTA back in 2008, her mission is to make sure mothers and families get support after traumatic events.

“I was working in corporate and lost my job when it happened because I didn’t know how to turn that pain into purpose,â€� Maugé said.

This idea of transforming pain into purpose is something that inspired Boston City Councilor Julia Mejia.

“So many people are experiencing trauma, especially after COVID,� Mejia said in an interview. “Creating spaces like this where people can build with each other … is one of the most important things that we could do.�

Boston City Councilor at-Large Julia Mejia speaking into a microphone at the event. “This event was so super inspiring,� she said in an interview. 

Wilson recalled negative media reports after her son was killed, adding that she wanted the event to be much more. She wanted to “touch the people being touched’’ in a show of support.

“This is about the camaraderie of people getting together for something positive, especially in the Greater Boston area and urban communities,â€� she said. 

Clifton A. Braithwaite, who is running for Boston City Council at-large, said he is pleased the events’ emphasis was on “great organizations,’’ than on violence. The way YUNG DUMME brought fashion and community together is a “beautiful� thing he said.

“The only way to get to people is through love, education, and events like this,� he said. “There’s more to life than just worrying about being in a body bag.�

This story was published as part of a collaboration between MA Latino News and Boston University’s Department of Journalism in the College of Communication. The student journalist is a member of a Reporting in Depth class taught by former Boston Globe reporter Meghan Irons.

Annika Chaves is 20 years old and from Pittsburgh, PA. She is a sophomore at Boston University, studying Journalism and Anthropology with aspirations of working in the legal field as an attorney. As a first-generation immigrant from Colombia, she is passionate about finding ways to connect with and amplify the Latine voices in local communities.

Sazon De MA: Yely’s Restaurant

JAMAICA PLAIN—It was a busy day in Yely’s Restaurant. The lunch rush had just started and the long line of customers was growing fast. 

Customers shook off the rain from their umbrellas and peered over the foggy glass, lifting a finger to point at the food selection available that day.

Edwin Anderson Medina, the 45-year-old owner, worked the register, moving seamlessly around his coworkers as he collected payment from customers. 

Despite the long line, Medina paused to greet and shake hands with longtime patrons and friends. 

“Getting a taste of our food no matter who you are or where you’re from is the most important thing for me,� said Medina in an interview after the lunch rush.

Yely’s Coffee Shop—a Dominican eatery commonly known as Yely’s Restaurant—is a staple in Jamaica Plain, offering home-cooked Dominican food and an authentic feel of the homeland. 

The kitchen prepares food from its 6 a.m. opening to its 9 p.m. closing. Located one block from the Jackson Square station on the Orange Line, the restaurant is a huge draw for commuters.

The family-owned restaurant first opened in 1995 by Medina’s father, Juan, who specialized in street-style Dominican cuisine, known as fritura

Due to its popularity, Yely’s has expanded with another restaurant in Dorchester, where about 24 percent of the Dominican population in the Greater Boston area lives, according to the Boston Planning and Development Agency.

Medina, originally from Bani, Dominican Republic, came to the United States in 1989 and grew to love cooking and running a restaurant as he worked alongside his father. 

“It was the profession I enjoyed the most,â€� he said. “Being taught by my father and my family growing up definitely influenced it.â€� 

Medina is running the Dorchester location while his father remains the owner of the original Jamaica Plain location. The food and prices remain the same.

“Being able to grow the business has always been something I’ve wanted to do since we started,’’ Medina shared. “Now that I’ve expanded it feels amazing being able to show others my culture.�

Medina said the restaurant has become a large part of his life—he hopes it will continue and grow with the next generation of his family.  

“I’d love to see more Yely’s pop up around the city so everyone can enjoy,â€� he said. 

Medina smiled warmly at his customers as he rang them up during the lunch rush. When he saw someone he knew, he moved from behind the counter to greet them. It’s the kind of service his customers expect, he said.  

“This is a legacy for me,â€� he said. “I see this and I know that my children [and] grandchildren … have this to keep going.â€� 

This story was published as part of a collaboration between MA Latino News and Boston University’s Department of Journalism in the College of Communication. The student journalist is a member of a Reporting in Depth class taught by former Boston Globe reporter Meghan Irons.

Esmeralda Moran is a sophomore studying Journalism at Boston University. She is a first-generation Dominican-American and the first in her family to attend a university. She aspires to spread her love for writing through pursuing magazine writing. 

Boston Celebrates Mejia and Her Homeland

DORCHESTER—Laughter rang as women clutched one another’s arms at Merengue Restaurant in Dorchester. In between bites of fried beef, they turned to the front door and warmly greeted people walking in.  

In the crowd was Boston City Councilor Julia Mejia, who stood out in her modern iteration of the traditional Dominican dress, worn only on special occasions. 

At this event, she was celebrating Dominican Republic Independence Day.

“I want everyone to know that we are here and we deserve respect,� Mejia said at the Merengue event.

Mejia, the city’s first Latina councilwoman, is one of Boston’s most famous Dominican Republic-born residents. (The most famous, of course, is David Ortiz, the former designated hitter for the Boston Red Sox.)

Mejia has stood out on the Council through her advocacy work for disenfranchised residents and Latinos across the city, including those from her homeland. 

Born in Baní, Dominican Republic, Mejia came to Boston with her mother at the age of five and lived in Dorchester. Her mother was undocumented and leaned on Mejia to translate legal documents and, on a larger level, help adjust to a foreign country.

Mejia said she learned at an early age how to speak up for her mother and other people who felt ignored by institutions that were supposed to serve them.

“I had to learn how to navigate the system and through that, I learned how to fight.â€�

Boston City Councilor Julia Mejia

Mejia made history in 2019 as the first Afro-Latina elected as a Boston city councilor. Prior to her ascension, the only Latino representation on the council came from one family, starting with Felix F. Arroyo and later, two of his sons, Felix D. Arroyo and Ricardo Arroyo. At the time she ran, no Latinos were serving.

“I decided to run because we didn’t have any representation, none,� Mejia said.

She took office by a single vote over her competitor. That year, Ricardo Arroyo was also elected.

The Merengue party was held on Feb. 27, the official date of the Dominican Republic’s independence from Haiti in 1844 as both countries were formerly merged and known as Hispañola. 

In Boston, the festivities began that morning at City Hall and ended at Merengue, famous for its Dominican cuisine, on Blue Hill Avenue. 

The morning celebration—organized by the City of Boston and Latino groups such as FUNDOARCU, a nonprofit that promotes Dominican culture—featured speeches and several dance performances. Officials also raised the Dominican flag at City Hall. 

“This is the first time we’ve celebrated outside of City Hall, not in the backroom inside an office,� Mejia said. “I was crying like a baby the whole time.�

Roughly 21,500 Dominicans live in Boston, making them the second largest immigrant group behind Haitian residents in the Greater Boston area, according to city data. 

Jasmill De Los Santos, a 29-year-old first-generation Dominican, said there is so much to celebrate now about Dominican culture. 

“I always thought I wasn’t Dominican enough growing up but now you look around and see everyone wants to be us. You don’t realize it growing up but everyone loves us.â€� 

Jasmill De Los Santos

Jasmill De Los Santos, 29, poses in front of the Dominican Republic Flag. Photo by Esmeralda Moran.

Bostonians like De Los Santos feel a growing pride in the Dominican identity, as Merengue and other restaurants attract scores of people for their authentic Dominican cuisine and the city’s most famous Dominican, David Ortiz, has a local bridge named after him. 

At Merengue, Mejia was clearly a star. After mingling with patrons, she gave a speech that, in part, laid out the work ahead, particularly for Latinos. 

As chair of the council’s committees on education, government accountability, and labor, workforce, and economic development, Mejia pledged to keep up the fight for her people. 

“We’re not leaving so let’s make ourselves a little more comfortable,” she told the crowd.

This story was published as part of a collaboration between MA Latino News and Boston University’s Department of Journalism in the College of Communication. The student journalist is a member of a Reporting in Depth class taught by former Boston Globe reporter Meghan Irons.

Esmeralda Moran is a sophomore studying Journalism at Boston University. She is a first-generation Dominican-American and the first in her family to attend a university. She aspires to spread her love for writing through pursuing magazine writing. 

2023 Citizenship Day Assists Hundreds of Bostonians

MA Latino News covers the social determinants of health and democracy. U.S. Citizenship supports individuals ability and right to participate in official elections.

BOSTON—Hundreds of residents shuffled in and out of the Reggie Lewis Center Saturday for free legal advice and assistance with their U.S. citizenship applications on the ninth annual Boston “Citizenship Day.�

The Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement (MOIA) and Project Citizenship hosted the in-person workshop on April 1. Mayor Michelle Wu made a brief appearance to show her support and thank everyone involved in the collaborative event. 

“I’m feeling really emotional being here actually. I’m the daughter of two naturalized citizens and it took them years and years to get through that process,â€� Mayor Wu shared at the event. “I’m really excited that we are lowering those barriers for so many here today. We are going to continue to find ways to do that all throughout the year as well.”

About 29% of Boston’s total population is foreign-born with around 30,000 Boston residents eligible for U.S. citizenship. According to MOIA, 28% of foreign-born immigrants identify as Hispanic/Latino, 27% as Black/African American, and 26% as Asian/Pacific Islander.

Since its beginning in 2014, “Citizenship Dayâ€�—organized by the City of Boston and Project Citizenship—has helped almost 3,000 applicants begin their paths toward U.S. citizenship. 

“Becoming a U.S. citizen is an important milestone for many immigrants, but it can be a complicated and expensive process,â€� commented Mayor Wu. “Citizenship Day helps eliminate one of those barriers.â€� 

The process of becoming a U.S. citizen can cost thousands of dollars in legal fees. Assistance from a lawyer can range from $500 to $2,500.

Hundreds of volunteers—including lawyers, pro bono attorneys, law students, and community members—come together each year to help set up the extensive workshop or personally guide Boston residents through the 20-page citizenship application for free. 

Although there are still application fees, low-income residents may qualify for a fee waiver through U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)—learn more at www.uscis.gov/i-912

One Percent for America, a Boston nonprofit, also offered access to 1% interest loans to assist with fees such as the $725 charge for processing an application. 

“Citizenship allows people to participate in our democracy and be civically engaged,� said Executive Director Mitra Shavarini of Project Citizenship. “By providing free legal help, we make sure citizenship isn’t just for people who can afford it.�

The Boston-based nonprofit, Project Citizenship, looks to provide free workshops, eligibility screening, application assistance, legal referrals, and other support year-round to residents applying for U.S. citizenship.

“On average, we have served applicants from over 50 countries in a single day event and we have completed over 1,200 fee waivers, providing financial support for low-income applicants, during these workshops,� reads the Project Citizenship website. “This annual event promotes the importance of citizenship for the health and vitality of our city.�

Learn more about Citizenship Day at Project Citizenship’s website or MOIA’s official page.

Roxbury Muralist Creates Message of Love

MA Latino News covers the social determinants of health and democracy. Collaborations like the partnership with Boston University’s Department of Journalism in the College of Communication is integral to the health of news and the health of democracy. 

One of Anna Rodriguez’s murals, “Mind over Matter,’’ adorns Warren Street near Nubian Square. Another that bears her imprint pays homage to Roxbury’s ZIP code 02119. 

The others are in the works, and Rodriguez is just getting started. She creates murals that aim to capture a message of self-love. 

“Being from Roxbury and being an artist…it is really important for me to be connected to my community,� said 27-year-old Rodriguez.

Rodriguez began painting and drawing when she was 13 years old. She enjoyed designing art on the “shoes and clothesâ€� of her friends. 

Three years ago, after the global pandemic upended lives, Rodriguez became serious about her artwork. Instead of putting pen to paper, she is learning to create murals.

Rodriguez began to hone her skills in digital art and “master spray painting,’’ a technique that artists use to finetune their mural styles. She is still learning the skill of angling her wrist and listening to the can to create the right layers and texture in each of her murals.

Rodriguez said she began working on murals after being inspired by other artists. One of them is Rob Gibbs, who goes by the name “ProBlak.â€� Gibbs is a popular mural designer and community organizer whose mission is to transform the cultural landscape of Boston. 

“He did a mural in my neighborhood — a beautiful, life-changing mural,’’ Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez has started an Instagram account — with her username “_ellainspires� — to showcase her art and murals. This new digital workspace allows her to get feedback from followers and express her art.

Her “Mind over Matter” mural is a permanent fixture in Roxbury. Its big white letters atop a colorful background can be found on the corner of Warren and Taber streets. Rodriguez said she wants to connect her interests — healing and mental health — with her art, and in turn, help to keep Roxbury beautiful. 

“It’s just about creating beautiful things, and beautiful spaces,’’ said Geo Ortega, a Roxbury visual artist — and mentor to Rodriguez — who helped Rodriguez with her work. 

Ortega teaches visual arts at Madison Park Vocational Technical High School, which has helped to increase the art footprints around Nubian Square. Murals — bursts of red, yellow, and blue and images depicting the local people — are displayed throughout the school covering the outside, hallways, and classrooms. 

Ortega first met Rodriguez when he was project manager on a mural Gibbs painted with the Museum of Fine Arts on the back of Madison Park. Rodriguez walked up to Ortega and asked about the project. Soon she was part of the mural community. 

“She did pretty well really fast,’’ Ortega said. 

Ortega said he is trying to change the perception people have about murals, including the words they use to describe them. Many artists have reclaimed the word “graffiti,’’ which for years had a negative connotation. Instead, Ortega has been incorporating graffiti into pieces of his art such as the stripes on a tiger he painted. 

“Graffiti can be beautiful. We can make it so it improves a space,â€� Ortega said.  

Roxbury’s murals are part of a wider city effort to reflect Boston’s diverse communities. 

The City of Boston, which featured the work of prominent artists in Roxbury on its website, also started a mural tracking map, and Boston’s mural crew, established in 1991, has been painting murals across the city. 

Rodriguez said she is proud that her work is part of Boston’s multi-generational artist community. 

“I’m very grateful for anyone that reacts to it and has any impact. It’s not about quantity for me,â€� Rodriguez said. “It’s about just having meaningful relationships with the people that I do have.â€� 

Anna Rodriguez with her mural “Mind Over Matter”. Photo Courtesy of Anna Rodriguez.

This story was published in collaboration with Boston University’s Department of Journalism in the College of Communication. The student journalist is a member of a Reporting in Depth class taught by former Boston Globe reporter Meghan Irons.

Hannah Edelheit is 19 years old and a second year journalism student at Boston University from Denver, Colorado. She enjoys writing and wants to be a journalist in the future.