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

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.

The Interpreters Who Pushed For Higher Pay And Won

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. 

When her daily pay rate finally increased after 17 years, Gema Schaff bought a new pair of shoes. 

The 75-year-old Spanish language court interpreter, originally from Havana, was able to upgrade her wardrobe with new flats for work. It was part of her goal to replace “some really worn out� warm-weather shoes. 

“The [other shoes] look really old, and the first thing I thought was: I can get new shoes,’’ Schaff, who currently lives in Cambridge, said. 

The new shoes were a small victory for Schaff, who helped successfully advocate for a long overdue wage increase for herself and other Massachusetts court interpreters hired to do daily translation work. It is a battle these interpreters have been waging for years — and earlier in February they staged a walkout highlighting their plight. 

Three of the women who participated in the walkout recently described their long quest for fairer pay and said their efforts are far from over.

Before this year, Massachusetts court per diem interpreters — mostly immigrants, some in their 60s and 70s — had not had a pay raise since 2006. For 17 years, they were paid $200 to $300 per diem for translating court proceedings to defendants in criminal and civil court cases.

“The feeling was of complete helplessness,� Schaff said about the years of advocating for higher pay for per diem workers. “There was nothing we could do to get a fair pay.�

Interpreters are an essential part of court proceedings, often traveling across the state to provide courtroom translation services for people with limited English proficiency. 

They translate predominantly in Spanish, but also in Vietnamese, Portuguese, Haitian, and Chinese languages, such as Mandarin and Cantonese.

“In the trial court … you really have the opportunity to help people,â€� Schaff said. “If you are in a position to help somebody in such a stressful situation, I think you’re very privileged.â€�

Genevieve Howe, a 65-year-old Spanish interpreter of 12 years, said the idea for protesting their low wages had been circulating for many months before the interpreters settled on a date for the five-day walkout.

“We’ve been badgering our office for years to correct the compensation rates,’’ said Howe of Dorchester. “The walkout, clearly, got us the attention that we needed.�

Per diem interpreters alerted court officials about the walkout to ensure that defendants were being serviced, and met with the state’s new trial court administrator, Thomas Ambrosino, on Feb. 1.

Ambrosino approved increasing the pay to $300 for half-day and $450 for full-day certified interpreters along with $200 for half-day and $300 for full-day screened interpreters. This increase is retroactive to Jan. 1. 

“The Trial Court values the work of all of our interpreters and recognizes that they are integral to providing access to justice,’’ Donahue said.

The interpreters welcomed the increase but said it was not all they had hoped for.

“Some people … felt disappointed that $450 was the number that the courts offered,â€� Howe said. “It feels like a victory because we’re getting a 50 percent increase which is a nice bump up.â€� 

But the women had sought an increase of around $560 for a full day of work for certified interpreters after consulting with an economist. 

They also expressed concern that a state plan to hire 50 new staff interpreters would eliminate the per diem workers who have “been loyally working in the courts’’ without receiving a raise for 17 years, according to a Feb. 4 letter addressed to Governor Maura Healey’s office. 

The trial court currently has 65 staff and 90 per diem interpreters, Donahue said. 

“I do fear that being largely a group of immigrants and people of color has played some role in the trial court’s failure to pay us the attention that they should,� Howe said in an interview.

Mercy T. Cevallos, the 77-year-old Spanish interpreter of Newton who sent the letter to Healey, wrote that the $450 figure was “unacceptableâ€� and cited a compensation formula that led to the $560 figure.  

Without fair pay, Cevallos said she had to tap into her savings to pay her rent, utilities, and general living expenses, which was “emotionally painful.�

Going to court is confusing and stressful, and for people who don’t understand English, the feeling is much worse, said Cevallos.

“We’re buttressing this legal system that requires that people have access to a fair trial,� Cevallos said. “And we would like to have that apply to us as well in compensation terms.�

Per diem interpreters are also not fairly compensated for the travel time required to get to and from courthouses, which can sometimes take one to three hours a day, Howe said. 

Ambrosino promised to meet the per diem interpreters again in May to look at the travel time issue, Howe said.

“It’s just a huge relief because it’s been so long with nothing happening and no one paying any attention to us,â€� Howe said. “It feels really good that we have his ear [and] that we can continue to be in communication with him.â€�

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.

Clare Ong is a Sophomore studying Film & Television and Journalism at Boston University. She is a 20-year-old international student from Singapore who came to the U.S. to pursue her dreams of working in the film and media industry. She hopes to be a filmmaker, photographer, or documentarian in the future and aims to tell powerful stories through her work.

Lawyers For Civil Rights Boston Leader Receives New Honors

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. 

Some people grow up with aspirations of becoming a celebrity, an athlete, or even a world-renowned singer. For 43-year-old Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, choosing a career had nothing to do with dreams and everything to do with a question.

“How do you protect yourself and how do you assert your rights, especially in a context where you don’t know your rights?� Espinoza-Madrigal said.

The answer lies in Espinoza-Madrigal’s career as a  public interest and civil rights lawyer. As the executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights in Boston, he has been at the center of many of the legal cases that have come through Boston, including filing a lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for transporting a myriad of people, most of them Venezuelan seeking asylum, to Martha’s Vineyard.

He’s also been at the forefront of his East Boston neighborhood efforts to locate a Latin-American woman who has been missing since last November.

Espinoza-Madrigal was recently named a 2022 “Lawyers of the Yearâ€� by Massachusetts Lawyer Weekly for his legal advocacy work. 

The organization noted that within hours after the news broke about the two airplanes carrying migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Espinoza-Madrigal was on the island with a team of lawyers “to ascertain the details of their situation.�

“It is extremely humbling to be able to receive the lawyer of the year recognition and the award reflects the importance of the work that my organization championed,� Espinoza-Madrigal said.

Born in Costa Rica and raised in Chelsea, Mass., Espinoza-Madrigal grew up in a low-income family with a mother who cleaned houses for a living to raise her sons. Growing up, Espinoza-Madrigal said he witnessed “the injustice� in how his family was treated, dealing with immigration authorities, the police, and landlords demanding rent.

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 2001, Espinoza-Madrigal went to New York University School of Law to pursue a career in public interest law. 

As the first in his family to go to college, attend graduate school, and become a lawyer, Espinoza-Madrigal said he wanted to highlight the importance of “creating space� for immigrants, Latinos, and minority groups in the legal profession. That includes ensuring not only hiring and promoting Latinos in the legal profession but also amplifying their voices on critical issues, he said.

“It is an extremely segregated profession and it doesn’t reflect the populations we serve. You start seeing a stark difference between what we look like as a community and what we look like as a legal profession.â€�


This process should begin in law school, he said, noting his own experience with having peers and mentors from similar backgrounds—which helped him get through law school. 

After law school, he worked as a public service attorney and became executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights Boston in April 2015. He has become a voice for people, who would not otherwise have a lawyer to advocate for them in a crisis.

When Espinoza-Madrigal first learned about the Venezuelan migrants being dropped off on Martha’s Vineyard, he said he felt “extreme worry� and “concern� for the well-being of the families and children who were left without any protection or resources.

Grace Moreno, chief executive and executive director of the Massachusetts LGBT Chamber of Commerce, recalled receiving a call from Espinoza-Madrigal that morning. He asked her to “jump in� because other people were not “acting as fast.� Although she does not specialize in immigration issues, she quickly responded to Espinoza-Madrigal’s call.

“I’m a Latina in the Latino community,’’ Moreno said. “He reached out to me … on a personal level and I, of course, jumped in because this was a humanitarian effort.�

When she got to the scene, Espinoza-Madrigal was in the “front-lineâ€�, helping escort the migrants on the ferry to the military base, Moreno recalled. 

“He made sure people understood they were safe,â€� she said. 

While his award champions the work of his organization’s efforts on behalf of the Venezuelan migrants, Espinoza-Madrigal said it is one example of the “day-to-day struggles� the Latino community has faced recently.

He recalled going to another scene in East Boston, where Reina Morales Rojas had been missing for five months. The Everett-based advocacy group, Latinos Unidos en Massachusetts, had called Espinoza-Madrigal and Lawyers for Civil Rights to help ascertain what was going on with the case.

The police would not let the lawyers into the meeting.  

Though Rojas had disappeared for a while, news of her vanishing did not become public until Jan. 25. 

Espinoza-Madrigal said the cases of Rojas and the Venezuelans show how Latinos are often “neglected� and “exploited.�

“These two challenges coexist…Living under the constant fear of exploitation while trying to survive through institutional and structural neglect.â€�


That is why he does this work, said Moreno, who praised the recent honor from Lawyers Weekly.

She said she admires how Espinoza-Madrigal is not scared to be bold and uses the law for the good of the people.

“He’s one of the few lawyers on the left that can actually be just as creative with the law,â€� Moreno said. “He protects the humanitarian and the little guy.â€�

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. 

Annika Chavez is a sophomore majoring in journalism at Boston University.

MALN Opinion+: Leon Smith

Welcome to another episode of MA Latino News Opinion+ where we talk about major issues the Latinx and other underrepresented communities face in the state of Massachusetts. 

This week we spoke with Executive Director of Citizens for Juvenile Justice Leon Smith on racial disparities within the state’s juvenile justice system and reform policies that aim to close these gaps. 

Citizens for Juvenile Justice is the only independent, statewide nonprofit organization exclusively dedicated to juvenile justice reform and supporting other youth-serving systems across Massachusetts. Founded in 1994, the organization advocates through community engagement, conducting research, and educating the public on crucial youth justice issues. 

“We really focus on…young people in the juvenile justice system [and] young people who are at risk of being pushed into pipelines like the school-to-prison pipeline or the child welfare-to-prison pipeline,â€� Smith told CT Latino News. 

CfJJ looks to dismantle those systems while protecting the rights of young people who are currently in the juvenile justice system so they are treated fairly and equitably, Smith said.

In Massachusetts, Black youth were four times more likely and Latino youth were three times more likely than their white peers to experience a custodial arrest than a summons, according to a 2022 report by the Juvenile Justice Policy and Data Board

“It’s one vision when someone walks into court with their parent, it’s another when they’re brought before the court already in handcuffs. Subconsciously, it definitely creates a different impression on the court, on the judge, which can impact the overall outcomes,â€� Smith explained. â€œ…a summons is the preferred mode for effectively charging a young person and sending them to court.â€�

Research shows that when youth commit similar types of offenses, Black and Brown individuals are more likely to be arrested rather than summoned, resulting in harsher outcomes at the very beginning of the juvenile justice system. 

“We know from research [that] when young people hit formal court processing it doesn’t have a deterrent effect, it actually makes it more likely that a young person will continue to move through the system,� Smith shared.

CfJJ advocates for expanding opportunities for expungements—so youth who have moved on from their mistakes can better clear their record—along with expanding Juvenile Justice Diversion.

“Diversion says ‘we are going to take this case, we are going to direct it to community-based solutions’—they can be restorative justice, they can be requirements to do community service, they can be treatment, counseling—different ways to address the needs of young people outside of a formal court system,â€� Smith said.  

Formal court processes delay young people from receiving help, Smith emphasized. When a case is sent to diversion, that young person can get involved in services much sooner and the issue can be addressed more quickly.

“You can still hold a young person accountable but do so without giving them a court record or just sending them to the court process and ultimately that brings about better outcomes,â€� Smith added. 

The nonprofit has also been focused on a Raise The Age campaign that looks to include 18 to 20-year-olds in the juvenile justice system, as other states have done

According to data, young people who are committed in the juvenile justice system to the age of 21 show a 22 percent recidivism rate. When youth 18 to 20 are in the adult system, the recidivism rate is 76 percent. 

“When young people hit the adult criminal justice system, they have the highest recidivism rate, which is a sign that the approach isn’t working,â€� Smith said. “Because if young people continue to loop in and out of the system and in trouble that is a product of the adult system not being geared to meet the needs of young people in that age frame.â€� 

Another reform priority includes looking at policing practices. Law enforcement officers may use deceit when questioning a young person, such practices are linked to false confessions, Smith said. 

Juvenile Justice advocates “want to make sure that young people who are being interrogated by police officers have an attorney present because young people are significantly more likely to falsely confess,â€� Smith explained. 

Resources mentioned in this video: 

State commission calls for dismantling structural racism in Mass. prisons, jails

Structural racism is rampant in the state’s prisons and jails, a special legislative commission found in a study released today.

The 71-page report, based on several site visits and dozens of interviews with current and former inmates and correctional staff, concluded that racism pervades policies, programs and the culture in both the state’s prisons and its county jails. Inmates of color told commissioners about unequal access to medical and mental health care and waiting longer for job placement than their white counterparts. Non-white inmates were routinely given lower-paying janitorial work instead of more desirable and higher-paying jobs in metal work and dog training, the report stated.

The Special Legislative Commission on Structural Racism in Correctional Facilities, led by state Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Marlborough) and former state Rep. Nika Elugardo (D-Boston), was charged with investigating the treatment of people of color incarcerated at state and county correctional facilities. More than 11,500 men and women are incarcerated across the state and county correctional system, whether serving sentences, awaiting trials or detained under federal programs.

From disciplinary actions to health care and educational access, people of color — along with non-English speakers and LGBTQ people — experienced worse conditions than white people, according to the report.

Read the full story at GBH News.

Publisher’s Note: This story is an aggregate from GBH, Massachusetts Latino News’ (MALN) partner in providing greater visibility and voice to the Hispanic-Latino community.

Volunteers Help Recently Arrived Migrants Endure First Winter

MA Latino News produces and amplifies stories focused on the responses to the social determinants of health. Social and Community Context is the connection between characteristics of the contexts within which people live, learn, work, and play, and their health and well-being. This includes topics like cohesion within a community, civic participation, discrimination, conditions in the workplace, and incarceration.

Over the last month, thousands of migrants have crossed into the U.S. at the Texas border ahead of the expiration of Title 42, a pandemic policy that allows the U.S. to expel migrants in order to stem the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

Cities and states led by Democrats are expecting an influx of migrants — and they’re worried they won’t be able to handle the surge.

“We have been navigating this all year,� said Denise Rincon, president of the Venezuelan Association of Massachusetts. “People are arriving without any resources. So we have had to deal with this the best we can. With our own money, our own resources. We’ve tried to do magic.“

Video by Danna Matheus

Volunteers like Arianny Ramirez welcome children and family members, many of whom like herself, are Venezuelan, bussed to D.C. from the southern U.S. border since April.

“Even though we’re far away from our country, Venezuela, we feel at home,â€� said Ramirez. “With that warmth, that love, the gaitas, the pan de jamón, the hallacas, and everything together. It’s very beautiful.â€�

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis infuriated Democrats and immigration advocates when he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to fly about 50 mostly Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard.

That happened in September. Now, only five out of those 49 remain on Martha’s Vineyard, and others have started new lives in different towns throughout Massachusetts — some in government housing and shelters and others in private homes. Nearly all of them have moved to other cities across the U.S.

The migrant issue hasn’t gone unnoticed in Congress. Special funding in the federal spending bill released this week could take the pressure off of cities like New York, Chicago and Washington, as they try to handle the rise in immigrants and the challenges to provide shelter, food and other basic needs.

Danna Matheus, originally from Caracas, Venezuela, is a first-generation immigrant; currently residing in the Washington DC area.

She is a Communications graduate from Frederick Community College and a Journalism student at the University of Maryland. Danna has experience as a news reporter for “The Commuter,� a student-run newspaper, and as a producer for “Discovering your Future,� a podcast that helps students to find their passion.

Publisher’s Notes: Danna is an Hortencia Zavala Foundation (HZF) fellow in the 2022 class, Journalism Camp: covering race, ethnicity, and culture.

The Hortencia Zavala Foundation (HZF) was founded in 2016 in honor of Hugo Balta’s maternal grandmother.

HZF is a not-for-profit organization that helps students offset the costs of higher education with scholarships. In 2021, the organization expanded its support of students to include the Journalism Camp.

Please consider making a donation to HZF: Support Journalism.

MA Latino Homebuyer Guide: Stats and Resources

Editor’s Note: The following op-ed reflects MA Latino News’ focus on economic coverage—one of the social determinants of health—among the state’s diverse Hispanic-Latino populations. Economic stability and housing security are essential to one’s life and well-being.

Latino homeownership in Massachusetts has been on the rise in recent years. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Latinos now make up nearly 12% of all homeowners in Massachusetts – and this number will only continue to increase.

Several factors are driving this growth in Latino homeownership within the state. For one, the state’s Latino population, in general, has increased in recent years and currently makes up nearly one-fourth of the state’s population. Furthermore, Latinos in Massachusetts have seen their economic prospects improve over time with increases in median household income and educational level.

Consequently, these two demographic changes have contributed to the overall rise in Latino homeownership within Massachusetts in recent years. This is good news for a historically underserved community in the mainstream real estate market.

If you’re considering buying a home in Massachusetts, the best time is whenever you are ready. The average rent in Boston has been significantly rising in recent years, and this trend appears to continue. Boston’s median rent is $3,772, while the median mortgage payment is $3,500.

Many resources and support programs are available to Hispanic American citizens in Massachusetts, and with the right help, you can turn your American dream into a reality. 

Check out these feel-good statistics for even more motivation:

Latino homeownership general facts:

  • According to a 2019 projection by the Gaston Institute, the Latino population in Massachusetts will grow to over 1.15 million by 2035 – representing around 15.3 percent of the state’s population. Moreover, the projection indicates that existing Latinos in Massachusetts are more likely to contribute to the future population than new immigrants.
  • According to the Urban Institute, Latinos will make up 70% of home ownership growth from 2020-2040, making them the growth engine of American home buying. In fact, Latinos will not only experience a higher homeownership rate over the next couple of decades, but they will also be the leading ethnic or racial group to do so.
  • The years following the 2008-2009 financial crisis and sub-prime mortgage meltdown saw a significant decline in Latino homeownership rates, with data from the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP) showing that by 2014, only approximately 45% of the Hispanic population still owned their homes. However, by 2020 that rate had rebounded to around 49%, similar to its pre-crisis peak. An improving job market and lower interest rates contributed to this recoil.
  • NAHREP reports that the average age of Latinos, at 29 years old, is a significant contributing factor to the increase in the homeownership rate. This is because the Latino population is, on average, 14 years younger than the general population.
  • U.S. Census Bureau data shows that in 2020, nearly half (43.6%) of Latino homebuyers were under the age of 34, compared to 37.3% of the general population. Today, nearly one in three Latinos falls into the primary home-buying years demographic (25-44). As the population of other ethnic groups grows older on average, that will result in more Latinos becoming first-time homeowners.

According to the above statistics, the Massachusetts housing market’s future looks promising for Latinos. But what does this situation look like for undocumented immigrants? 

Can undocumented immigrants buy a house in Massachusetts?

The short answer is yes, and the key lies in taxes. 

For the ones who do not have permanent residency, there is still a chance to purchase a home in the state as long as they have an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).

What is an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)? It is a term used to describe a specific form of identification issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

Other types of identification include the Social Security Number (SSN), Employer Identification Number (EIN), Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number, or Preparer Tax Identification Number. The IRS provides an ITIN to those who need a U.S. taxpayer identification number but do not have or do not qualify to obtain a Social Security Number (SSN). 

Advantages & Disadvantages of Purchasing a House With a Tax ID Loan:


  • Social Security is not required.
  • Green Card is not required.
  • ITIN can be used to refinance mortgages.
  • Having an ITIN can help you build credit.
  • An ITIN loan is better than hard money loan.
  • Applying to an ITIN is easy, and the process is available online. It is easily done by filling out the W-7 form.


  • Although applying is easy, it can take up to 6 weeks to receive the official ITIN.
  • Higher interest rates.
  • Higher denial rates.
  • Most banks don’t provide Tax ID loans.
  • Tax ID loans require a higher down payment.

How to apply for a Tax ID Loan?

Once having an ITIN, the next step is to apply for a Tax ID loan with a lender. The process requires:

  • Proof of a sustainable and consistent income
  • Income verification
  • Credit history 
  • Down payment funds (usually, Tax ID loans require a 20% down payment, but a real estate agent could help you find a better rate).

It’s essential to prove your finances to show lenders you will be reliable and able to pay your loan payments.

Down Payment Assistance Programs in Massachusetts

If you’re considering purchasing a home, several down payments and closing cost assistance programs available locally and nationwide can help make the process easier. Let’s take a look at some of these programs to see if you qualify.

According to the Massachusetts Association of REALTORS, the median price for a single-family home in Massachusetts was $549,450 in March 2022, which is a 13.3% increase from the year prior.

For first-time home buyers in Massachusetts, saving up for a down payment can seem impossible when prices are constantly on the rise. It’s easy to feel like you’re always playing catch-up, but there are a few down payment assistance programs that can help make up for the difference.

Massachusetts Home Buyer Example:

Home Sale Price $549,450
Minimum down payment (3%) $16,483
20% Down Payment $109,890
Credit Score Average 732
Home Buyer Grant A 5% discount, with a cap of $15,000 or $25,000 (MassHousing)

The amount you’ll need to put down for a down payment on a home varies based on home sale price in your state. For conventional mortgages, the minimum down payment is usually 3% – but this may vary depending on your credit score.

Massachusetts First-time Home Buyer Loans

If you’re a first-time home buyer in Massachusetts looking to qualify for a conventional loan, you’ll need to be able to put down 20% to avoid private mortgage insurance (PMI). However, don’t worry if you can’t reach that amount. There are still several options available that allow for smaller down payments. 

Many low-down-payment mortgage programs available require a down payment as low as 3%.

  • Conventional 97:

 If you want to apply for a Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae mortgage, you’ll need a down payment of 3% and a credit score of at least 620. And usually, after just a few years of making your mortgage payments, you won’t need to pay for mortgage insurance anymore.

  • FHA Loan:

With a 3.5% down payment and a minimum credit score of 580, this loan is backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). However, you will be required to pay mortgage insurance until you refinance to a different type of mortgage, move, or pay off your loan.

  • VA Loan:

If you’re a veteran, service member, reservist, or member of the National Guard, you may be eligible for a VA loan. VA loans are some of the best, with zero down payment and no ongoing mortgage insurance. Credit score requirements vary by lender, but often 620 is the minimum.

  •  USDA Loan:

If you’re on a low-to-moderate income and looking to buy a home in a designated rural area, you may be eligible for a zero-down USDA loan. Credit score requirements vary by lender, but often 640 is the minimum. You may also be eligible for low mortgage insurance rates. Talk to your lender to see if you qualify.

  • Massachusetts State’s ONE Mortgage Program:

The ONE Mortgage program is a Massachusetts state program that helps first-time homebuyers purchase a home. The program provides a low-interest mortgage loan with no down payment or private mortgage insurance required. The loan is available to first-time homebuyers with certain income and credit requirements. The Massachusetts Housing Partnership, a non-profit organization, administers the program.

Here are a few more things to know about government home loan programs. Firstly, these loans are only available for primary residences – so if you’re looking to buy an investment property or a vacation home, you’ll need to look into other loan options.

Secondly, most programs allow you to use gifted money or down payment assistance (DPA) for your down payment and closing costs. A mortgage loan with such a low-interest rate could enable you to own your new home for a minimal out-of-pocket payment.

You can discuss your financial goals and home-buying plans with your lender if you’re unsure about which mortgage program to choose. The first step in your homeownership journey begins by talking to a real estate agent. A real estate agent can guide you in the direction that will benefit you the most and provide you with the necessary resources to succeed.

Massachusetts First-time Homebuyers Grants

First-time homebuyers in Massachusetts can take advantage of several state and federal support programs designed to help them afford their first home. Your real estate agent or loan officer can assist you in finding programs that may be available to you. 

Are you having trouble finding a down payment? Take a look at our list of affordable housing programs available to you.

  • The Massachusetts Housing Partnership’s “First-Time Homebuyer Grants” program offers grants for qualified first-time home buyers who fall into the low- to the moderate-income category of the “ONE Mortgage” loan program.
  • The Federal Housing Administration also offers a “First-Time Homebuyer Tax Credit” program, which provides a tax credit of up to $8,000 for qualified first-time homebuyers. This tax credit is available to buyers looking to purchase a home for the first time and those who have not owned a home in the past three years.
  • MassHousing offers several options, each with unique features and eligibility requirements. Before you close on a loan, you’ll need to complete an approved first-time homebuyer class (also known as Homebuyer counseling). However, attending a free first-time homebuyer workshop makes more sense in many cases before deciding which lender to choose, committing to a buyer’s agent, or looking at homes. This way, you can learn about the entire process and get your questions answered before moving forward.

Attleboro, Barnstable, Brockton, Chelsea, Chicopee, Everett, Fall River, Fall River, Fitchburg, Holyoke, Lawrence, Leominster, Lowell, Lynn, Malden, Methuen, New Bedford, Peabody, Quabbin, New Bedford, Witten, Taunton, Westfield, and Worcester are some of the gateway cities that allow higher DPA amounts.

Boston Down Payment Assistance Program

As expected, Boston is the most expensive city in Massachusetts for residential property. However, the good news is that the Boston Home Center offers down payment assistance of up to $30,000 to people looking to buy a home in Boston. You must repay this loan in full if you refinance, sell, or no longer occupy the property as your primary residence.

No interest or monthly payments are required.

Eligibility criteria can be found on the website. The income limit is 135% of the area’s median income.

A family of four would pay $101,050 per year in Boston, according to the website.

Worcester Down Payment Assistance Program

In March of 2022, the median list price for a home in Worcester, Massachusetts, was $340,000 – an increase of 15.3% from the previous year.

If you’re looking to buy a home in Worcester, you’ll need to come up with a down payment. The amount you’ll need to put down will depend on the median price of homes in the area. To buy a $340,000 house with a 3% down payment, you’ll need $10,200. On the other side, with a 20% down payment, you’ll need $68,000.

The City of Worcester offers a down payment assistance program for eligible residents. You can get up to $5,000 to cover the affordability gap. There are income and asset limits, so be sure to review all details for all the information you need.

The government provides assistance in the form of a forgivable second mortgage to make homeownership more accessible. This means that borrowers don’t have to make monthly payments or pay interest on the loan, but they will have to repay the loan plus interest if the property is sold or transferred during the first three years of ownership. If borrowers don’t sell, refinance, or move within three years, they won’t owe anything.

Springfield Down Payment Assistance programs

If you want to buy a home in Springfield with a median list price of $239,900 in March 2022, you’ll need to come up with a down payment of between $7,200 (3% down) and $47,980 (20% down).

Springfield’s down payment assistance program offers up to $4,000 in financial assistance for your down payment or closing costs. This program has no monthly payments or interest charges since it is a forgivable second mortgage. Every year, a 20% interest rate is added to the loan and forgiven over five years. During those five years, however, you must repay the outstanding balance if you sell, refinance or move.

Choosing a Massachusetts Real Estate Agent

Trying to buy a property in Massachusetts? With the state’s housing inventory at an all-time low, a professional familiar with current listings can make a world of difference. They can help you find the right property at the right price and negotiate on your behalf to get you the best possible deal.Your real estate agent will be able to show you homes that fit your budget and meet your needs while also providing insight into the bidding process. In such a competitive market, having an expert can make all the difference. If buying a house in Massachusetts is one of your dreams, get in touch with a professional real estate agent today and begin the process.

Juan Cano, originally from Medellin, Colombia, is a real estate agent and investor in the area of Boston, Massachusetts. He has transformed how Latinos see real estate and uncovered the best ways to create wealth for his clients. Juan looks at every client’s situation as if it was his own investment. If he wouldn’t buy a property, he’ll let you know. He believes that alone we can move faster, but together we can get further. Juan offers free consultations for anyone looking to buy or sell a property in the area. Make sure you schedule yours!

To get in touch with Juan Cano, send him a message on Instagram via @realestatejuanc or reach out to him on his website

MA Latino News sees the public as more than just the audience; you are contributors. To that end, please take our brief survey to help shape our coverage in producing stories on the social determinants of health: healthcare and quality, neighborhood and built environment, education access and quality, social and community context, and economic stability.