Massachusetts State Representative Jeffrey Sánchez arrived before his scheduled time to speak at the Max Mutchnick Campus Center on the evening of September 25 and shook everyone’s hand in the room, introducing himself each time. He asked everyone to move up to the front of the room for a more intimate, conversation-style feel, and began discussing his background and entry into politics.
Sánchez serves the 15th Suffolk/Norfolk District, which includes the Boston communities of Mission Hill, Jamaica Plain, and Roslindale, along with Precinct 5 of the Town of Brookline.
A son of Puerto Rican parents, Sánchez came to New England in the 1970s and grew up in a family that struggled financially. He decided to go into finance as “that is where money is at and I wanted money!” He was a stockbroker for a while in California, but Boston “called him home” in 1995. Although he had opportunities to pursue finance here, he heard of a job that piqued his interest: working in community relations for Mayor Menino on the Mission Main project, revitalizing and renovating housing developments in Mission Hill. Despite his lack of experience, he got the job and has been working in politics in Boston ever since.
He gets deeply involved with his communities, particularly with the Latino population, organizing events like “Senior Fit” (work-out routines for senior citizens); collaborating with local nonprofits; and, recently, acting as a surrogate for President Obama, traveling to 11 states so far to spread the president’s campaign message. He discussed “growing with my community” and what that means, how to cope with the challenges of poverty and lack of education, and how many of his constituents are “isolated” with no email or access to the Internet. His staff is on the streets every day, getting the word out about events and urging people to get involved in their communities. He has taken a special interest in helping Latino high school seniors in his district’s public schools get “into institutions like Emerson.”
Sánchez ended with this message to his audience: “Don’t get stuck. Don’t settle. I know I have accomplished a lot in 15 years, but guess what? Every day it feels like the beginning. That’s okay. You’d be surprised how much those of us in this room can shake up the world.”
The second half of the evening was devoted to a talk by Boston City Councilor-at-Large Felix Arroyo. Arroyo began with words of gratitude to his colleague, Jeffrey Sánchez, saying, “Jeffrey helped me to get into politics, going out of his way to advance my career—this isn’t common in politics.” He then joked that the two of them “represent the entire Puerto Rican caucus.” Their backgrounds are similar; Arroyo’s parents also came from Puerto Rico to Boston in the 1970s. His father was the first Latino to serve in local government in Boston, sitting on the City Council in 1981 (after running and losing in the school board elections three times in a row). When Arroyo ran and won in 2009, his father told him, “What matters to me most is not that I was the first, but that I am not the last. Make sure that you are not the last.”
Arroyo is leaving his mark in Boston. Before he was elected to the City Council, he worked as a political advisor to the SEIU (Service Employees International Union) and was instrumental in getting family health insurance for janitors in Massachusetts. Universal healthcare is something Arroyo feels strongly about and fights for. He believes that healthcare, along with education, housing, and food, are the basic rights of every individual in this country, and that government must play a role in providing them.
Arroyo spoke with passion and intensity, making eye contact with everyone in the room: “No one wants to clean a toilet. They believe in the American dream. Every day I think of the janitor who sent me $5, saying that was all he could afford but that he believed in me. I think about all the people who got me here and what I owe them.”
Giving voice to those who struggle to make theirs heard, Arroyo ended his speech by imploring, “If you are unhappy about something, take action, for inaction is a vote for the status quo. Politics will affect you, no matter who you are. If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”
Arroyo distributed business cards to everyone in the room at the end of the night, saying, “If you want to get involved, call me, email me. I promise that I can help you out.”