School Take-Over or Partnership
Immigrant community is riled as Boston's big University rides in to rescue bankrupt city's schools
(Page 4 of 4)
``There is a problem when people represent groups who have been silent,'' he adds. ``What is their goal? Is that something the school system has to agree to endure and underwrite? These issues are rarely debated. Do I think Hispanics in Chelsea have been treated fairly or well by the all-white power structure before us? No. Will they gain power? Yes. Will it be good for Chelsea? Yes.''Skip to next paragraph
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Hispanic groups take root
Before the BU/Chelsea partnership, the expectation of regular consultation or even the right to stand and speak one's mind at a public meeting was not a part of Chelsea's political culture. For the city's Hispanic community, BU's presence and style was a catalyst for political organization. Commission President Marta Rosa won a seat on the Chelsea School Committee in 1989 running on an anti-BU platform. She was the first Hispanic to win elective office in Chelsea.
``The issue of BU was how this organization began,'' says Mr. Vega, who is now on the commission's staff. ``At the time of the April meeting with BU, the commission was 10 members who put $10 into a bank account for fliers. We were able to get a broad group to rally against BU.... We now have a $100,000 a year annual budget. We're developing into a tenants' association, acquiring housing, and producing a bilingual newspaper.''
While tensions between the commission and BU continue, other Hispanic groups in the city are finding a niche in Chelsea's new civic culture, including a working relationship with BU. The Latin American Cultural Association (LACA), for example, is developing a pilot project with BU to ``help high school students maintain a knowledge base of native language and culture.''
Few who know Chelsea well will speak on the record about tensions within the Hispanic community as new organizations emerge. Glenn Jacobs, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts who supported the commission's lawsuit against BU, sees cooperation between BU and other Hispanic groups as part of a BU strategy to discredit the commission by supporting ``more cooperative groups.''
Vin McLellan, a writer and Chelsea community activist who once worked with BU, sees a pattern of domination in the commission's strategy. ``In an arena without a mechanism to develop a truly representative culture, you end up with a mantle of representation available to anyone who can claim it in the loudest voice.... Family-based cadres at the core of very family-oriented, patronage-based machine politics. It's what's been here and what's waiting in the wings. It will take time for other parts of the Hispanic community to feel their way into a more public role.''
``We're seeing people on the commission born here who now won't speak English at meetings. It's reverse racism, and it's becoming very destructive,'' says another Chelsea activist.
Disagreement is surfacing in the Hispanic community on issues such as bilingual education. ``I've spoken with many parents that have come to me upset because their children are being kept in the bilingual program too long and should move on to a regular class,'' says LACA's Ortiz. Even within the commission, activists are finding their own voices. In a June 21 vote to approve a new city charter, commission President Marta Rosa put the commission on record against it, while her husband, Tito, and Juan Vega came out publicly for it.
Chelsea's once-excluded Hispanics are finding their way in the civic life of their city and its schools. Somehow, BU helped them get there.