In 1988 Sal LaMattina was a staffer for former Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn. Flynn had an idea — summer block parties and community celebrations in every Boston neighborhood to bring residents close together.
LaMattina was tasked with coming up with community-wide celebration in East Boston.
“My wife Lisa and I just got married the year before,” said LaMattina. “At the time a lot of the friends that we grew up with were moving to Saugus, Peabody, and Revere. One night Lisa and I were talking about the future and whether or not we should move but Lisa said we should stay and take care of East Boston. I’ll never forget that conversation because it was at that moment we made a commitment to the neighborhood.”
So LaMattina had an idea after that conversation.
“It really started with Mayor Flynn wanting to do events throughout the summer to bring communities closer together and kids off the streets,” said LaMattina. “There were pockets of East Boston that were run down, absentee landlordism was at an all-time high, some of our parks were a mess, there were empty storefronts. But it was like this all over Boston. A lot of the residents who moved complained that the neighborhood wasn’t the same and I found that really insulting because I loved Eastie.”
LaMattina said between his wife’s encouragement to stay in Eastie and the fact the neighborhood still had a lot to offer, he banned together a like-minded group of friends, community activists and longtime residents that had no intention of leaving their beloved neighborhood.
“It was sort of a ‘we’ll show them’ attitude towards the people that left the neighborhood,” said LaMattina. “I believed then and still believe today that we live in the best neighborhood in Boston and I wanted to showcase all the talent and love people had for Eastie.”
So, on a hot summers night in 1988 at East Boston Memorial Stadium, the first Eastie Pride Day was held.
“We had donkey rides, food, local musicians like The Stompers, dunk tanks, rides,” said LaMattina. “That first time a lot of people that moved came back to the neighborhood and were surprised by the spirit.”
LaMattina said he was very careful not to make it a cultural event.
“I didn’t want it to be Italian Pride or Irish Pride because I felt it should be a celebration of East Boston’s diversity,” said LaMattina. “I wanted it to be an event where everyone who lived in the neighborhood felt welcome and could meet new people and new neighbors and start community building. If you look at Eastie Pride Day now it is a true representation of the community.”
However, LaMattina admits he thought it would only be a one-time event.
“When we planned the first Eastie Pride Day we thought that would be it,” said LaMattina. “Have everyone come down, show off their Eastie Pride and it would be over.”
But the success of the very first East Pride Day was all LaMattina and longtime organizers like Larry Smith and the late Anthony Albano needed to keep it going.
“It just sort of mushroomed into this yearly event we’ve all been doing for half our lives,” he said. “When we planned the first Eastie Pride Day none of us thought it would turn into what it is today.”
So for the past 30 years LaMattina and company have been keeping something going that he holds very dear to his heart.
“It’s become a piece of me,” said LaMattina. “I started this when I worked for Mayor Flynn then under Mayor Menino, and now Mayor Walsh and throughout my time as a City Councilor. I’m almost 60 so I’ve been doing this for half my life. My daughter Liana wasn’t even born yet and now she’s one of the organizers. That’s the thing that really puts a smile on my face every year. When I see the residents that use to come when they were kids are now coming down with their own kids, it’s special.”
However, LaMattina said the younger generation will now be called upon to take over the reigns of Eastie Pride Day.
“You can always use new ideas and new blood,” said LaMattina. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years, Larry Smith and his wife, Carol, have been doing this for 30 years. It’s nice to see the younger generation like my daughter, Rep. Adrian Madaro, Tiana Tassinari, and all their friends now coming in and taking ownership because at some point we have to retire.”
The 30th Annual Eastie Pride Day will kick off Saturday, Aug. 18, at 3 p.m. at Piers Park on Marginal Street in East Boston.