On Sunday State Representative and Boston mayoral candidate Dr. Jon Santiago, MD made a campaign stop on Sunday at Pueblo Viejo in Day Square to discuss issues facing the Latino community in East Boston.
Santiago is currently serving his second term as the State Representative for the 9th Suffolk District that includes the South End, Roxbury, Back Bay, and Fenway. He is an emergency room physician employed at Boston Medical Center and also serves as a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve and has deployed overseas.
Santiago said he hopes Sunday’s campaign event is the first of many events in Eastie in the next couple of months.
“Meeting people and hearing their concerns and the significant issues that affect them is the most important part of this election,” said Santiago. “When I speak to people from East Boston whether it’s development, whether it’s environmental justice and whether it’s small businesses, those are the issues that not only affect residents here but keep coming up throughout Boston as I make phone calls and knock on doors.”
Sunday’s event was the first event Santiago hosted here to focus on outreach to the Latino community.
“The neighborhood has changed incredibly over the last couple of decades with a strong Latino community,” he said. “It’s becoming very apparent there’s a growing number of leaders from the Latino business community and the community at large so I was happy to be in the neighborhood to engage them and begin to persuade folks to join our campaign for the next Mayor of Boston.”
One topic that popped up a few times in conversations with residents Sunday was Eastie’s need for more environmental justice.
“I was really honored to be part of the climate bill that we passed recently (in the State House) because as a person of color who grew up in underserved communities that lacked environmental justice it was important to protect particular neighborhoods with higher rates of asthma like East Boston, Roxbury with the Environmental Justice Community component added by Rep. (Adrian) Madaro. You saw, with respect to COVID-19, places with high levels of pollution had higher rates of COVID-19 hospitalization, so it is all related. I think the lesson I learned as an emergency room doctor during the pandemic is that when people come to the emergency department it’s a reflection of what’s going on in their respective communities. It ultimately has a lot to do with poverty, violence, the lack of economic opportunity, or the lack of environmental injustice. That ultimately adds up and it will manifest into medical emergencies that I saw daily.”
Studies showed that the pandemic hit poorer neighborhoods and people of color due to preexisting conditions that tend to affect low-income residents like asthma, diabetes and heart disease. In many cases these Boston residents were on the front lines during the pandemic and many were essential workers who were exposed to COVID more regularly than the general population.
“The number of Latinos who were essential workers, who were living in cramped housing conditions in places like East Boston, Chelsea, Revere were being infected at a higher rate,” said Santiago. “This pandemic exposed a lot of inequities and long standing issues that we need to address. As a doctor on the frontlines, the reason I decided to run for State Rep and now Mayor is no one was really getting at the root causes of these issues. I wanted to get at the root causes of these issues like cruising gun violence, disease and, now, COVID-19. I could no longer stand still and I grew frustrated with the situation.”
Santiago said Eastie issues like environmental justice, displacement, rising costs of living and development are some of the same issues other residents are facing in other parts of the city.
“These issues are not too dissimilar from what I’ve been hearing all across the city of Boston,” he said. “We have a current state of affairs where development is exploding and community members don’t feel engaged and they feel like their communities are being taken over. They don’t feel like they have a voice at the table. I got involved in the South End because my community demanded a voice in city government. That’s when I became aware of the lack of engagement, the lack of planning–these kind of piecemeal developments that were not well thought out. What I would like to see if elected is a focus on neighborhoods and communities and development that is well thought out and comprehensive that really thinks about the neighborhood as a whole and the people who live there.”
“So, as mayor I want to make sure that residents have a voice, that they will be at the table, that they will be listened to and engaged, and that they will play a role in the future of what their neighborhood looks like and is the neighborhood they deserve.”