Did you know JPNDC’s Board of Directors has 19 members? We will be interviewing them throughout the year on ‘JP and Me’ so that you can get to know them. This week we are talking with Martha Rodriguez about being a part of JPNDC for six years, her family’s favorite spot at the Jamaica Pond and organizing the Latino community of JP.

K: Where are you from originally? Where do you live now?

Martha when she first arrived to the US and JP. 

M: I was born in Venezuela. I live in Jamaica Plain. I have been here for 20 years. In Venezuela we were like gypsies and it has been similar for us here. We’ve lived all over in Jamaica Plain. Right now, I live in one of the JP Scattered Sites.

K: Tell me about your family.

M: All of my family is from Venezuela. My dad migrated here 25 years ago. He was homeless in Boston for a whole year before he got himself together. He used to sleep in bus stations and benches until he saved enough money to get a room. Then he got a job and he brought my mom and I here. All of my immediate family is here now. I still have a lot of family left in Venezuela.

K: Do they want to come here?

M: A lot of them were really happy over there but now everything there is complete chaos. There is no food, water, or medicine. I don’t know if they necessarily want to come here, or if they want to wait for things to get better, or if they just want to be anywhere else.

K: Why and how did you get involved with JPNDC?

Martha and her mother.

M: I started my activist work with the Hyde Square Task Force as a youth committee organizer. My mom was a daycare provider and she worked with the JPNDC’s child care program for many years. She used to be a board member. She made quite the impression on many of the other board members I am told. When Hi-Lo closed I was one of the founding members of the Whose Food Whose Community Coalition. Through that work JPNDC met me and invited me to be on the board. I’ve been on the board for six years.

K: What are some projects that you are working on with JPNDC?

M: For a long time the Organizing Committee was my favorite committee because I got to work with a lot of the residents and I got to know my neighbors a lot better. It was really awesome to get to educate them about their rights and help many of them develop as leaders. Currently I am helping to form the Racial Equity Committee. We are working on the mission statement at the moment. I am very excited about that because since the apocalypse started it is very necessary. JPNDC is already a safe space but we need a place to specifically talk about the serious negative impact of the new regime.

K: Do you have a favorite event in Jamaica Plain?

M: When I was a teenager there used to be the World’s Fair. That was one of my favorite events to go to. I found it so amazing and mesmerizing. I still have things that I bought at that fair. There was so much diversity and I loved seeing the different cultures come together. All the neighbors of the Latin Quarter would come together and we weren’t as gentrified at that time so there were a lot more people of color and that definitely gave it a different vibe.

K: What is your favorite place in Jamaica Plain?

One of Martha’s secret and favorite places in Jamaica Pond.

M: I really love Jamaica Pond. It’s nice to go there. When everything gets really stressful I go walk around. I bring my kids and they run around and there are so many different places. We have some places at the pond that are our secret places. We have games that we like to play there. There is one spot where there is a tree and half of it is in the ground and half of it is in the water. We always have competitions about who has the better balance. Everybody falls in. My oldest tried to jump off once and he fell in the water. We still laugh about that to this day.

K: What would you like to see happen in Jamaica Plain in the future?

M: If you had asked me that five years ago I wouldn’t have the same answer. I feel like gentrification has accelerated so much in this neighborhood that I ask myself if I am even going to be here in five years. Even though I live in affordable housing and we have these incredible organizations that fight for affordable housing, I feel like at some point we are just going to be little segregated islands of affordable housing. I don’t know if that is the type of neighborhood that I want to be in. My street is very small but we used to have ten Latino families there and now there are only three of us.

K: Where’d they go?


M: A lot of them got kicked out for “renovations” and then some of them were never allowed to come back. Some of them went to City Life/Vida Urbana but it was too late because at that point they had already left their homes and they weren’t allowed back. They renovated those houses and turned them into condos and they are extremely expensive. There is a different crowd and a different feeling to the neighborhood. So many of the small businesses have closed too. Things are getting really expensive for the ones that are left because they cater to the people of color in the community but if we continue to get displaced there isn’t anybody there to buy the products anymore. Eventually the rest of the small businesses are going to close. I wish that wasn’t the case. I wish we could protect the families and the businesses that we have but I see it as almost impossible. It is like racism because you really want to get rid of it but there’s no solution for that. Now because things are changing so much there is a lot of hate that is coming out in Boston.

K: Have you seen it in your neighborhood?

M: There’s quiet racism like the people who are behind their computers. They spew so much hate but when they are out in the streets they say ‘hi.’ I recently went to a zoning meeting. I remember there was a white gentleman who was trying to get permitting. Everything went really smoothly for him and they only asked him a few questions. After him there was an Indian gentleman and he got asked so many questions. They asked him if he went to college and if his family went to college. They asked him so many irrelevant questions and the person before him did not get the same questions. People of color have to bring so many more people to support them. It’s like they have to organize half their community to get permission and then a white person shows up and brings one or two people or nobody and the committee just signs off on it. Racism has always been showing up in my community in that form. Now racist people are getting braver. I went to an immigration rally downtown and there was a gentleman screaming about illegals. There were a lot of immigrants there including me. I was with my children. He was screaming ‘We don’t want you here! Go back to your country! You don’t belong here!’ He was saying a lot of things I see people say online.

K: Why do you believe community organizing is so important?

M: I will say that I think white people organize better than people of color. When people of color come here as an immigrant they have to assimilate. They have to learn a whole new language. They have to learn a whole new culture. They have to adapt to new laws. They even have to adapt to the weather. It takes many years to do that. People who are born here already know everything and they have better access to different resources and information. I remember it wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I found out that we had a neighborhood council and what it was. They make so many important decisions for the community.

A rally at Hi-Lo Foods.

My eyes were opened during the Hi-Lo and Whole Foods situation. I attended a meeting and they were talking about Latinos and people who shop at Hi-Lo. There were no Latinos there. The whole committee was white. It was so exhausting. If you want to be a leader in your community you have to go to so many meetings to represent your community. It is a huge responsibility to be one person representing an entire community. I remember being at that meeting and they were trying to discuss what we eat and how much we spend. They were talking about us as if we were aliens from a different planet. I was sitting there like ‘Are you kidding me? Where is our representation?’ It is so frustrating. There is a lack of education for people of color who want to get organized. We don’t necessarily know all the information or where the resources are. We don’t know the best way to organize. By the time Whole Foods was ready to open it had taken three of us three days for many hours to go to every business in the area and give them cards in English and Spanish telling them who to call, what to say and when the meetings were to oppose the Whole Foods bringing in a cafe setting and beginning to serve ready to eat food. It took all that time just to get signatures from all the small businesses in the Latin Quarter and get them to the Neighborhood Council. In those three days they received 1,000 phone calls and emails in support of Whole Foods. It was devastating. We worked so hard and spent so much time trying to organize just that small group. It was impossible to catch up and be at their level.

Martha’s sons, Nathaniel and Abraham.

I do this work because I really care about my community. I really care about my family. Sorry, I am getting emotional but it is such a battle. We are constantly fighting. I am not ready to give up and I am not ready to feel hopeless but sometimes, Kelly, I just feel hopeless. But they say ‘La esperanza es lo ultimo que se pierde.’ Hope is the last thing you lose. That will be the last thing I let go of. I look at my kids. I look at the people in my community who need help and need to be empowered and educated. I feel like if organizations like JPNDC, Hyde Square Task Force and City Life/Vida Urbana continue to work together and help some of these families to organize and to not be displaced then we can definitely develop better leaders in the community. I want us to plant a seed. Hopefully by the time my kids are older and their kids are older we will have a huge beautiful tree. Even if I have to suffer, even if I have to work so hard and go to a million meetings and never get paid and suffer financially, emotionally and physically I will do it because I believe in my family and my community.