All Things Eastie

Giving voice to the people who live and work in East Boston

April 29, 2014
by Carl Mueller
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Old Land Regulation Hinders Waterfront Redevelopment

The pier is where the project Boston East planned to be built. (Photo by Carl Mueller)

By Cheng Linjing and Carl Mueller

The East Boston Master Plan of 2000, envisioned by city officials and community organizations, promised a surge of housing development along the waterfront. Yet today acres of vacant land remain. Many of the proposed projects lost their permits while trying to get financing; others remain stuck in the approval process.

Along the Chelsea Creek on East Boston’s northern shore lies the site of the proposed Boston East development, 14 acres of vacant land on 102 to 148 Border Street. The field has shin-high sprouts of grass. On its tideland stand clusters of eroded wooden pillars. Slightly to the south, worn-out boats are turned upside-down in the mud like seashells.

Eastie resident and Northeastern University Law professor Estrella-Luna pointed at the open land and said, “This whole area was all industrial up until 1960s. I have documents proving that it has been abandoned since at least 1964.”

The Boston Redevelopment Authority, the Boston East Community Development Committee, and residents alike, hope to fill in some of the remaining waterfront properties in the city with condos, affordable units and hotels. Yet, whatever is proposed, must follow outdated guidelines.

The Federal Management Act has areas in 18 coastal cities saved for water-related industries. East Boston is one of the clusters of the Designated Port Areas in Boston Harbor.

In accordance with federal law, a Massachusetts regulation that protects East Boston’s character as a harbor was enacted in 1978. Today, it is still marking boundaries in its land and expelling non-water industries.

Urban developers like Trinity Financial have gone through years of discussions with the Department of Environmental Protection to develop the empty lands on Border Street. The strips of land, under the Waterways Regulation, are reserved for water industry and related projects use only. Today, the lands are still waiting to be claimed for development.

A boat cups into the shore at Boston East Site.  Photo by Carl Mueller

Abandoned boats at the Boston East Site. Photo by Carl Mueller

At the site of the proposed Boston East development, Estrella-Luna looks to the empty field on Border Street. “This land, all the way over there, up to the blue building, most of this are DPAs, this means that most of the land is only going to be used for water-dependent uses, things like the tugboats docked behind Shaws, or marine repair, or fish processing.”

“They (Boston East) had to go to the state to get them to consolidate the DPAs so that all of this land can be used for housing development.”

Only the state can rezone the Designated Port Areas.

“They haven’t been looking into it for years,” said Valerie Gingrich, the Boston Harbor regional coordinator of the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management.

The Massachusetts Coastal Zoning Management, the department in charge of waterfront zoning, has not re-zoned the land since 2002.

According to the 2002 DPA Boundary Review, 66 acres of East Boston land and water is DPA. Whereas the entire land area of East Boston is a total of 3,008 acres, and only 15 of those acres are fully committed to maritime industrial use. The remaining 51 acres are committed to small, marine construction companies and mixed-use marine industrial and non-marine industrial facilities.

The Waterways Regulation, specifies the type of projects that can be developed, including project size and design. It requires the non-water-dependent projects to provide at least one facility supporting “water-dependent activity.” The Department of Environmental Protection oversees this and issues licenses. As a result, Portside at Pier One, a housing development that is currently being built on Massport land classified as DPA, added ferries to its design. The ferries have not yet been put into use.

 These regulations contradict a vision of East Boston’s revival.  A plan to fulfill aspirations of community leaders looking to make the area desirable to investors and newcomers.

Sal LaMattina, the City Councilor representing East Boston, said he wants to focus on developing the waterfront. He said, “My goal as chairman of the City Council Committee on Economic Development, is to focus on the waterfront, the Boston Harbor. I think we have a beautiful waterfront, but we don’t really use it. My job over the next two years is to hopefully get waterfront development.”

Yet, between the goals of community leadership stand these dated regulations.

The economy has changed since the passing of Chapter 91 in 1978. East Boston no longer relies on the use of it’s waterways. The last ferry to and from East Boston ceased operation in 1952 . As time changed, ferry transportation had became nonessential due to the implementation of the T to East Boston in 1904 and the Callahan Tunnel in the mid-20th century. Meanwhile, East Boston no longer relies on fishing, shipping, or any of its old supporting industries as it did as recently as the 1960’s.

Architect Antonio Di Mambro makes provisions for East Boston's alternative future. Photo by Cheng Linjing

Architect Antonio Di Mambro makes provisions for East Boston’s alternative future. Photo by Cheng Linjing

Antonio Di Mambro of the Boston based design and planning firm, Antonio Di Mambro Plus Associates, PC., said the city needs to modernize.

“The fish are not here anymore. People don’t come to America by boat anymore, they come by plane. What the heck are we doing?”

“Those laws were well intentioned, but laws are propagated to be broken.  What happens with laws is they get on the book and no one questions them anymore and once in awhile society has to question.”

He believes the time to question these laws is now.

East Boston is in a shift away from an industrial area. For example, in 1970 the area had 29 major firms in apparel and metal machinery. Today the number is down to 19 major firms.

East Boston was originally a center of clippership building.  It’s long history of maritime based industry is apparent in the vacant warehouses that still stand behind the shopping center at Central Square on Border Street.

Residential buildings mushroomed on land previously used for warehouses for imports and exports received through shipping transport. The pattern of redevelopment emerged as the community has called for it.

Robert Schmidt, leader of the Maverick Landing Community Group, said, “I would like to see more small businesses and more department stores.”  He favored the many restaurants in the city that are opened by immigrants coming from various countries,  “It’s very positive that people coming here to start small businesses, especially people were coming from Central America, or from countries that might have been in political problems.”

“I moved here at the very end of all of that. I do remember that there was a lot of industry on the water. And now, of course, everything has changed. They are trying to develop because of this beautiful skyline,” said Schmidt.

Estrella-Luna quoted her 2013 survey of East Boston community sentiments on redevelopment. The results showed people believed the crime rate would go down as the empty fields are redeveloped.

As of now, Portside at Pier One is the only development out of the four proposed projects on Designated Port Areas that is currently under construction.

While experts like Di Mambro say there are other factors that prevent the development of these areas like extra construction costs and existence of the airport, this 1978 regulation is an additional hurdle to developers and city leaders looking to turn East Boston into a thriving neighborhood.

Nine years after Hodge Boiler Works receiving a permit, a bronze anchor is still lying on the vacant land. Photo by Cheng Linjing

Nine years after Hodge Boiler Works received a permit, a bronze anchor is still lies on the vacant land. Photo by Cheng Linjing

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April 28, 2014
by Rie Kitayama
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East Boston High School JROTC teaches youth the value of leadership

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Giselle Landaverde is organizing the attendance.  Photo by Rie Kitayama

By Lauren Yandow and Rie Kitayama

In the basement of East Boston High School, instructors dressed in Army uniforms shout, “Alfa, Bravo, Charlie, Delta.” As soon as students enter the class, without hesitation they begin working in their trained roles by taking attendance and preparing the JROTC company flags.

East Boston High School became the first school in Boston to offer the Army Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, the JROTC, in 1993.

According to the U.S. Army JROTC, schools that offer JROTC have improved student attendance, grades and higher graduation rates.

Col. Gerald Wellman, the director of the JROTC at East Boston High School, says when students are involved in a program that means something to them, they feel pride and will “do better than people who have no ownership.”

Liza Ortiz, East Boston High School senior,  says she believes the JROTC has helped her prepare for college. “I feel like it’s taught me how to be more responsible and how to be a better leader and I feel like I’ve grown,” she says.

The mission of the JROTC is to teach students the “value of citizenship, leadership, service to the community,  personal responsibility, and a sense of accomplishment while instilling in them self-esteem, teamwork, and self-dicipline,” according to the East Boston High School website. Achieving the JROTC mission has not always been easy, says Wellman.

Wellman and his colleague, Sgt. Maj. John Burnett, were the only instructors for the first year of the JROTC at East Boston High School. “Each class had destructive people,” Wellman says, “but that’s because we were too nice.”

Now at the end of each semester Wellman and Burnett survey the students and ask them what they liked and what they did not like about the program. Wellman says that in the past he has had students complain about the dress code but more recent students have responded to their peers who complain saying, “why do we have to put up with the people who are not taking JROTC seriously?”

Now students must respect the JROTC students, instructors and rules in order to participate.

Sgt. Maj. John Burnett believes the JROTC enhances the students’ life skills for a successful future in various ways.  He says, “Not everybody needs not to go to a college but everybody needs to do something.”

Elizabeth Fonseca is a freshman at East Boston High School and an “admin,” or S-1, in the JROTC. She says the JROTC has taught her many life skills stating, “I have to take attendance, I have to print out forms, I do a lot and it’s helped me to be more confident. Like, I have to present and say what the S-1 does and now since I have spoken in front of people once, I can do it again.”

The JROTC students have opportunities to volunteer time to improve their community of East Boston outside of the classroom. They recently volunteered as greeters, ushers, translators and hosts for the East Boston High School parent-teacher conference. Wellman says, “It gives them something very concrete that they can say I went and I helped translate for a bilingual Spanish parent who wouldn’t otherwise be able to communicate with the teacher.”

Wellman believes that the JROTC is important because “It’s what the kids need more than anything else, to know the difference between right and wrong.”

 

April 28, 2014
by Alyssa Shaffer
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Charter schools plan to build high schools in East Boston

Design for Excel Academy Charter High School. Photo Courtesy of Boston Redevelopment Authority.

Design for Excel Academy Charter High School. Photo Courtesy of Boston Redevelopment Autho

 

By Alyssa Shaffer and Ashley Fountain 

Excel Academy Charter Schools has big plans for 2015. It plans to enroll 896 middle and high school students into a 70,000 square-foot middle school and high school on Bremen street. Students will follow the college preparatory curriculum in 35 classrooms, take a break in a 24,000 square-foot courtyard, and enjoy other school activities in the gymnasium, cafeteria, or community rooms. And it will be a short walk away from the Greenway, the new public library, and YMCA. But Excel is not the only charter school network with plans for expansion.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority approved Excel’s $29 million construction project earlier this month. Brooke Charter Schools is also planning to renovate an old high and integrate it into their current program. But the charter school cap currently in discussion has stalled Brooke’s efforts.

The cap determines if charter schools in the state can expand the number of schools they can build as well as the number of students they can enroll. Both opposition groups say lifting the cap would mean neglect of the Massachusetts public school system.

Both Excel and Brooke provide college preparatory education to students as an alternative to public schools. Administrations at both charters say they provide opportunities for students in areas with lower test scores and fewer options for nearby, high quality schools.

Shane Dunn, Excel’s managing director of strategic growth and development is excited for the new plans.

“We want it to be a connector of the community,” Dunn said. “East Boston is our home and we’re happy to be growing.”

Its three middle schools will feed into the high school. Dunn prefered this model because he noticed students who are successful at the academies do not always maintain the same level of performance when they enter other high schools with different standards and practices.

A banner hangs in the hallway in Brooke's East Boston campus, illustrating the path from elementary school to college.

A banner hangs in the hallway in Brooke’s East Boston campus,
illustrating the path from elementary school to college. Photo by Alyssa Shaffer. 

Brooke’s Director of Operations Jennifer Stange said the school is also focused on preparing its students for college and life. Classrooms are named after various universities and a bulletin board in the hallway guides them through the path to college. Stange also says they have organized campus visits to University of Massachusetts Boston and Northeastern University for grades 3-5 over the last couple years. A new high school would help Brooke better carry out its mission to follow students through their high school and college careers.

Brooke’s Chief Development Officer Scott Knox agrees with Stange that a new high school would better support its mission to track students through college. According to Knox, East Boston has a history of being Boston’s gateway for new immigrants.

“English is not a first language to many students and their families here. Due to the newness factor to the United States education system, many who leave our charter school will be the first in their families to graduate college,” said Knox. “So, we feel it is important to follow our students’ success throughout their educational journeys.”

While charters offer affordable high quality education, Audrey Friedman, assistant dean for undergraduate student services and an associate professor at Boston College’s school of education, says she worries that charter schools might be too focused on structure and test results.

“Structure should be used to teach them how to learn,” she said. “But it reaches a point and then students need to learn to think outside the box.”

Brooke dance teacher Sarah Cook prepares students for their next exercise.

Brooke dance teacher Sarah Cook
prepares students for their next exercise. Photo by Alyssa Shaffer.

Friedman suggested that alternative determinants be used when analyzing a student’s success. Instead of focusingon MCAS results, schools should also look at portfolios, students’ courses, grade point averages, and other types of assessments.

Despite complaints from Massport about the future campuses’ proximity to Logan Airport, CEO of Excel Owen Stearns said he saw these expansion plans as a way to offer more options for students in East Boston.

“There is currently one public high school in East Boston, and another in Chelsea, and both rank in the bottom 10 percent of high schools in Massachusetts on the MCAS,” he said. “Excel High School will provide a top-quality, tuition-free choice to students from these neighborhoods for the first time.”

The next steps for Excel are obtaining financing the project and receiving approval from the zoning board. Brooke will submit their project proposal after the Charter School cap issue is resolved.

 

 

 

April 28, 2014
by Jessica Aloe
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Gun Buyback Program Comes To East Boston

By Jess Aloe, Evelyn Martinez and Tracy Williams

Boston has implemented a gun buyback program to get dangerous weapons off the streets. While gun violence isn’t as rampant in East Boston as it is in other places, police officers say any gun off the street is a win for the program.

April 27, 2014
by vitalii_moroz
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Big dreams lead to small but confident steps

Argenis Lozano shows to reporter Xiaoyi Zhang how to play foosball. Photo by Vitalii Moroz

Argenis Lozano shows reporter Xiaoyi Zhang how to play foosball. Photo by Vitalii Moroz

By Vitalii Moroz and Xiaoyi Zhang

Argenis Lozano, 16, leans against a pool table with smile on his face, watching his friends sitting in front of a big TV screen and playing computer games. The room has an Xbox, billiards and foosball table. Lozano turns his head toward the windows and says slowly, “I have pretty bad past, but I got through it.”

It has been five years since Lozano came to the East Boston Social Center for the first time. His friend brought him just for fun, but Lozano stayed. He has found there his friends who also come to the center to play games and work on their home assignments. Lozano’s grades has improved. He has gone from getting Fs to Bs.

Lozano’s turn-around is a result of his involvement in the Boston Youth Network, says Passionnete Taylor, educational coordinator of the program. The network offers an after-school program that brings youth grades 7 to 12 together. They come to the center to work on homework assignments, play games and to take computer equipment classes.

The center targets at-risk middle and high school students from East Boston. Most of the   children who attend are in high school, but because their parents work long hours, they are not able to oversee their children’s academic progress. The center resembles parents’ control by encouraging children to work hard.

“It’s easy for me to track them because I’m a teacher at the school,” says Taylor, who also works as an English teacher at East Boston High School.  With the help of Taylor, children gradually improve their grades. “We at least have a 20 percent improvement by the end of the year,” says Taylor.

The center also reduces chances for the children to be dragged into street violence and gangs. According to the National Institute of Justice, violent crime committed by juvenile offenders peaks during the after-school hours. Nearly one-third of all violent crime committed by juvenile offenders occurs between 3 and 7 p.m., experts say. It is a time when children are not supervised, and thus they often go to the street. Social centers around Boston bring children inside during post-school hours by providing youth a safe environment to play with friends and get their homework done.

Children are eager to join East Boston Social Center since it represents itself as an inclusive institution. Self-motivation of children prevails over any type of discipline there. “We were kids and we know how it was to be in school,” says program director Johnny Taylor.

A staff member walks in the room, carrying packages with food from the nearest grocery store. Children surround her and take the packages to the kitchen. “We feel like we are a family with 100 children,” Taylor says.

In summer, children enjoy outdoor activities. “We spend a lot of time doing athletics and sports outside,” says Taylor.

Recently the program launched a 10-week course to educate teenagers with technical skills. Taylor believes it will provide young people skills applicable in real life, since students learn to work with cables and technical computer equipments.

After the course, students are honored with certificates. Then they start looking for jobs and internships. The center helps with that.  “We get some connections with certain jobs which are outside of our community that will offer them opportunities of internships. It’s a stepping ground for them to experience what they want to do in their life,” Taylor says.

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Johnny Taylor, program director of the East Boston Social Center, describes how its program serves youth in East Boston. Photo by Xiaoyi Zhang

This year, five girls have joined the technician program. “They are much better fulfilling their duties! They’ve actually been very successful in it because they are more focused than  the boys have been able to be,” says Passionnete Taylor, who is married to Johnny Taylor.

Meanwhile, a man walks in the room and brings an envelope. “It’s for Argenis,” the man says and leaves. He brings a check for Lozano for his part-time job as a receptionist at the center. “It is shoes money,” says Johnny Taylor. Last year, 40 youngsters aged 16 and older got part-time jobs at the center under government-funded programs.

Lozano says he has matured at the center. He has access to the information and ideas his peers never got.

“I want to go to college. I want to be an astronomer,” says Lozano. With two years of high school left before graduation, he has time to choose his dream college. “I want to stay in the area since I like it.”

April 24, 2014
by Zhihong Li
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East Boston Immigrants Pursue Citizenship

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The East Boston Ecumenical Community Council provides papers and files regarding citizenship to immigrants. Photo by Zhihong Li

By Danielle Herrera and Zhihong Li

After a normal work day in 2007, Renata Teodoro came home to find her house in Boston torn apart. The cabinets were open, papers and pictures were strewn all over, and her brother was gone. Amid the mess, her younger sister was balled in a corner, crying.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents had left hours earlier. They took her brother and confiscated her mother’s passport. Teodoro’s sister told Renata the agents warned that they “would be back for the rest of them.”

This was the second time that Teodoro had been separated from her family. In 2001, when Teodoro was 13, her father was deported to Brazil. He has not returned to the U.S. since.

“They basically treated us like criminals when we did nothing wrong. My mother worked hard, she paid her taxes, we owned our own home, but they just felt like they could come in and take that away from us,” Teodoro said.

After the raid, Teodoro had to say goodbye to her entire family as they left the states and went back to Brazil.

After having her home torn apart and her family taken away, twenty six year-old Teodoro began working as lead coordinator for the Student Immigration Movement in Boston. Student Immigration Movement is a statewide youth-led organization that helps undocumented student immigrants obtain access to higher education.

Teodoro was not deported because of a 2012 executive order signed by President Barack Obama which allows undocumented youth who were brought into the country by their parents to remain. This order is called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and grants social security cards and work permits to those undocumented youth.

Undocumented immigrants that have not been granted permits from this order have absolutely no pathway to citizenship unless they are granted asylum after proving that they would be killed or tortured in their former country. This is why Teodoro’s parents had to leave.

Teodoro decided to stay in Boston because she saw no point in leaving for Brazil, a country she does not know.

 “This is my home, I came here when I was 6 and have been here for 20 years. This is where I went to school, this is where I met my friends, and this is where I built my life,” Teodoro explained.

An estimated 160,000 undocumented immigrants face the same situation in Massachusetts. Fourteen percent live in East Boston, a community with a high population of people of latino heritage. Without American citizenship, these undocumented immigrants live in fear of deportation and separation from their families.

Unlike Teodoro’s parents, those who have not been caught seek help from others. The East Boston Ecumenical Community Council is a grant and donation funded organization that helps immigrants whose visas are close to expiring obtain U.S. citizenship.

Located in a small basement near the post office on Meridian Street, East Boston Ecumenical Community Council is the only organization in East Boston that teaches citizenship classes to immigrants of all ages.

Immigration Director Luisa Chew feels personally connected to the East Boston Ecumenical Community Council. Chew and her family escaped from Guatemala thirty years ago after the government threatened her father’s life. The U.S granted Chew’s family asylum giving them legal citizenship in America.  During her 30 years in America, she was able to attend school and get a college degree. She decided to volunteer for the East Boston Ecumenical Community Council and has worked there ever since.

Before taking the U.S citizenship test, an immigrant must fill out a 21-page application form full of personal questions about their resident status, family conditions, their background in their former country and more. Once their application is approved, they get a date for their test and interview. The test has 4 parts: 100 civics questions about American history, a writing test, a reading test, and a speaking test.

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Immigration Director Luisa Chew works at the East Boston Ecumenical Community Council to help immigrants get citizenship. Photo by Zhihong Li.

“After 1998, the government made getting asylum very difficult for illegal immigrants. So if these undocumented people get caught before they can obtain citizenship, it’s likely they will get deported because their case is not very strong. This is why we try very hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Once their date is set for their test and interview, the citizenship coordinator and English teachers of the Council begin teaching their classes.

Obtaining citizenship herself after arriving to the U.S. from England, the citizenship coordinator, Marcella Robinson, is dedicated to helping her students achieve the same thing.

Robinson said she teaches two-hour citizenship classes, mostly to adults, two times a week for 12 weeks to help these immigrants pass their test. She uses flashcards to help her students remember the 100 civics questions about American government and history. Robinson believes that the most important part of the test, is the speaking part, otherwise known as the interview.

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Many students have got citizenship. Photo by Zhihong Li.

“They want to make sure that these people understand English, that they can read it, write in it, speak it and understand it. So if after the 12 weeks I don’t feel like a student is ready, I don’t allow them to do the interview, I advise them to retake the class.”

Teachers here work individually with their students to ensure that they receive the best education before taking the test. Since Robinson started a year ago, every one of her students that took the test and had his/her interview have obtained citizenship.

“They are very excited to come to class and begin the process to obtain their citizenship. My students say it’s a very important achievement for them and that it will change their lives for the better. They are extremely proud to become United States Citizens.” Robinson added.

As of present day, the undocumented immigrant youth in Boston continue to be active in getting Congress to grant them citizenship.

Teodoro remains a part of this activist group striving to make their voices heard.

For undocumented adult immigrants in East Boston, Teodoro says the fear of deportation will remain until the issue of immigration is solved.

April 24, 2014
by Jessica Aloe
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East Boston Residents Wary of Police

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By Jess Aloe, Evelyn Martinez and Tracy Williams

Gloribell Mota recalled a story about a Latino man who called the police to report a break-in at his home. With broken English, he told the police there was a “robbery,” when he meant to say he had been “robbed.” So, the police thought the robbery was occurring right then. When they arrived at his house, the officers became aggressive with him, assuming he was the “robber” in question.

The police did not realize he lived there.

He told Mota, a member of Neighbors United for a Better East Boston, that he felt victimized twice — once by the actual thieves, once by the police.

Every time a serious crime happens in East Boston, residents demand results and arrests from law enforcement. Police say it’s difficult to fully investigate crimes without the cooperation of the community, but some East Boston residents are mistrustful of the police.

Neighbors United for a Better East Boston tries to ease tensions between immigrant residents and area police.

The series of sexual assaults in February have compelled many Eastie residents to mobilize through forums and open discussions. At a community public safety meeting at East Boston High School in March, residents spoke directly to members of the police force who were in attendance.

Police officers ask that residents remain vigilant and to report anything that seems suspicious. However, there are significant issues that strain the relationship between the community and the East Boston police. Some residents are reluctant to report crimes because they fear racial profiling, deportation, being labelled a snitch, and/or retaliation.

Police have made no arrests to the sexual assaults. But according to Ramiro Martinez, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University, tips from the community are what help officers solve crimes.

Capt. Kelley McCormick, who leads the East Boston police, acknowledged that there is a challenge in getting the immigrant community to trust the police.

“The hardest thing is to reach out to that community to know and develop that trust with them that it’s okay to come in. It’s a continuous struggle with immigrant communities,” he said.

And while he’s sympathetic to their concerns, he doesn’t think there is any real reason for someone not involved in criminal activity to not trust police.

“I understand their distrust because of things they read in the paper, things they’ve seen or experiences that are passed within the community that aren’t necessarily true, but take on a type of urban legend,” McCormick said.

Magdalena Ayed volunteers as a resident leader at Maverick Landing, an apartment complex in East Boston, has had young African-American men tell her they’ve also felt racially profiled.

“They feel they’re being looked at in a certain way,” Ayed said.

Stories like these are heard all around the community. Mota said police tell her to have the community call them if there is ever a problem, “well, we don’t trust you half the time, and you’re usually mean,” Mota said. “The community does not see the police as their partner.”

Adrian Madaro, state Representative Carlo Basile’s chief of staff, is more optimistic. “We think the relationship is great,” he said. According to Maduro, there are some issues getting immigrants in the community to report crimes, but he attributes the issue to stigmas carried over from repressive countries.

His office “consistently tries to pass along the message” that police are there to help.

Fifty percent of East Boston residents are foreign-born. Fear of deportation causes some of the tension between police and residents. The Department of Homeland Security launched the Secure Communities program in March of 2008. The program is an information sharing partnership between local law enforcement, the FBI, and Immigration Customs Enforcement, or ICE. Participating jails submit fingerprints not only to criminal databases, but to immigration databases as well.

According to Phil Torrey, a Harvard law professor who specializes in the intersection of criminal and immigration law, this partnership has led to a distrust of the police by the community and is crippling officers trying to do effective police work. If an undocumented immigrant gets brought in for questioning, his fingerprints are entered into the system and brought to the attention of ICE — even if he’s cleared of the crime.

“States and local police are speaking out that this doesn’t help with their community policing; this is not the intention of the programs,” Torrey said.

According to Torrey, undocumented, unlicensed immigrants can be pulled over while driving, and while an unlicensed documented resident may just get a fine or a warning, someone who is undocumented might be arrested, make bail and then be detained again without due process.

It’s not just undocumented immigrants who worry about being deported. Under U.S. law, even immigrants who have visas or resident status can be deported if they’re convicted of a crime, even a crime as minor as jumping a turnstile, said Torrey.

Opponents of Secure Communities in Massachusetts have written legislation called the Trust Act, which is currently in committee in the State Legislature. The bill was co-sponsored by Basile, East Boston’s representative.

Proponents of the Trust Act, like Mota, Torrey and Centro Presente’s José Palma, say local law enforcement is being used to carry out ICE detainer requests. The bill will clear up any “confusion” about the role of local law enforcement in immigration enforcement, allowing police to return to a community policing-based approach.

According to Palma, who coordinates the Trust Act campaign, 61 percent of the people in Massachusetts who were deported in 2012 and 2013 under the Secure Communities program in 2012 and 2013 did not have a criminal record. He used ICE’s numbers to calculate that rate.

According to Ayed, fear of deportation is not the reason crimes in Maverick Landing go unreported. “Undocumented folks are not a major issue at Maverick Landing,” said Ayed. In order to get housing at Maverick Landing, one has to be a documented U.S. resident.

Ayed said residents in Maverick Landing have a “general mistrust of the police” because they do not think that anonymous reports are confidential and are afraid of being labeled as “snitches.”

Ayed said fear of being stigmatized is not unique to Maverick Landing. “Community wide, people are afraid of reporting crime.”

“Something needs to be done. This mistrust has to be analyzed and there has to be a more proactive engagement from the city side,” said Ayed. She said police are “putting their lives on the lines to protect the residents and we have to give them more credit and help them do their jobs.” But she is not sure how to get residents to trust the police.

McCormick says his officers don’t want to act as immigration officers. “I tell them, ‘I guarantee if you the a victim of a crime, if you are the witness to a crime if you are just a member of this community working and trying to live in this community no one cares about your status,” he said.

“I’ll put my reputation on the line for that.”

April 23, 2014
by Zimo Zhou
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Teaching English-Only Classes to Immigrants

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The welcome poster at the front gate of YMCA International Learning Center. Photo by Zimo Zhou

By Marcelle Hutchins and Zimo Zhou

Jean Marco is hunched over the table staring at a highlighted page in the Bedford Reader. Next to him is a gray notebook for taking notes. His teacher paces around the room and clarifies the assignment. Marco momentarily focuses on his teacher, says nothing and goes about his business. On a mild March morning, Marco sits in an English-only class surrounded by students, all of whom are learning to speak English.

For 20-year-old Marco, an immigrant from Peru, the hardest part about learning English is speaking the language. As he flips to the next page with instructions asking to write short sentences, he pauses briefly and says, “This section is easy because I can understand it. I know what to write.But there are some assignments that I can’t understand.”

While in Peru, Marco took English classes but never grasped the language. He says he has enrolled in the YMCA International Learning Center to speak English on a daily basis and adds, “I was very shy in the beginning to speak English, but I had to work on it.” Marco started in beginning English classes before transitioning to intermediate and advanced classes. He spends an entire day at the center, with each weekly session costing as much as $800 per week.

For some immigrants in the United States who want to learn a second language, one of the natural ways to do that is through an English-enclosed environment, says Susan Arida, the center’s director. The English-only classes encourage immigrants to use English as part of their daily lives.

“The completion rate of the intense English only program is now around 80 percent,” says Arida who adds that, “We assure our students that they will walk out of here speaking English.”

According to a 2012 Pew Hispanic Center report, 87 percent of Hispanics in the U.S. believe Hispanic immigrants need to learn English to succeed in the U.S. Numerous immigrants have already chosen to study English to better their lives. To learn or not to learn English is no longer a question. How to learn English well is the issue.

Students are chatting in English after class. Photo by Zimo Zhou

Students are chatting in English after class. Photo by Zimo Zhou

“When I go home I watch TV or listen to music, and sometimes I forget to practice what I learned. But when I come here everyone speaks English and it helps me a lot,” says Marco.

Some immigrants say they feel that speaking in their native language is what feels most comfortable to them, says Arida, but it’s not an ideal way to practice English. “We find that people learn English quicker if it’s an English learning class.” Arida adds that she has found that speaking in English outside of the class will help students be fluent.

In 2002, Massachusetts voters decided that public school teachers would teach students not fluent in English all subjects in English rather than in their native tongue for extended periods of time, according to the ballot measure.

Steven Molinsky, a professor at the Teaching English as a Second Language Program at Boston University, says English-only classes can be more effective for students.

“It’s very often that we get students from different countries in the same class. I think it’s better if we use all English because students can realize that English is not just something they’re studying. It’s a real way of communicating,” says Molinsky.

With the approach of English-only classes, the YMCA program is taking more courses to different communities, including East Boston where it provides English classes at the Neighborhood Health Center twice a week through a project called Learn and Work. Currently, there are four other organizations in East Boston that provide English classes.

“It’s for people improving their writing — particularly for the workplace, and also some pronunciation, listening, and speaking,” says Arida. The classes are free, funded by the Commonwealth Corporation, a nonprofit organization that strengthens the skills of Massachusetts youth and adults.

Posters about English programs and students' stories at YMCA center. Photo by Zimo Zhou

Posters about English programs and students’ stories at YMCA center. Photo by Zimo Zhou

Although English-only classes can be effective, some teachers are using bilingual approaches in their classes. Angele Nicolas, an English-Second-Language teacher at the Boston Public Schools prefers to speak in Creole and English when teaching English to her Haitian students.

“We speak their language when needed, so it’s more for comprehension because it helps them understand what is going on,” she said. Nicolas goes on to say that “when they see that we speak Creole they feel more welcomed because we put them at ease. They know we are Haitians, and they trust us a little bit more.”

Molinsky further explains the class type Nicolas has. “If the students are all from the same country, that’s one thing.”

After completing four levels of English classes, Marco recently enrolled in the Transition to College and Careers program to prepare him for college courses and says, “Boston is the right place. I really like it here and see opportunities.” His next step after the center, Marco wants to apply to college to get his master’s degree in marketing.

April 23, 2014
by Laura Onyeneho
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154 Maverick Street Incubator space births new beginnings for business owner

By Laura Onyeneho and Ashley Fountain

hugisses from Laura on Vimeo.

East Boston Business Incubators has teamed up with the Small Business Administration to host free Spanish language trainings within the community. This is one of the many resources the incubator spaces provides to increase the access to information on ways to build and expand small business ventures. Adriana Audon, a native of Colombia is one of many business owners to launch her retail shop in the incubator space. She credits the resources the spaces provides as what she needed to elevate her brand.

April 18, 2014
by Keely Flanagan
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The Waste Disposal Problem in East Boston

By Keely Flanagan, Michelle Harven, and Alecea Rush

There’s a problem in East Boston: Trash. While the waterfront neighborhood has the potential to be picturesque, piles of ripped-up trash bags and uncovered trash barrels litter the streets.

The community organization East Boston Main Streets is working to solve the problem, as is local advocate Chris Marchi. They hope to clean up the streets through education and enforcement.

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April 18, 2014
by Carl Mueller
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Construction Progresses on East Boston’s Greenway Connector


By Whitney Leonard, Kathryn Breen, Linjing Cheng and Carl Mueller

Begun in 2007, East Boston’s Greenway park system will connect the neighborhood’s waterfront to Constitution Beach.  The 3.3 miles of green-space will join together individual parks along the former Conrail train line.  Currently, construction is picking up again on the Greenway Connector section after a harsh winter allowed for little progress.  The Connector will extend from the new public library at the end of Bremen Street Park to Orient Heights, helping pedestrians and cyclists to avoid busy roads.

April 17, 2014
by Rie Kitayama
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East Boston High School After-School Drama Club

By Lauren Yandow and Rie Kitayama

East Boston High School After-School Drama Club provides students who share a passion for theater the opportunity to perform in yearly shows and participate in the technical aspects of the craft. The club’s students range from Freshman to Seniors with different skill levels and future ambitions for the performing arts. Each of the drama club’s participants joined for various reasons but have all found a community with one another that they are proud to call home.

 

East Boston High School junior, Tyler DiBenedetto, studies his script.
Photo by: Lauren Yandow