Our first priority is to detoxify the political rhetoric around us, to really clean that up so that you have a cleansed environment, a cleansed earth, where we can start planting good policies.
That’s where “Welcoming Massachusetts” comes in. It’s a state-wide campaign asking individuals, organizations, and leaders to sign a statement that essentially says immigrants deserve to be treated with the dignity and respect due to all people. (Read more about it at www.WelcomingMA.org.) It reminds us that we violate our core principles if we allow anti-immigrant diatribes and anti-immigrant rhetoric to inform and influence our behavior as police officers on the street, as teachers in the schools, as elected leaders, or anyone else.
Centro Presente is working on that together with other groups like the Welcome Project, the Somerville Community Corporation, and the Community Action Agency of Somerville. Around the state, the Boston City Council and Mayor Menino have endorsed it, and so have the Pittsfield City Council, the mayors of Pittsfield and Everett, and many other groups and leaders.
Our second, broader goal is to establish relationships and make friends in the city. We have got kids going to school, and we need to be able to talk to the superintendent and to the teachers on behalf of those children. We want make sure that our youth and our children are getting the education they need and deserve.
We also want to have a fruitful relationship with the Police Department. We want to be protected by the police and not to feel persecuted by them. We want to be able to go to them if we have fears of violence or for whatever reason. If people are afraid of the police, they won’t go to them and this makes it more difficult for the police to do their job of protecting the citizens of Somerville.
Right now, because we are new in the city, Centro Presente has no real relationship with the police or the schools. And when there is no relationship, you make judgments about the other, based on presuppositions, stereotypes, rumors. You see a young person on the street and you don’t know that young person, so that young person is an abstraction. That person is the gang member, or the illegal alien.
So for us it’s important to make those relationships, so we get to know each other as people. And that’s a very difficult process because we all need to be very honest, we need to own up on both sides, to the fears and stereotypes that we have about each other so that we can forge a healthy relationship.
We want to be good neighbors and good citizens of Somerville. We want to give our best to the city, and we want to be respected. We look forward to working with everybody in creating one city that is working for the good of all.