As promised in my last blog post, I am going to use this blog post to talk more extensively about our Latino Conservation Week experiences at Northeastern University. Latino Conservation Week was this past week, from July 16th-24th, and the goal of the entire week is for interns across the country is to promote civic engagement and education about the outdoors, preservation, and conservation among Latinos in the United States. Latino Heritage Internship Program (LHIP) interns across the United States planned a variety of different activities, which included group hiking, picnicking, bird watching, archive visits, and many, many more. The event I planned and organized was for our group to visit the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections Department to learn about the history and legacy of Villa Victoria in Boston’s South End. This is a good background article I put up on an earlier blog post, but I will describe the history here as well.
In the 1960s, the Boston Redevelopment Authority labels Parcel 19, the twenty-acre community in Boston’s South End that contains about 2,000 Puerto Ricans, as an area for urban renewal. At the time, Villa Victoria within Parcel 19 is in a rundown state with decaying brownstones and townhouses among loads of junkyards. The residents of Villa Victoria understand that they will be forced out if the Boston Redevelopment Authority succeeds, and, thus, the residents take action through protests, picketing, grass-roots activism, and political organization. Through their collective efforts, residents gain the support of other local residents, neighbors, priests, architects, college volunteers, and redevelopment professionals. The residents found Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción (“Puerto Rican Tenant in Action”) (IBA) that additionally fosters more support and knowledge among local residents of the necessity of keeping Villa Victoria. The group collaborates with local Boston architect John Sharrat, who is instrumental in making renderings, sites, and plans to present to the city on how the site can be developed to meet the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s needs and keep Parcel 19 for the Puerto Rican residents. The group even sends Sharrat to Puerto Rico to study and understand the urban design, architecture, and atmosphere of space and city-living within the country. The IBA and Puerto Rican residents eventually win the right to keep Villa Victoria and stay in Parcel 19, marking a landmark event in the city of Boston that demonstrates to this day the significance of Puerto Rican heritage and culture, grass-roots activism, political organization, civil liberties, and historic preservation.
This past Friday on July 22nd, we met Michelle Romero, the Northeastern University archivist, at the basement of the library where the Archive and Special Collections Department is located. We began by watching a short movie edited and produced by Efrain Collado of the IBA in the 1980s that is a historical reenactment of the Villa Victoria residents’ process of banding together to fight for their community. The movie was a great preface to the topics related to Villa Victoria of political action, grass-roots activism, Puerto Rican heritage, historic preservation, and city planning. Following the video, Michelle gave us an online overview of how the archive system works at Northeastern University and how an interested individual can access the numerous archived reports, papers, documents, maps, city plans, and photographs. We learned that the Archives and Special Collections Department at Northeastern functions as a repository for local groups and agencies, serving a fundamentally important need for the city. After this overview, we toured the archives facility to understand the extensive filing system, and we then began to view the archives of Villa Victoria and the IBA. Among the written reports, I found numerous reports on the history of Boston’s Puerto Rican community and the environmental impacts on the development of Villa Victoria from the United States Department of Justice. Additionally, I found several fascinating documents, one entitled A Turning Point – Latinos/Hispanics Have a Key Role to Play and the other entitled Changing Racism: A Personal Approach to Multiculturalism. I’ve included pictures of these documents, and the themes they discuss and represent are still incredibly alive and relevant to this day! There were additionally many city plans and maps, posters of the Festival Betances from different years, and everyday photographs of residents living in Villa Victoria. I found exploring these documents to be incredibly powerful. The posters were aesthetically beautiful, the maps and plans showed how Boston is the same and different from its past, the photographs show the familial community amongst residents, and the documents demonstrate how actions were being taken to get Latinos involved in the community and change the face of racism in the United States.
I have had several primary takeaways based on our experience at the LCW event. Firstly, we had an awesome group that was interested, engaged, and eager to learn about Villa Victoria and Puerto Rican history in Boston. This made the visit all the more special as everyone appreciated learning about the archive department and scanning through the various archived documents, images, and maps. Secondly, there is an extremely strong sense of community among Villa Victoria and its residents as demonstrated through the archived pictures, reports, and documents. The history of the residents’ initiative to save the community and the modern-day culture and heritage apparent at the site demonstrates this moving sense of community. Thirdly, it is extremely significant that the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections Department acts as depository for the records of minority and underrepresented groups in the Boston Area. As all the DTP interns have learned throughout this internship from our work and various site visits, it is so important to properly document records for future reference and properly preserving historic actions and events. Fourthly, historic preservation of the site is quite important. Villa Victoria demonstrates the lasting legacy of Puerto Rican and Latino heritage in Boston and tells a rare story of success for a minority group forming together to save their community. Lastly, this type of event is extremely relevant and important for Latino Conservation Week. A trip to a department of archives and special collections is quite different than a group hike, picnic, or outdoor outing, but this sort of event is just as significant to understanding the history and legacy of Latino culture and preservation within the United States. The story of Villa Victoria tells a unique narrative for Boston and New England that is still alive and relevant to do this day. If you have never been to Villa Victoria, I highly recommend walking through and experiencing the atmosphere. You will see many Puerto Rican flags hanging from numerous houses, speaking to the vibrant sense of Puerto Rican culture and heritage in the contemporary community. I am almost done with editing the video of our experience at Villa Victoria, so be sure to check out this same post early on next week when I will upload the video. Also, I’m happy to report that the report I submitted to InsideNPS got published online, so click here to read away. Happy Latino Conservation Week!