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Racism and Censorship in Holyoke

2014/09/27 in Absurd, Art, Gentrification, Holyoke, Mailbag, Press Release, Racism, Shame

I received this email from David Flores about his art and his experiences with racism and censorship in Holyoke.

(David Flores at work on the piece in question)

Printed in it’s entirety:

On Saturday, September 19, 2014, my mural celebrating the Puerto Rican diaspora in Holyoke, MA was scheduled for installation as part of a set of pieces created in conjunction with the Holyoke Alleyway Revitalization Project. Before the piece could go up, the owner of the building on which it was to be installed decided that it could not be displayed on her property. She said that my piece would do more harm than good to Holyoke’s Hispanic community, and that in order to display it I would have to change it to make it “more diverse.” The mural consists of an 8’ x 16’ Puerto Rican license plate with HOLYOKE written across the center. Whereas many Boricuas throughout Holyoke proudly display similar license plates that point to their hometowns on the island, my project intended to claim that Holyoke is part of Puerto Rico. Holyoke is the community with the highest percentage of Puerto Ricans in the U.S. (44.70%), yet Puerto Ricans are deeply marginalized in almost every aspect of the city. Although the building owner had approved of my design and seen the finished project well in advance of the scheduled installation, she caved to pressure from nearby business owners and others who seek to prohibit public displays of Puerto Ricanness in Holyoke. Thus, the decision to exclude my mural from this public art exhibit is emblematic of the wider suppression of Puerto Ricans and Puerto Ricanness throughout Holyoke. With my mural, I hoped to contribute to efforts toward claiming public space in solidarity with Holyoke’s Puerto Rican community. However, this building owner’s decision and logic amount to the race-based exclusion of Puerto Ricanness in Holyoke at best and the censorship of Puerto Ricanness in Holyoke at worst. While the Holyoke Alleyway Revitalization Project has supported my mural, the decision to collaborate with a bigoted building owner on this project reflects the fundamental problems with this “revitalization” initiative. In fact, like other “revitalization” efforts in Puerto Rican neighborhoods and communities of color throughout the U.S., such projects end up participating in processes of gentrification despite their organizers’ best intentions.

As a Mexican artist born and raised in Chicago, I have been deeply inspired by Chicago’s Puerto Rican movement, particularly the strong Puerto Rican leadership in schools, community organizations, elected positions, and artistic initiatives. This community also taught me the value of Mexican-Puerto Rican solidarity, as expressed through joint efforts to combat educational inequality, gentrification, and (im)migrant stigmatization. This solidarity is most clearly represented in a chant that is often used in Latin@ political demonstrations in Chicago: “!Boricua y Méxicano, Luchando Mano a Mano!” This solidarity represents a form of diversity that exceeds the imagination of the building owner who prohibited my mural. I hope that this piece finds a prominent home and that it helps to celebrate Puerto Ricanness in Holyoke. I am also working with community members to combat the suppression of Puerto Ricans and make sure that this does not happen again. In addition to these efforts, I am seeking to collaborate with longstanding community residents to create site-specific public art in Holyoke through a fundraising effort I have named “!Más Color, Más Poder!” I also plan to adapt my Puerto Rican license plate project in other U.S. cities with large Puerto Rican populations. By affirming Puerto Ricanness in Holyoke, I hope to contribute toward the creation of communities that embrace and uplift marginalized populations throughout the U.S.

Bio:
David Flores is an Artist, Designer, and Community Activist who focuses on Latin@ placemaking through art and design. He has worked creatively with non-profits and community based initiatives in Chicago, IL and Holyoke, MA for over a decade. A native of the south side of Chicago, his work challenges the fears and anxieties that are associated with low-income communities of color by emphasizing their value, beauty, knowledge, and resilience.

Pioneer Valley Green-Rainbow Party on the Hobert Campaign

2012/09/12 in Absurd, Elections, Green Party, Hobert, Holyoke, Press Release, Purcell, Vega

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 12-Sept-2012

Holyoke, MA, 12-Sept-2012:  Attorney Peter Vickery (co-chair of the Pioneer Valley Green-Rainbow Party) has issued this statement on the Jerome Hobert write-in campaign to secure the GRP line on the ballot in the November 6th election for Holyoke state representative:

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Green-Rainbow Party (GRP) officers in the Pioneer Valley want to make clear that Jerome Hobert does not represent their party. Hobert, who obtained the GRP’s line on the general election ballot via a sticker campaign, is not a registered GRP voter and in his campaign literature has described himself as a “conservative Democrat.”

Rick Purcell, a Holyoke voter and member of the GRP state committee, has filed an Objection with the State Ballot Law Commission. The Objection argues that the appearance of Hobert’s name on the ballot as the GRP nominee would infringe Purcell’s association freedom and undermine the right of the party to choose its nominees, rights that Article 16 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights protects.

“The GRP practices open, transparent democracy,” said Mary Likins, co-chair of the Pioneer Valley chapter of the GRP. “The actions of Mr. Hobert insult our party’s practices and integrity. Even after Mr. Hobert approached the Pioneer Valley GRP at our July monthly meeting — where he was clearly informed that an endorsement would not be forthcoming — he set out within the community and through the media informing the public of his intent to run as a Green-Rainbow write-in candidate. This egregious action by Mr. Hobert conveys an attitude of entitled indifference to party rules, disrespect to our party, and disrespect toward the voters, who deserve honesty, openness, transparency, and democracy. He is the antithesis of what a Green-Rainbow candidate represents.”

Peter Vickery is the party’s other co-chair and is the attorney representing Mr. Purcell before the State Ballot Law Commission. “Our party chose not to field a candidate in this race,” said Vickery. “Mr. Hobert has every right seek public office, but not under our banner. The GRP is a progressive party. Mr. Hobert describes himself as a conservative. He should sail under his own true colors instead of using a Green flag of convenience.”

Download (PDF, 73KB)

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For more information please contact:

Mayor Morse Revised Lyman Terrace Opinion

2012/08/29 in Activism, Alex Morse, Capitalism, Economics, Gentrification, H.U.S.H., HHA, Lyman Terrace, Mayor, Politics, Poverty, Press Release, Ward 1

Keeping Our Community:

An Update from Mayor Morse on the Lyman Terrace debate

 

Throughout my first months as mayor, a major priority of my administration has been the redevelopment and revitalization of Holyoke’s downtown. One issue in this effort has galvanized public attention and stirred emotions like no other: the redevelopment of Lyman Terrace. Most everyone concedes that the current state of the Lyman Terrace buildings is unacceptable; its structural flaws and health risks are many and varied. Given the common ground and goals we share, the debate over how we improve these conditions has become polarized beyond what it should be.

In a previous letter, I articulated my vision for a diverse, densely populated, vibrant, and prosperous downtown, with quality housing for all who seek it. Such are the principles that guide my decision-making. I understand that those principles could have been made clearer from the outset, and for that, I take full responsibility. I would like to take this opportunity to change that, and to update Holyokers on the steps my administration is taking to move forward.

It is important to note that the Holyoke Housing Authority (HHA) owns the property at Lyman Terrace; the City of Holyoke does not. And several months ago, in an effort to expedite the improvements to Lyman Terrace, the HHA informed me that they would be seeking improvement proposals from private developers. Furthermore, they informed me that they were seeking permission from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to demolish all or part of the housing complex were such a need to arise. As part of an administrative process that would enable the HHA to access federal funds for demolition, I signed their request for an environmental assessment.

Per the request of the HHA, I have since evaluated the proposals for the property’s improvement by a few developers. As yet, I have not been satisfied by those received. The ones I have reviewed would reduce the population of the neighborhood, take significant time to even begin the improvements, and have been generally misaligned with my guiding principles for the downtown. Upon further exploration, I also became dissatisfied with the HHA’s tenant relocation plan; Lyman’s tenants need to have better protections at the local level if we wish to keep as many residents as possible in Holyoke.

The shortcomings of this process have awoken genuine concern, fear, and resentment among many in the community. Considering the longstanding neglect of Lyman Terrace at the local level, such reactions are perfectly understandable. Furthermore, equating urban renewal with urban removal has been a widely practiced strategy across our country; and, as such, skepticism of our own project is warranted. We are now tasked with avoiding these only too common pitfalls, and how we do so collectively will say a great deal about who we are as a community.

As mayor, my responsibility is first and foremost to the people of Holyoke – and I cannot allow this process to be executed carelessly. I am thus announcing the following steps to realign the renovation of Lyman Terrace with the principles I have outlined above.

As of today, I have asked the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to suspend the HHA’s request for a demolition review. I cannot in good conscience support any demolition of Lyman Terrace – total or partial – until our citizens have ample opportunity to have their voices heard regarding the community needs there. I will not seek approval for any action until a comprehensive plan, crafted with community input, is in place. This policy will affect lives in tangible ways, and people should have every right to reclaim the stake they have in our city’s future.

I have reached out to housing experts outside of the city for their support in assisting the HHA. As a result, I can proudly announce a partnership between the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency, the Massachusetts Housing Partnership, and the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development. To the HHA’s credit, they have demonstrated good faith in following my lead moving forward; they have agreed to work closely with these organizations. Through rigorous community involvement – especially of Lyman Terrace’s residents – these organizations will assist our city and the HHA to develop a comprehensive plan for the area bordered by the first level canal, Lyman Street, Dwight Street, and High Street.

And finally, I am calling on the HHA to be more responsive to the immediate needs of Lyman Terrace’s tenants. Planning for Lyman’s future does not mean ignoring its present, and there is no reason that the basic upkeep of the property should be neglected.

It is important that we get this right. And in order to so, we must take advantage of these new partners and the resources they will provide. Coming up with a plan for this part of Center City will be a community effort. We will use our new resources to guarantee our citizens a seat at the planning table – by holding public hearings, providing interpreters, and whatever else is necessary to ensure their voices are heard.

I do not know what a renovated Lyman Terrace will look like when this process is completed; that will depend greatly on the input of residents, businesses, and property owners. What I do know is that the plan must be consistent with a long-term vision for our downtown as a diverse, densely populated, vibrant, and prosperous place. The rehabilitated complex should properly connect to its surrounding amenities. Furthermore, it should include key components that the current property lacks: more green spaces, sufficient parking, and a community center.

The revitalization of our downtown depends on the energy of the people who live there and love our city, not merely the buildings that line the streets. Holyoke was built to accommodate 60,000 people. Growing our population must entail keeping people in Holyoke, not forcing them out. It is true that some tenant relocation is inevitable as we improve Lyman Terrace; but in the event of such relocation, the HHA needs to have a plan that gives as many residents as possible the option to relocate in our city. And when the improvements are completed, those residents that wish to return to the redeveloped Lyman Terrace should have priority placement to do so. These folks are the ones who have worked for years to maintain and beautify their homes, and they deserve a fair chance to reclaim the improved neighborhood.

I know our city is up to this task. We understand the stakes. Indeed, our resolution of this issue will say a great deal about who we are as a community. Working together, we can ensure not only an improved downtown, but also a more just and decent community for us all to share, and to which we all may contribute.

Lyman Terrace Press Release

2012/08/01 in Alex Morse, Federal, HHA, Holyoke, Law, Lyman Terrace, Mailbag, MGL, Press Release, Ward 1

 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 01-Aug-2012

Lyman Terrace Tenants File Suit Against City of Holyoke and Holyoke Housing Authority.

Holyoke, MA, 01-August-2012:  Attorney Peter Vickery on behalf of a group of Lyman Terrace residents filed a lawsuit today at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination against the City of Holyoke and the Holyoke Housing Authority which manages the 167 unit public housing project where the tenants reside, located in Ward 1 Holyoke near High, Lyman and Front Streets.  The expectation is that the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination will file an injunction in Superior Court to stop the planned demolition of Lyman Terrace.  A total of five legal claims are presented in the complaint: Violations of the Federal Fair Housing Act 42 USC § 3604; Federal Environmental Protection Regulation 40 CFR Part 7, Subpart B; Article 1 of The Massachusetts Constitution; and Massachusetts General Law 151B § 4 & 121B § 32.

Introduction to the Complaint is as follows:  The City of Holyoke and its Housing Authority have decided to seek permission to demolish Lyman Terrace, a public housing project in the downtown area.  Because most of the Lyman Terrace residents are Hispanic, the destruction of their homes – and the residents’ relocation away from Holyoke – would have a disparate impact on a protected class and would, therefore, constitute unlawful discrimination.  Complainants are asking the Commonwealth to seek and injunction from the Superior Court to stop the demolition.

Attorney Vickery comments:  ”We are asking for an injunction to stop the demolition of Lyman Terrace. This is a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood that the commonwealth considers an environmental Justice Community, meaning that government has to meaningfully involve the community in land-use decisions to ensure equality and equity.  Our legal basis is the anti-discrimination law, which prohibits land-use decisions that have a disparate impact on certain protected classes. We are saying that demolishing Lyman Terrace would be unlawful because it would have a disparate impact on Hispanic people. We are absolutely not accusing the mayor or anyone in city government of racism or bigotry.”

For more information please contact:

 

Latino Community Liaison
Darlene Elias

 

Tenants Association President
Sonia Gonzalez
55 East Court
Holyoke, MA 01040

 

Full text of the complaint:

Download (PDF, 131KB)

For more info about Lyman Terrace see HERE.

Link to the Lyman Terrace Facebook page see HERE.