East Boston Historical Society and Museum

I recently joined the Board of the East Boston Historical Society and Museum. I love Eastie history, love working toward impossible tasks, and to top it off, I can see the Donald McKay house from my kitchen window. The Museum was recently featured in Historic Boston, Inc.’s blog, which you can read directly here, but I’ve copied the text below as well.

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SEPTEMBER 23, 2021 
MEET THE EAST BOSTON MUSEUM AND HISTORICAL SOCIETY

in Blog by Kathy Kottaridis

Earlier this year, with assistance from the East Boston Community Development Corporation (EBCDC), the East Boston Museum and Historical Society entered into a purchase and sale agreement with the owner of the historic Donald McKay House at 80 White Street in East Boston.

The Museum is devoted to preserving and promoting centuries of East Boston history. It provides regular local history programs for the public and has long hoped to identify an historic building for its headquarters.  When the Donald McKay House became available, they were convinced it was the perfect place for the organization’s home and a museum of East Boston history.

Hey Brian Gannon, I see you!

Debra Cave, the organization’s President, leads an all-volunteer organization with an 11-member board of directors.  “The East Boston Museum is an organization with members from ages 24 to 75,” she said.  “We have so many stories to tell and so much more to discover about our past that can inform the future.”   Cave particularly highlights three themes that are woven through East Boston’s 400-year written history that guides the Museum’s work:  transportation, immigration and advocacy.

Historic Boston is supporting the East Boston CDC and the Museum on a feasibility study for the house’s preservation and transformation into a museum.  The three organizations are actively interviewing architects and consultants to help with planning.

“Most of us who grew up in East Boston have been hearing about Donald McKay all our lives,” said Cave.  “This is a rare opportunity to purchase a building associated with him, and a great chance for the Museum to have the space it needs to store collections, present programs and display exhibits that will tell a bigger and richer history of the neighborhood.  Our members value history, but we also believe in building community by understanding the past and present.  This should be a place where everyone in the community feels welcome.”

“We are often offered donations of papers, books, and such, and haven’t had the space for their storage,” said Cave.  “The McKay House gives us space to plan for acquiring things that residents and visitors can use for research, and that we can use to create exhibits.”

The Donald McKay House was built by McKay (1810-1880) in 1844 near the crest of Eagle Hill.  McKay lived there until he moved to Hamilton Massachusetts in 1869 for the last decade of his life.  McKay emigrated to the US from Nova Scotia, and established his shipyard on the East Boston waterfront, from which he launched dozens of great 19th century sailing vessels, including clipper ships like the Flying Cloud and the Sovereign of the Seas, which was clocked as the fastest sailing ship ever recorded.

The City of Boston CPA has granted the Museum $400,000 toward the McKay House acquisition.  The Museum and the CDC are working on a capital campaign to raise the funds necessary to purchase the building.  Over the next several months, East Boston CDC, the Museum and HBI will be working with its chosen architect, engineers and contractors to determine the cost of restoring the historic house and adapting it for public and commercial uses.

According to Debra Cave, the East Boston Museum will plan the new facility with input from a cross section of East Boston community organizations whose work can complement the goals of the McKay House. “Many East Boston groups have cultural programming that we can support, too,” said Cave.  “We’re going into this optimistically and with our eyes wide open.  This will be hard work, but we know it will be a valuable contribution to the present and future of the neighborhood, and we know we have the right partners working alongside us.”

A Fresh Slate AKA Vote for me!

Fresh Slate In 2017, I traveled to Washington DC to attend the Women’s March in a 16 passenger van filled with angry, sign-carrying radical ladies. The speeches and performances were amazing, inspriational, and I cried several times (I’m looking at you, Sophie Cruz and your chain of love). But the thing I decided to DO after that march came as a suggestion from Michael Moore.  In a (waaaay too long) speech on how vital it is for the women’s march attendees to run for office, he said that there was a role for everyone, including people like me:

“Shy people, there is [even] an office for you! PRECINCT DELEGATE. Run for precinct delegate. You only have to go to the county convention once a year. Who’s going to run for precinct delegate?” (raises hand)

I raised my hand, thinking that one day per year was a committment I could make.

Fast forward to today, and I’m running for office for the Massachusetts equivalent of precinct delegate. I have never run for anything, ever. Echoing my friend local immigration attorney Matt Cameron, I’m running “because the Massachusetts Democratic Party has been too complacent, too complicit, too centrist– and here in Eastie, openly right-wing for far too long, and this is the thing I can do to change that.”

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The Bay State Banner article linked in Matt’s Facebook post characterizes the role of the ward in Massachusetts politics as such:

“The hundreds of ward and Democratic town committees across Massachusetts function as the grassroots arm of the party, providing residents with direct access to the party apparatus. The committees elect delegates to the annual state convention, where they nominate candidates for statewide office and vote on the party platform.”

The article also describes the various reasons why the several ‘insurgent’ slates, which include Ward 18 (Hyde Park), Ward 3 in (Downtown), Ward 9 (South End + Roxbury). and Ward 1 (East Boston), are running, and the kinds of changes they want to make.  For Ward 18, a goal is reinvigorating the committee. The article says:

“While Boston’s more active ward committees maintain webpages, communicate with voters, host candidate forums and engage in get-out-the-vote activities, Ward 18 seldom does more than post the time and date of its annual caucus, as required by state party rules.”

And for ward 9 candidate Vanessa Snow, the goal is to

“help shape the party’s platform to focus on issues in our community.”

For ward 1, our plan is a combination of both.  Our party statement is below.

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We’re delighted to announce our candidacy for the Ward 1 (East Boston) Democratic Ward Committee in the March 3 primary! We are lifelong and newly-arrived Eastie residents, parents of students attending Boston Public Schools, and leaders of community organizations.

OUR VISION
Our goal is to increase local participation and civic engagement in East Boston. We believe that the changing face of East Boston merits fresh and inclusive representation. Our ward committee will look like our community. Our goal is to have an open, inclusive, and active Ward Committee, where everyone in the community will be able to join through regular public meetings.

We also believe in grass-roots participation and engagement. Our goals are to inform the community and to be informed of any issues that must be addressed; foster debate and civic engagement; and advocate for the East Boston community at the city and state levels. We will strive for independent thinking and healthy debate, accept disagreement, and believe that through dialogue we can reach actionable and attainable goals for our community.

The following is the complete list of candidates making up the slate: Matt Cameron, Gabriela Coletta, Ben Downing, Victoria Dzindzichashvili (DiLorenzo), City Councilor Lydia Edwards, Margaret Farmer, Jo Ann Fitzgerald, Brian Gannon, Zachary Hollopeter, Lisa Jacobson, Giordana Mecagni, Gail Miller, Dionyssios Mintzopoulos, Sandra Nijjar, Heather O’Brien, Ricardo Patron, Jesse Purvis, James Rosenquist, Aneesh Sahni, and Kannan Thiruvengadam. (read more here: https://bit.ly/2QUyA0i)

It takes a village to raise a library!

Last week, a group of parents from my kids’ school, along with some dedicated kid helpers, raised a library.  The Dante Alighieri Montessori School is a tiny little K-6 public elementary school in East Boston, both part of the (giant) Boston Public School system and the only Montessori school within it. We love this school for so many different reasons, but near the top of the pile is the amazing, committed parent council, who grapple with issues of welcoming, equity, multi-lingualism, multi-culturalism, kindness, and peace, right along with our kids and their teachers.

JoAnn Cox, Elsa Wiehe and I were unofficial co-chairs of the library build committee, and with help from what feels like a cast of thousands, we completed phase 1 of the library build.  Here are some excerpts from the thank you letter written by JoAnn:

Yesterday, at 3pm, we left the school with a transformed “library”/conference
space/special ed room, housed in the room named La Ceiba.   I’m hopeful all will enjoy this repository of knowledge, source of education, destination for curiosity, space for exploration, and locusfor rumination.

What started as an idea and a conversation with Giordana in the spring
of 2016 while Ethan raced Lucy in the school play area is now closer
to a vision developed over the years with Elsa joining as one of the
leaders to find funding.

Hundreds of hours from volunteer efforts as well as some fundraising
dollars went into this project, one we wanted to see happen at the
school–and all of you helped make it happen.  All of the efforts deserve an award:  planningmeetings and funding research; conversations with Kate Scheid and support from the school staff; the guidance and support of community members Sharon Gentges (architect), Margaret Kelly (East Boston branch library), and Deborah Froggatt (BPS librarian); the generous funding
from Brown Rudnick; and  additional support from funds raised for the
school. A large team of volunteers–you!–with assistance of the 5th & 6th years, family members, and students–transformed an awkward and crowded space in three days; La Ceiba stands ready to embrace all activities, taking advantage of the light and airy qualities of the room.

We are truly in phase 1 of the project– next phases include cataloging the books (Dewey Decimal System rears its ugly head!), weeding, fundraising for additional titles to include, integrating with in-classroom libraries. However, we can’t be more happy with the way things have turned out thus far.

 

 

Our Home: An Eastie Community Archiving Project

I love Archives, and I love the neighborhoood I’ve lived in for the past 14 years, East Boston.  At the moment, I’m working on a project that marries them– Our Home: An Eastie Community Archiving Project.

Our Home, a collaboration between East Boston residents, the ICA, Artist Anthony Romero, Northeastern’s NULawLab, and area nonprofits, aims to activate East Boston’s activist past by hosting history capturing and storytelling events for residents and making the material available for research as part of Northeastern University’s University Archives and Special Collections.

Here is some information from some of the working documents the collaborators and I have put together.  As you can see, it’s a loosely-knit collaboration focused on experimentation, community building and care, and includes (in my mind) a hefty dose of Punk/DIY “let’s just try and see what happens” idealism.  I’ll have more to say about this project later, but thought I would introduce it here, partway through the project.

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Early history of East Boston:

Long a fishing site for the native peoples of the area, the five islands that make up East Boston (Bird, Noddle’s, Apple, Governor’s, and Hog) were first settled by Europeans in 1633.  After a notable shipbuilding period in the 1800s, the area later welcomed wave after wave of immigrants to the immigration station located in the neighborhood, often referred to as Boston’s “Ellis Island.” Many recent arrivals stayed and made their homes in the neighborhood– mingling with already established groups with different languages, religions and cultures.  Because immigration and integration are challenging processes, East Boston has developed a longstanding tradition of welcoming and supporting recent immigrants. This history started in the 1880s with the establishment of settlement houses, the predecessors of today’s East Boston Social Centers.  

More on East Boston Immigration: https://globalboston.bc.edu/index.php/home/immigrant-places/east-boston/ 

History of Activism in East Boston:

Along with the history of welcoming newcomers, East Boston also has a long history of standing up for the rights of its residents.  When “Jeffery Field” opened in 1923, no one could have imagined that the subsequently named Logan International Airport would serve 40 Million passengers in 2018.  Along the way, Olmstead-designed parks, historic buildings, and entire neighborhoods have been bulldozed to make room for runways and airport-related buildings and parking lots.  The proximity to Logan has also brought fuel tank farms, cargo/transportation businesses, to dot and highways to criss-cross the historically working-class neighborhood. East Boston activists have worked for clean air and water, lobbied for green space, bike paths and parks in the shadow of the ever-expanding airport and the Commonwealth’s ever-growing transportation needs. The neighborhood constantly fights, and occasionally wins battles between what the state needs and the neighborhood wants.  

Goal 1: History Capture

Our Home hopes to bring together the various pieces of this historical puzzle and members of the community that hold this history into conversation.  The goal is to provide a space and time for folks busy with their lives and families and volunteer work to share the knowledge of the community they hold with others in the neighborhood.  Additionally, a goal is to capture these objects and stories and make them available publicly for community understanding as part of the growing body of East Boston history collections housed and curated in the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections.

The history-capture events will consist of:

  • [AUGUST 25, 11-2, ICA WATERSHED] An afternoon of ‘community scanning and sharing’ at the ICA’s Watershed.  Hosted by Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections, this is a free public event where residents are invited to bring family photos to be scanned and included in a permanent digital archive of East Boston History, creating an educational resource of primary sources for future generations.  
  • [SEPTEMBER 26, 6-8 PM, GRACE CHURCH FEDERATED]  Evening event capturing the records and stories resulting from No Eastie Casino– a volunteer group who fought to prevent a casino from being built at Suffolk Downs.
  • [September 29, 2-5, ZUMIX ] Eastie History Fest Community storytelling at  Zumix. A Sunday afternoon Mass Memories Road Show-style event. University Archives staff will work with a local planning team to organize a free public event where residents are invited to bring family photos to be scanned and included in this digital archive. 

Goal 2: ICA Boston/Romero Project integration:

These stories and objects will be featured in Anthony Romero’s contribution to the ICA Boston’s upcoming exhibition “When Home Won’t Let You Stay,” which focuses on the subject of contemporary migration, immigration, and the displacement of peoples across the world.  This inclusion is particularly profound as the ICA’s waterfront view features the Jeffries Point neighborhood of East Boston; the historic buildings recently almost completely obscured by newly-built apartment buildings along the waterfront.

Goal 3: NULawLab collaboration

Through Northeastern Law School Laboratory Seminar in Applied Design and Legal Empowerment, a six week legal seminar starting June 10th, students and East Boston residents will co-create a series of legal empowerment tools that respond to the following question:  What might we learn from the rich history of successful East Boston activism that can be deployed to empower current residents to assert their legal rights in proactive defense against displacement by redevelopment?

Students will spend  time researching organizing and activism strategies through the East Boston-related archives in the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections.  They will distill those learnings into discrete actionable takeaways that can be applied to East Boston’s current housing and displacement crisis. They will research legal rights and strategies for the neighborhood, and distill these learnings into a series of tools/toolkits/materials/tangible things that manifest the East Boston approach in response. They will test those ideas/tangible things with East Boston organizers, activists, and residents, and then present the final product as a tool to distributed this fall as part of Anthony’s exhibit at the ICA/Watershed.

Boston, Race, and Resilience

Mel King, Harry Dow, Jean McGuire, Tent City

For the past nearly two years, I have been a member of the Race Equity Working Group of the Mayor’s Office of Resilience and Race Equity. The MORRE Office’s primary mission is to help build resilience for all Bostonians by addressing and and challenging social and racial inequities.  The Racial Equity working group (an advisory group for the office) consisted of incredible warriors– smart, experienced, passionate people who do battle every day but still are able to laugh, breathe, and do it all over again the next day.  Although I felt like I really belonged at the #kidstable instead of in this group, it was a brain-expanding experience and I am thankful I was able to participate.

The Chief Resilience Officer leading the charge to create Boston’s Resiliency Plan, Atyia Martin, and her staff allowed me to assist the effort by convening a group of historians and archivists  (‘history holders’ she called us) and Race Equity Working Group members to strategize how we could showcase the lesser known/understood aspects of Boston’s history across race and ethnicity, including immigrants, from a personal and policy perspective. As Donna Bivens and co. write in the Boston Busing/Desegregation Project’s 7 Lessons “Access to a more complete picture of this history is access to knowledge about how power works to enable and limit us. That access allows us to focus our individual and collective efforts to make real social change.”

One of the results of this convening was POLICY, PLACE, and POWER in an evolving city: BOSTON’S RACIAL EQUITY HISTORY PROJECT, a map and timeline that describes flashpoints, battlegrounds, and structures of inequity in the City of Boston. You can view that timeline at http://socialjustice.library.northeastern.edu/

From the website:

History is everywhere in Boston. Every neighborhood, street corner, and building embodies the people, communities that have occupied those spaces previously. The history of Boston’s systemic racism and communities’ acts of community building, activism and resistance are baked into both our understanding of our city, as well as its physical geography.

This timeline represents policies, events, and projects to the map and timeline that describe flashpoints, battlegrounds, and structures of inequity in the City of Boston.

  • BATTLEGROUNDS: Places where communities and institutions collide over resources, spaces, and neighborhood visions. ie. Tent City, The Southwest Corridor, Villa Victoria, The West End.
  • FLASHPOINTS: Trigger events that exposes inequity and leads the city to a better understanding of itself. ie. School Desegregation, the Henry
    Louis Gates arrest, the Charles Stuart Case.
  • STRUCTURES OF INEQUITY: Government and private sector policies and practices that are racially biased. ie. Chinese Exclusion Act, Redlining, Urban Renewal.

PROJECT GOALS

  • Our goal is to illustrate. To identify histories of racial injustice and celebrate communities’ acts of social resilience through community involvement and activism that moved spaces and institutions and policies toward justice and equity.
  • Our goal is also to learn. The combination of policies and citizen actions over time define our city and our current state equity/inequality. What are the key elements in each campaign or event that have made forward momentum toward racial equity successful?
  • Our goal is also to apply. What are the equity projects you are involved in that define Boston’s current social resilience? Are there elements missing in your current constellation of support? Help create a foundation for new insight as we assess current and future projects.

 

Immigration 2017: CHANGES, REALITIES & FEARS

Immigration 2017: CHANGES, REALITIES & FEARS
Understanding and Supporting East Boston’s Immigrant Neighbors

Sunday, March 19, 4:00pm
Grace Church Federated
760 Saratoga St, Boston, MA 02128

Come listen to experts from the neighborhood speak about what is going on RIGHT NOW in our community. This program is intended to educate East Bostonians to better understand 21st century immigration law and issues. However, all are welcome to learn and share their own immigration story.

Speakers:
* Matthew S. Cameron, Attorney at Law. Matt’s Marginal Street law practice focuses on immigration of all types.
* Patricia Montes, Executive Director, Centro Presente. Centro Presente is dedicated to the self-determination and self-sufficiency of the Latin American immigrant community of Massachusetts.
* Yasser Munif, Assistant Professor, Emerson College. Yasser is a Syrian-born scholar specializing in grassroots movements in Syria.

Join us to discuss Paths to Citizenship, Sanctuary Cities, DREAMers, different forms of under-documentation, and what effect the new Executive Actions are having on our neighbors. US immigration is complex, sticky, difficult to navigate, and in many cases, deeply unjust.

FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC
Invite your friends!

Hosted by: East Boston Progressive Network