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State lawmakers want to engineer voting districts in key cities to give black and Latino candidates a better shot at the State House. They are targeting cities where minority populations have grown in recent years, and nowhere has the growth been more apparent than in the city of Brockton. The black population there grew nearly 75 percent in the last decade.
Holder Dias Gomes de Barros sits at the cash register at a clothing store bearing the Cape Verdean flag. He’s fresh off a plane from his constellation of islands off of Africa; he arrived last week. He speaks no English, only Cape Verdean Creole, an artifact of the Portuguese who colonized his island, and then used it as a stop in the African slave trade.
He’s disoriented. And he’s still not sure if he’ll work or study. His father, Joao, owns the store. He came here more than 20 years ago and has slowly brought over each of his children.
If the State House approves the redistricting proposal, it will be the first time Brockton — a so-called majority-minority city — has a voting block where the majority of constituents are black, Latino or Asian.
"How do you feel having your son here?" I ask Joao.
"I feel much better. Another one's coming. And I had another here. When they’re all here I’ll be more happy. Happy father," he said.
"What do you want for him?"
"I hope he’ll get a job, and go to school and get a good education," Joao replied.
Barros is part of a large Cape Verdean community that started moving to Brockton in the 1970s. They now make up one-tenth of the population. Haitians are the next largest immigrant group.
"We’ve changed quite a bit," said John Jerome, the deputy superintendent at Brockton Public Schools. In the last 20 years, "We’ve gone from a majority population being white to maybe 57, 56 percent. Now it’s probably 23 percent."
Almost one-quarter of Brockton students are still learning English. And the majority of students speak more than one language.
"That’s the city of Brockton…that’s the future of Brockton," Jerome said.
Even with this large influx of immigrants, not one immigrant has won a seat on the school committee. But according to Jerome, they are starting to serve on school-based boards, and that’s the first step.
"Frankly, institutions don’t change that quickly. And I understand that," he said.
Jass Stewart is the first black person to win a city-wide office in Brockton. He ran for mayor twice and now serves as an at-large city councilor.
"It’s never been an issue for me of that the political system is anti-diversity. I do think the political system is very much structured to support incumbents. And that’s a problem regardless of your race. Period," Stewart said.
Stewart testified in favor of creating voting districts in Massachusetts where the majority of constituents are black, Latino and Asian.
"Clearly, the majority-minority redistricting doesn’t ensure that a person of color will be elected. I think that’s important but, that’s only part of the puzzle," he said.
Stewart said it’s more important to consolidate people with common interests.
"This building over here, that’s a new Haitian church. It used to be the old Greek Church. So they sold it and it’s now a Haitian church," he said.
Mike Brady is the incumbent. He gave me a tour of his district. Under the new plan, he will lose more solidly middle-class parts of the city and gain working-class and immigrant neighborhoods.
The plan would also make Brady –- who is white — a minority in his district. He seems unfazed, although he recognizes the median income of his constituents will almost certainly drop. But he doesn’t see himself doing his job any differently going forward.
"No. 1 calls I get from my constituents, right now, it's people looking for jobs and people looking for housing," Brady said.
Residents of Brockton will have one week to comment on the redistricting plans. The State House has to vote on the proposal by Nov. 4. If they approve it, it will be the first time Brockton –- a so-called majority-minority city — has a voting block where the majority of constituents are black, Latino or Asian.
This program aired on October 20, 2011.
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