- Arts + Culture
From the Luis Vasquez campaign, July 26: I was proudly born in Cambridge and raised by two hard-working and supportive parents, who immigrated from Latin America to set a stage of opportunities for my siblings and me here in America. A product of our public school system, I graduated from Cambridge Rindge & Latin in 2006. From there, every stop along the way to this campaign has involved helping others, mostly youth, to tap into their fullest potential so that they are able to become the leaders of tomorrow.
After high school, I had plans to further my education and to pursue athletic opportunities, but I became a father at the age of 19. Some might say that life got in the way, and it certainly did. My wife and I were committed to not becoming another tragic statistic, so with support from our families we have been incredibly blessed to defy all of the odds. We are now happily married, raising two wonderful boys. Our eldest son attends a Cambridge public school, and we hope to have our toddler follow in his footsteps. My journey from a Cambridge kid to a teen parent has shaped my passion for guiding and enriching young people, as well as serving the Cambridge community. As a native Cantabrigian, I feel a sense of responsibility to apply the knowledge and the experiences I have gained to help establish an environment in Cambridge that cultivates a variety of passionate leaders for generations to come. This is a pivotal time for Cambridge, and we need to work together to uphold the culture of diversity, inclusiveness and innovation that our city has rightfully earned!
My campaign is going to operate in the most cost-effective manner possible so that I can focus on important core values. This means no website, no mailings, only social media interactions and consistent face‐to-face conversations. Grassroots organization is centered on developing and sustaining authentic relationships and “meeting people where they’re at,” and this is what I plan to do. I want to engage in meaningful and thoughtful conversations with my fellow citizens so that together we can showcase the real stories of those who live in this city and emphasize the unity in community. Join me and let’s build.
Luis Vasquez, Cambridge City Council Candidate
Top five priorities:
This issue is very important to me. Many of my friends and family have been forced to move out of Cambridge as a result of the outrageous prices for rental units and homes. Cambridge should be a city where everyone has an equal opportunity to rent or own a home that is affordable. We have lost too many families since the elimination of rent control. The gentrification that happened in Cambridge cannot and will not continue to push out our families.
I am often urged by others to move away from Cambridge into a neighboring city where I could pay a mortgage on a house that would cost me less or the equivalent to renting in Cambridge. When you have kids, like I do, it is very tempting to do. However, I’m conflicted by what I would be giving up in order to decrease my living costs. Cambridge is where I want to be, and it’s where the people that grow up here deserve to stay.
With a family counting on me at home, I’m on a pretty tight budget to get the most out of my money. I know many families are in the same predicament. I would love to help local farmers continue to grow locally and bring their produce into Cambridge, to expand farmers markets and the affordability of this option. I would like to help locally owned bodegas and convenience stores work on a strategy to increase their reach in the community. Finally, it’s important to continue to create tax incentives for local business that are passionate about food and are willing to work with us.
I want to keep families in a Cambridge where they are able to enjoy everything our city has to offer. We need to maintain our commitment to being inclusive. We need to work together so that we don’t lose our identity, which revolves around diversity.
Our nonprofit organizations across the city help to enrich the lives of others. It should not be the norm for these organizations to fend for themselves until one of them needs our help to stay afloat. I would love to sit down with our community organizers and nonprofit leaders to create a dialogue that will help us collaborate in order to better serve our community. By creating a nonprofit-funding program, we can help our nonprofits thrive. We need to close the gap between government and nonprofit organizations in Cambridge, and as a city we need to help our organizations better equip their staff members with the necessary skills to be successful. I will work on creating a training program that will help train staff members on career development, program development and grant writing. We need to connect our nonprofit organizations in Cambridge to any and all available resources.
Cambridge Public Schools alumni support (life after education)
Our teachers do a wonderful job of educating and empowering our youth to be launched into success after high school. The issue I see is that when our youth are sent off to college, hands are wiped clean, we smile and we focus on the next batch of graduates coming up behind them. I would love to collaborate with schools, nonprofit and for-profit organizations to create a program that welcomes our young adults back into the city that nurtured them and provide them with opportunities to work and rejuvenate our communities. By partnering with local business and institutions to create internships and other employment opportunities we will attract more young adults back into Cambridge.
Health and fitness
Thankfully, communities across America have become more committed to healthy lifestyles. As a community we can encourage and support one another in this important initiative. I believe that the best approach is to roll out more initiatives that encourage and educate about healthier options/active living.
A plastic bag reduction move should require the city to supply and restock reusable bags. Whether free or a dollar to a good cause, reusable bags should be made available to all in an effort to demonstrate the city’s deepest commitment to ensuring we have the cleanest environment possible.
Our youth should be the focus of most of these initiatives. For example, by removing smoking products from pharmacies we can reduce the chance of a young person having easy access to purchase these products.
Youth today are consumed with cellphones, tablets, video games and television. Sponsoring and carrying out recreational activities on a grand scale can help our youth realize that there is more to life if you just look up. This agenda would include hiking trips, sports tournaments, social recreation initiatives and community service projects. To engage businesses in our community to participate in this initiative would make the experience of youth participation a golden opportunity to further connect them as key members of our community. Our commitment to the importance of developing social skills will in turn be a service to our schools and neighborhoods.
Cambridge has a rich tradition of producing competitive teams with quality talent and sportsmanship. It is important to support and create opportunities for every desiring athlete to be able to play somewhere. Shutting someone out from having the opportunity to participate in a sport should never be tolerable. There should always be a plan B. We want our youth to stay busy and to be able to flourish socially with the unique experience of being a part of a brotherhood or a sisterhood that is a team. With strategic mutual support from our leagues and youth centers, we can help close the gap between the student and the athlete.
Here is a list of some current issues that I believe we should also face head on:
Lowering the homelessness rate
It absolutely killed me to see homeless people sitting outside in Central Square on Christmas Eve. My wife and I were on our way to a family dinner and we felt helpless. We ended up pouring them cups of coffee from a Dunkin’ Donuts Box ’O Joe. While bringing in new businesses to Central Square is part of a strategy to revitalize the area, we should put an equal amount of focus into helping the growing homeless population become stabilized and matched with services. As a city we are not doing all that we can to help those in need. We need to deal with the real issues that create homelessness in Cambridge and not try to mask the problem by opening upscale businesses.
While we all know that anyone can walk into City Hall, I believe that we should carry out more initiatives to further showcase the building as the central focal point of Cambridge. I propose hosting movie nights in the summer and even more activities to bring people together. I would love to see regular City Council community breakfast opportunities for people to mingle and engage with councillors on a personal level. I am a firm believer that if you create hospitality you are true change. We want our citizens and visitors to feel welcomed and create opportunities for engagement. The MLK service project at City Hall that took place in January is a marvelous example. Cantabrigians came together as one to give back to the community in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Let’s continue to build on this momentum!
Bicyclists and drivers sharing the roads
Both parties coming together is key here. We have a great bicycle system in place here with the proper lanes marked on our roads. However, both parties can benefit from signage on the streets such as “No idling in bicycle lane” and “Bicyclists: Please wait for green.” Negotiating a truce between drivers and bicyclists starts from the ground up, meaning we must tap on the shoulders of our avid bicyclists to donate their time to youth centers and schools across Cambridge to teach our youth how to ride safely. Instilling the ethics early on that we wish to see will make a world of difference.
Public toilets at public parks and playing fields
As long as we can trust that the proper maintenance will be carried out, this move is a must. We want people to enjoy our parks, not cut an experience short because somebody needs to use the bathroom. I remember working at the Boys and Girls Club on Windsor Street and taking kids to Columbia Park. If someone had to use the bathroom, the only option was to walk back to the building. We want our residents to enjoy their time out with their families and not have to worry about simple things such as bathroom breaks. In most cases, the park visit was cut short. I am also hoping that as a result, indecent exposure will also decrease.