From July through November, Hyde Square Task Force held a series of community events throughout Jamaica Plain celebrating Latinx culture through music, dance and theater, supported by the Olmsted Now Parks Equity and Spatial Justice Grant. Olmsted Now sat down with Ken Tangvik and Brenda Rodriguez-Andújar of HSTF about their programs and spatial justice in Boston. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Could you introduce yourselves?
Ken Tangvik: My name is Ken Tangvik. I’m the manager of community organizing and creative development.
Brenda Rodriguez-Andújar: And my name is Brenda Rodriguez-Andújar, and I’m the Deputy Director of Hyde Square Task Force.
How would you describe your program?
KT: Hyde Square Task Force is the managing partner of Boston Latin Quarter Cultural District. Part of the mission of the District and Hyde Square Task Force is to uplift and celebrate Afro Latin art and culture. That’s the big picture, the big theme of what our activities are. What we did over the summer is we activated three major spaces. One is the Blessed Sacrament Campus, where we own two properties, and we had a concert there with the David Rivera Band—they’re from Puerto Rico—which included both professional and youth performances together. We also had what we call a “pa la calle,” which was almost all youth performances and theater, music and dance in front of several 100 community members and parents and families.
So those were two—and this is all Afro Latin performances that they did, and Afro Latin themes in the theater. So that was one space we activated. The other space we activated and we’re still activating is Mozart Park which is, you know, the main public park in the Cultural District. There we co-sponsored a very nice salsa party, concert, dance with Astoria Salsa Company. We did that in collaboration with a Tito Puente series at Berklee College of Music. That was also attended by several 100 people. Just people dancing well into the night—even with the heat. All of our major events managed to be, you know, 90 plus, 95 plus degrees—but they all went great.
Down in Jackson Square—one of the largest public housing developments in Boston is there, it’s the Mildred Hailey Apartments. We worked with young Afro Latin artists to do live, interactive art at four different events in the public housing development which engaged many young people in creating art that they actually took home in a little frame. It was so nice seeing all the young people walking away with their own art that they’d created with a professional artist. We also did a drum circle down there. Kind of a community healing drum circle we had led by a very well-known percussionist Cornell Coley.
One final thing that I’ll mention is that at Mozart Park, we’re also working on a 180-foot-long mural, and the theme of the mural is Afro Latin music. We’ve engaged dozens of local artists, youth and community volunteers, and that’s an ongoing project that’s happening right now in Mozart Park.
Seems like a very busy summer!
KT: Yeah, summers tend to be when we really get out—the warm weather is when we really get out to the public.
How did you choose the locations for your programs?
KT: There’s this old [space]—it used to be the Blessed Sacrament church and campus. Hyde Square Task Force, along with its nonprofit community development partners, actually bought the whole campus several years ago, and we own two buildings in it. One, which is a Creative Youth Development Center, where we do all of the training for our youth, and we also have this massive church that we have bought. We’re working with developers right now with a plan to create affordable housing and performance space, cultural performing space, in this church. That’s one of the real hearts of our neighborhood—it always has been. For the immigrant community, the church was always the center of their community. And so, we want to keep that. Even though it’s not a church, it’s still this campus. It’s beautiful. There’s grass, there’s beautiful architecture, and so that is why we choose that. That’s our home. It’s like inviting people to our home.
Mozart Park has a history of being the center of the outdoor part, the center of the Latin Quarter. The Dominican community started the Dominican Festival in the late 80s in this park, and for the Dominican community in particular, it’s been a very important park and cultural asset. Part of our work is not to just keep it in these big public spaces, but we also want to go into the public housing development and bring the culture both from that area and to that area. That’s an important part of our work too. Because, you know, our cultural district—it’s a wide range of incomes. There are some luxury condos, and then there’s some of the highest concentration of low-income housing in the city. And so, we want to make sure that everyone is being involved in these cultural activities.
Why do parks and public spaces need more equity and spatial justice programming, and how do you hope your programming speaks to that need in Boston?
KT: I think we can all agree that these parks and these open spaces, they’re so rich, they’re such a huge asset. I’m just going to point to one particular aspect, which is youth, and getting youth to come out and access these [spaces]. Brenda and I both have been working with youth for many decades, and we saw what the pandemic did to the mental health of our youth. And so, to me, and I think to Brenda too, the parks represent a place for healing to take place. Where they can put their phones away, where they can actually engage with each other—whether it’s in music or dance or simply playing basketball, playing tag, having a water fight. Those were all things that we’ve found. I have a teenage daughter, and I’ve seen her friends, and all the 75 youth we worked with this summer. Anytime they were at the park, whether it was for an event or just to be there, there was healing. There was social interaction happening. And to me, that was very important—that these, you know, mostly low-income youth, instead of being in their homes in front of a videogame or on their phone in their bedrooms, that they’re outside, in the sun, in the fresh air, doing positive things.
What’s your favorite part of parks and public spaces?
BRA: They’re accessible. They’re accessible to all people, no matter economic status, no matter age. I would say that yes, we saw firsthand how our young people—because we’ve worked with so many this summer—how our young people definitely took advantage of the park and what it did to both their mental and physical health. But I’d argue the same thing for people of all ages. I’ve seen what it’s done as a space for our elders in the community to gather and talk with their friends and once again be able to be social. It’s a really beautiful thing. At least what I appreciate, but I think many would say the same thing, is how accessible and open and free they are for anyone to take advantage of.
Any final words about the essence of your programs?
BRA: [Parks] are accessible and open to everyone, which then naturally lends itself to our programming, which is really about bringing people together through culturally relevant programming. That’s what we’ve done, and that’s what we’ll continue to do in Boston’s Latin Quarter.