Muralists Paint Boston’s Immigrant History on City Streets

Painted on the brick exterior of Atlas Wines and Liquors in Boston’s Roslindale neighborhood is a colorful mural depicting Louis and Beatrice White, the store’s original owners. Russian immigrants who came to the United States in the early 1900s, the Whites’ smiling faces are surrounded by flowers and cursive text written in Spanish, Italian, and Yiddish. The mural reads,“You will always be welcome in the city of Boston.”

Commissioned as part of the “To Immigrants With Love” mural project, a collaboration with the national letter-writing campaign of the same name, the mural celebrates immigrants from both the past and present, and reflects Boston’s unwavering support of its immigrant communities.

“It’s a pretty scary time for a lot of people right now,” said Katherine Copeland, the public art coordinator for the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement, which helped develop the campaign. “We wanted to inform the community and really humanize the immigration conversation.”

After seeing Stephen Powers’ “Love Letters to Philadelphia” mural project, Copeland realized that the best way to do this was through public art.

“That’s what sparked the idea, I realized we could take the concept of ‘To Immigrants With Love’ one step further, for Boston,” Copeland said. “It’s one thing to talk about it in policy and another to literally paint it on the city’s walls. This is the best way to show the city’s permanent and direct support.”

Three murals were commissioned, one in Roslindale and two in East Boston.

“We wanted to pick neighborhoods that were underserved in terms of public art and profoundly shaped by immigration,” said Copeland.

The murals were completed by the Mayor’s Mural Crew, a program created in 1991 to enable youth to become active participants in the creation of public art. “A good chunk of the kids working are children of immigrants, so that made their work and involvement even more important,” said Heidi Schork, director of the Mural Crew.

In addition to the location of the murals and artists, subject matter was also carefully selected.

“Instead of randomly choosing anyone, we decided to focus on immigrant business people, people who came to Boston and achieved the American Dream,” Schork said. “The goal was to juxtapose an immigrant from the past next to an immigrant from the present, to highlight how immigrants are still making huge contributions to our city.”

Portraits of Carmello Scire and Veronica Robles dominate the side of a dentist’s office in East Boston. Scire emigrated from Sicily to Boston in the 1930s, and founded the catering company now known as Sammy Carlo’s Delicatessen and Catering, a business that has served the community of East Boston for 75 years.

Clutching an oversized sombrero, Robles image stands next to Scire. Robles emigrated from Mexico to Boston in 2000, and serves as the executive director of the Veronica Robles Cultural Center, an organization that provides community activism and economic growth in East Boston.

The third mural is located along East Boston’s bike path, and depicts immigrant grandmothers collected from photographs submitted by residents.

But the project goes far beyond the faces painted on the walls and the stories they tell. It is part of a larger effort to better connect immigrants to city services and resources, Copeland said. In addition to the commission of public murals, multimedia projects, social media campaigns, and a website with resources and services were made accessible by the public.

“Immigration is embedded in the fabric of our city,” said Copeland. “Making the public accept and celebrated is our ultimate goal. Without immigrants, Boston wouldn’t be the same.”

Featured Image by Keith Carroll / Heights Staff

  • Julio Correa

    Thank you for this interesting report. I think that the “Immigrants With Love” project is very important in this time that we are living in today. We must never forget that the US is a land of immigrants and a nation composed of different nations. The intention of the “Immigrants with Love” project is to shed light on this while educating on Boston’s immigrant history. Hopefully, this project will make everyone feel more welcomed in Boston. I wish that the project ultimately expands to even more murals throughout the city. I will definitely look to visit some of the areas with these murals, and keep an open eye for them around Boston. These murals will definitely create awareness for immigrant issues, and help immigrants connect to resources in the city.