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Miguel Luna: the making of an activist

August 19, 2011

A watershed year for the emergence of Latino politics in Rhode Island was 2002, and Miguel Luna was right in the thick of it. By winning election to a Ward 9 seat that year, he doubled Latino representation on the Providence City Council. Luna also made history — with Juan Pichardo — as the first Dominicans elected to their respective positions in the state (or the nation, in Pichardo’s case).

Luna’s enthusiasm for community activism was well known to his friends and acquaintances. Less well known is the origin of his activism, which I described as part of a 2004 story in the Phoenix on the hurdles facing progressive politics in Providence:

As a child, his father forbade him from getting involved in [politics], in part because a relative had been slain while fighting the Trujillo dictatorship. The attraction persisted, though, even after Luna received a belt whipping for violating his father’s prohibition by handing out political flyers and putting up posters. Coming to Providence to join relatives in the early ’80s, Luna says he was drawn into community politics after learning that utility companies were asking residents with accents to supply a deposit, unlike those without one. In contrast to idealized images of America, he says, “I began to realize the milk was spoiled and the honey was not so sweet.” Luna went on to work with groups like Direct Action for Rights & Equality and the Center for Third World Organizing.

Matt Jerzyk, now director of government relations and senior counsel to Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, was a young activist when he helped run Luna’s campaign in 2002. Jerzyk remembers Luna as one the first Latino candidates on Providence’s South Side to build a multi-racial coalition focused on progressive politics.

Over time, Jerzyk says, Luna “never let his principles dilute . . . . If there was a progressive issue in the city, he was there.”

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