Holyoke candidates decry racist messages on campaign signs

  • Joshua Garcia, left, and Israel Garcia, both candidates for elected office in Holyoke. —SUBMITTED PHOTOS

Staff Writer
Published: 7/7/2021 8:50:45 PM

HOLYOKE — Two Latino candidates for elected office are speaking out after racist messages were found written on the back of their campaign signs at a busy city intersection.

Israel Rivera, who is running for an at-large City Council seat, and Joshua Garcia, a mayoral candidate, came forward earlier this week to decry the vandalized signs, which were discovered a week before. In interviews, both candidates said they debated whether to draw attention to the incident. Ultimately, they said they decided to publicly condemn the racism directed at them and their communities.

“Whether you live in west Holyoke or south Holyoke, the person who wrote that is talking about our neighbors and our city,” Garcia said. “And what we really need to do is connect as neighbors and as a community and stand by our neighbors and tell the world we’re not going to stand for that.”

Rivera said initially he didn’t want to give the racist messages any extra attention, but he also didn’t want to sweep the incident under the rug.

“I thought it was going to be more personal, and when I ended up seeing it and realizing what it was, I realized it wasn’t technically a shot at me personally,” he said. “It was a larger shot at the community, and the community I represent. And that’s what I took more offense to.”

Rivera said that a friend discovered the signs on the corner of Northampton and Beech streets and removed them. The racist messages were written on two pieces of posterboard attached to the back of two lawn signs supporting Garcia and Rivera, and sought to blame “minorities” for Holyoke’s problems.

Garcia said in a public statement about the incident that those kinds of thoughts are more prevalent in Holyoke than many care to admit, and that he was running to pull the community together. He said the city can’t expect to eradicate those kinds of beliefs with the same leadership the city has had for years.

“The lack of concern, investment and priority for certain communities year after year allows this mindset to fester and grow,” he said. “We were specifically targeted out of fear — fear that under new leadership we as a community will connect, build and grow together and not be divided between new and old or black/brown and white.”

Rivera also said he would use the incident to fuel his desire to unite Holyoke.

Garcia is currently the town administrator in Blandford. Rivera is an area studies program manager at UMass Amherst. Both are lifelong residents of Holyoke.

Several other mayoral candidates and those running for at-large City Council seats took to social media to issue statements condemning the racist messages.

“The constant silence of some white leaders around the issue of race is deafening,” at-large candidate José Luis Maldonado Velez wrote on social media. “Silence is violence and I’m done hearing that xxx is not racist. If they are not then they should have no problem speaking up against this clearly racist attack, on not just two of our Latino candidates, but on 52% of our city’s population.”

Mayoral candidates Rebecca Lisi, a current at-large councilor, and William Glidden, a former mayoral aide and writer, also denounced the racist messages.

“This is exactly what’s at stake in this election,” Lisi wrote. “Will Holyoke elect a leader who looks the other way when hateful, racist comments are made, or one who can talk to the issue head on? For my part, I can say that I am proud of my record of speaking directly to issues of race. I will always work to communicate an understanding of the institutional nature of race and the policy interventions necessary to address racism in our community.”

Glidden said he feels lucky to share Holyoke with Garcia and Rivera, and that the racist messages would do nothing to slow them down.

“It should remind us, though, of the work still to do to confront these toxic beliefs and build genuine solidarity among the people of Holyoke,” he wrote. “The future we want can only be built together.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.
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