According to the 2010 census, the city of Lawrence, Massachusetts has a population of 76,377. Of those, 73.8% -or 56,366 people- self identified Hispanic or Latino. In the 1970 census, the city’s total population was 66,916 and 4% -or 2,677 people- identified as Hispanic. This demographic data shows a city in transition. Waves of immigration transformed Lawrence’s ethnic and racial identity in a relatively short period of time.
When a minority becomes a strong majority in this way, it should not be surprising to see social tensions. This is what happened in 1984 as groups of white youth clashed with Hispanics or Latinos in the city’s Lower Tower Hill neighborhood. The final balance saw several buildings burned by arson, a multi-day curfew, as well as over 300 arrested. A New York Times article from the time included quotes from people on both sides of the racial divide. First, the words of some of the whites who obviously felt race was the problem and who were ready for a fight:
None of the white youths would give his name. They said the rioting had nothing to do with any family feud but was “strictly racial,” and they said they hoped there would be more trouble.
The feelings of residents against the Hispanic newcomers run remarkably high in some quarters. One businessman in his 60’s, who chose not to be named, said of the violence: “It had to come. This used to be a good city but you get all these Spanish people in here and 90 percent of them don’t work. I think they’re pushy people.” He mentioned daily crowds of Hispanic people outside the welfare office on Lawrence Street. “You never see a white person there,” he asserted.
One Hispanic leader, Isabel Melendez, who works for the Greater Lawrence Community Action Council, said of her community, “There are a lot of frustrations: lack of housing, people unprepared to join the job market, poverty.”
She said Hispanic residents were also disorganized and politically powerless. There are no Hispanic elected officials in Lawrence.
Colin Campbell. “Two Nights of Rioting Bring a Curfew to Lawrence, MASS.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 10 Aug. 1984,