Nantucket’s First Latina Candidate

You probably recognize Esmeralda Martinez’s face. After all, she worked at the Steamship Authority’s Nantucket terminal for more than 14 years. Now, though, chances are you might recognize her name too. Martinez is the first Latina candidate to run for elected office on Nantucket, and her campaign signs have popped up around the island over the past month as she seeks a seat on the School Committee.

The daughter of immigrants from El Salvador, Martinez is part of Nantucket’s growing Salvadoran community that today includes thousands of island residents. A 2005 graduate of Nantucket High School, Martinez is now a 33-year-old mother of three children enrolled in the island’s school system, and a town employee at the municipal Planning & Land Use Services department.

Hispanic students now make up more than 36 percent of the student body in Nantucket Public Schools, and Martinez wants to see them represented at the School Committee that currently does not reflect the diversity of the students and families it serves. But most of all?

“I want to show my kids and my family, if you put your mind to it, it can be done,” Martinez said.

We caught up with Martinez ahead of tomorrow’s Annual Town Election for four questions:

Your campaign signs say “A New Voice for Nantucket.” What do you mean by that?
I mean that they need diversity. Diversity. Obviously, as you see all of these committees, there is no diversity. It (running for School Committee) is scary. This is all new to me. I mean, I work, I have children, I tend to their meetings. I’m not used to all this. But I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback. I’m just sad that a lot of the Latino community cannot vote, for different reasons. But yes, they’re rooting for me. They’re excited. In the back room, but they’re rooting for me, yes.

What would you like to address in the schools if you are elected as a member of the School Committee on Tuesday?
The school system caters more for the kids that have more potential to go to college. I’ll give you an example. A few weeks ago, there was a college tour day at the high school. I made a note of it. I made sure my daughter attended. And I said to her “out of all your classmates (who attended the college tour day), how many of them were Hispanics, Latinos?” And she said “I think it was just me.” I said “Seriously? And how many kids are in your class?” She said “I don’t know, mom. There’s a lot of Latinos.” I thought “And how come nobody showed up for this?” So, that made me very sad because I feel that, again, there’s a lot of room for improvement and they could cater not just to those kids that are in that path for college.

The school system now has students that speak 11 different languages and 17 different countries are represented. Are we serving all of the students well?
We definitely need to do a better job. There is lack of representation, not just Latinos, but other races too.

How much has the Salvadoran community on Nantucket grown since you were a high school student here?
When I first got to the island, well obviously I was introduced to everybody and I knew most of the Salvadoran community because it was so small at the time. Now I go to a place like the Salvadoran mini-mart, and I know maybe half of the people. But a lot do know me from Steamship. And I’ve also become a justice of the peace. So, I’ve been doing weddings. Yes, and they love it that they can do it in their language. Because before when (the late Town Clerk) Catherine (Flanagan Stover), rest in peace, would do it she would try to translate. And then sometimes they would call me, “Can you come and translate for us?” I said “You know what? I should be doing this.”

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