Salvador Jaramillo is Lexington’s youngest Town Meeting Member, serving Precinct 5 while also studying at Harvard and working two part-time jobs.
Jaramillo made news recently with his moving comments to Town Meeting. “My family lives in multifamily housing; without it, we wouldn’t be able to live here in Lexington,” he said, speaking out in favor of Lexington’s new multifamily housing plan. “When my family dealt with financial hardship and eventual homelessness, we were told by many people in this town that we didn’t belong in Lexington and we should move somewhere else. How do you think it makes me feel when some people from a point of great privilege say that they don’t want the type of multifamily housing that I live in because it looks ugly?”
Jaramillo’s powerful speech was quoted in The Boston Globe and The New Yorker (and, of course, here in the LexObserver). We caught up with Jaramillo to learn more about his high school years here in Lexington, his priorities for Town Meeting, and his plans for the future.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Did you grow up in Lexington?
I was born in Indiana and grew up around the Indianapolis area up until the fifth grade. My family eventually moved to St. Louis, Missouri due to my father’s job, where we lived for about two years prior to moving to Boston. Moving to Boston was a rather big transition for us, as it was quite different from any of the places we lived in the Midwest, and we moved here without ever previously visiting the area. In many ways the fact that my family ended up in Lexington was really due to chance. If it wasn’t for a recommendation to live in Lexington by a co-worker from my father’s new job, my family could have very well never ended up in this great community we love and have now called home for eight years.
What is it like to serve as a Town Meeting Member?
From zoning by-laws, town infrastructure projects, affordable housing, to approving the town budget, there is great diversity in terms of the issues you are presented with and must learn about. For me, being a Town Meeting member gives me the satisfaction that I am doing something to actually make a tangible difference in my community, no matter how small that may be. Being a Town Meeting member means balancing the responsibilities of a local elected official while also dealing with the realities of being a full-time student, which I think is a very important and valuable characteristic of our form of government here in Lexington — it allows people of all backgrounds and responsibilities, not just traditional politicians, to participate and engage with local government and politics.
Why did you decide to run for Town Meeting?
I have always wanted to give back to Lexington and pay it forward for many people within our community that have helped me and my family through great adversity. After graduating from LHS, I was first encouraged to run by longtime Town Meeting member Dan Fenn shortly before he passed in 2020. Given that my family was homeless at the time and didn’t have a permanent residence, I realized that I couldn’t run for Town Meeting until we had a place we could call home in Lexington. Fortunately, that fall, my family was able to get back on our feet and find a place to live in Lexington. That spring, I was home from campus learning remotely because of the pandemic, so I made a few phone calls to people who I knew were in Town Meeting and decided to run. Given that the pandemic was still in full swing at that point, it was definitely hard to run as a new candidate. Precinct 5 was a contested election, with 7 incumbent Town Meeting members and 2 challengers. Many people told me that I wouldn’t win, but after door knocking and buying a couple of yard signs, I was quite surprised to have won. The rest, as they say, is history.
What is your biggest accomplishment as a Town Meeting Member?
I don’t think it would be appropriate to claim anything Town Meeting does as my own accomplishment. Everything Town Meeting accomplishes is a result of the hard work of countless individuals on town committees/boards, town staff, and by town residents. I have worked hard to be an advocate and share my voice, especially on issues pertaining to affordable housing, the environment, and most recently multifamily housing, with Article 34. I don’t know how much my contribution has led to the success of these initiatives, if at all, but I do hope that by engaging with residents and listening to those who may agree and disagree with me that it helps broaden the conversation and makes Town Meeting truly representative. I truly believe in standing up for what I know is right and not what I believe will avoid conflict. Whenever a contentious article like Article 34 passes, I cannot help but be proud to be a part of the legacy that article will have on current and future residents of Lexington. In many ways, those changes will outlive me — at least I hope — and serve as a stepping stone for future generations of this town to build upon.
Can you talk about how your family ended up experiencing homelessness? How do you think that experience helped shape the person you are today?
I would start by saying that both of my parents are immigrants; my mother was not able to attend college, and my father is an electrical engineer who has often been in between jobs for a number of reasons (often contract work). After the great recession, my family lost the home that I grew up in Indiana, and ever since we’ve never really had one place we could consistently call home. My little brother Miguel and I have always been especially close and dealt with adversity together. At times, my family would find ourselves homeless without a place to go, but through it all we had each other.
My parents have worked very hard to help keep a roof over our heads, but the reality was that especially in a place like Boston, without my dad making a sustainable income and minimum wage jobs not being enough, my family has often found ourselves living in basements, attics, or motels at different points throughout my childhood, but especially during my time at LHS. Throughout high school I had to take on two part time jobs, as both a tutor and a soccer referee, in order to help make ends meet for my family. Since my freshman year at Harvard, my family has gotten back on our feet and we live in our own place in Lexington, but it definitely has not been easy.
In regards to how that experience has shaped me, I would say that even though it has been really hard to overcome, I don’t regret having to go through it. I know that I am a stronger person because of it, even though I may not have seen that when experiencing it. It was really hard to focus on just my academics — especially given the two part time jobs, being a varsity track athlete, class president, studying for the SAT, and the overall rigor of LHS — so in that respect, my adversity forced me to become very disciplined in terms of how I organized my time and keeping myself focused on the end goal. I woke up nearly every day at 5 a.m. and would constantly be doing something throughout the day. It ultimately came to be worth it when I got into Harvard.
My experience in being homeless, for better or worse, has given me the understanding of how people can be — the good, bad, and ugly — and in that way, it has driven me to pursue law and/or medicine in order to advocate for people like me. It has especially driven me to make a difference here in Lexington. I feel as though I have an obligation to not only pass on the generosity that so many have shown me and my family, but to also prove that people who come from my background do belong in a place like Lexington.