By Joshua Qualls
“Mission Hill is the streets,” said Hector Galarza, a 47-year-old who grew up in the neighborhood. “Everybody there is street, and what I mean by street — everybody there was there to survive.”
While his mother was supportive and treated him well, she struggled to find balance between caring for her family and partying. Galarza said he lacked a male role model while growing up and looked to drug dealers for mentorship.
“The guys that were right there on my block – they were regular men that were just trying to support their families,” he said. “They became my mentors. They’re the ones who put me in check.”
Growing up in Mission Hill, Galarza met people who would either do anything for others or stab them in the back. He had to figure out who those people were for himself.
Still, the neighborhood had a sense of community. Everyone was just trying to get by and often relied on one another when things were rough.
“You had some … good times, tough times, some traumatizing times,” Galarza said. “But eventually everybody always got together, and it was a family.”
As a kid, Galarza, who is of Puerto Rican descent, went to the Tobin Community Center. The Tobin was once part of Sociedad Latina before the Boston Centers for Youth & Family took it over. Galarza returned to the community center as an employee about 22 years ago to shape young minds in the neighborhood. He has worked there as a youth worker ever since.
Galarza believes kids in the area now lack the discipline and hustle that were essential to survival when he was growing up. The spirit of the neighborhood has changed, he said.
“[The kids] are not hungry – they’re not going after it,” Galarza said. “What’s going on now is just more like nobody’s willing to work with each other. The connection’s not there.”