My Under 30 Story: Micho Spring
Chief of Staff for the Mayor of Boston at 26 and the first - and only - Latina Deputy Mayor at 30
Editor's Note: The “Under 30” stories chronicle the struggles and accomplishments of Latino pioneers who have blazed a trail in Boston. It is probable that without their efforts, we would not have today our Latino 30 under 30 list. The El Mundo Boston Latino 30 under 30 is presented by Hennessy VSOP Privilege.
By TIM ESTILOZ
There was a time in Boston’s relatively recent past when the doors of professional opportunity were tightly closed to all but a select few based on their race, ethnicity and gender.
Those doors began to open in the waning years of the 1970’s and early 80’s on a variety of levels. One notable catalyst for the change was Micho Spring, a young protégé of the late mayor of Boston, Kevin White.
At the age of 26, Spring was appointed as Mayor White’s Chief of Staff to advise in the governing of the city of Boston. At 30, she became even more influential when she was promoted to the position as White’s Deputy Mayor; the first and only Latina Deputy Mayor in the city's history.
Today, Micho Spring is without a doubt one of Boston’s most accomplished and unique political and corporate trailblazers. As Chair of Weber Shandwick’s Global Corporate Practice and President of the firm’s New England region, Spring is an innovator and expert in the field of media and public relations, strategic and corporate communications and reputation management.
Her accomplishments at a young age are incredibly noteworthy. However, what defines Micho Spring as a multi-faceted trailblazer is the fact that she acquired, and superbly excelled, at these positions of political influence at a time when someone like her had never before reached such heights in Boston city government.
Born in Cuba, Spring fled the Castro regime as a child in 1960 with her parents, settling in New York city and eventually landing in Boston; a city that is culturally and racially much different than today. It was a time that posed certain challenges to someone like her amid the city’s atmosphere in those days.
“I had the trifecta: I was young, a woman and Hispanic," said Spring,
“When I became Chief of Staff at City Hall, there had been a lot of young people before me that had the job, but not women and certainly not Hispanics. I was keenly aware of that. I remember arriving at City Hall and at that time it was a white Irish male bastion; and a young woman in her 20’s who was Hispanic and whose name they couldn’t pronounce was really quite a cultural affront to the establishment. (Mayor) Kevin White was way ahead of his time and very much a part of the generation of politicians that started empowering minorities.”
Spring’s ability and strength to navigate those politically turbulent waters was learned early on, when her family traversed across more dangerous waters in a search for freedom not found in her native Cuba.
“I was 10-years old when we left Cuba,” she said.
“It was traumatic leaving [my homeland] because we left in a hurry. All the schools were being closed and children my age were being sent to the countryside to pioneer schools to be 'retrained' by the new Castro government. My parents decided overnight that we were not going to start the school year and we left at the end of August in 1960; thinking we were leaving for six months because we believed the government in Cuba would not last."
“We left with nothing and started a whole new life,” Spring continued.
“For me, I barely spoke English and everything that was familiar to me changed overnight. We experienced the fear of not being able to say goodbye to anyone and not being able to tell people you were leaving because there was such fear all around at that point.”
According to Spring, she and her family came to an America that was in some ways contradictory in its welcome. On one hand, she describes those who seemed wary of immigrants from a country culturally unknown to some in the U.S. On the other hand, the political climate of the early 1960’s between the U.S. and the Castro regime afforded the family, and those like them, some degree of understanding.
“I remember being asked in school at age 10, if Cubans lived in trees,” Spring said.
“They just had no concept of my background or of my country. It was just, ‘Who are these people who are invading our lives here?’ because there were a lot of Cubans who arrived at the same time.”
“On the other hand, you have to take into account that we were victims of the Cold War,” Spring continued.
“We were welcomed as victims of a revolution that the U.S. was very much in opposition to. I’ve got to say I shudder when I think of immigrants’ experiences today because, at that time [due to] the Cold War, we were welcomed in a way that I don’t think a lot of refugees and immigrants who come here today are welcomed. I do think there was a certain status we had which made it a little easier.”
As a young girl in a new land, learning a new language, Spring credits her strong parents with providing her with the inner tools they themselves possessed. They helped strengthen and develop the resolve and character that Spring needed then and later carried into her adult life and career.
“My father was a doctor and I think from the way he practiced medicine, I learned my devotion to public service,” she said proudly.
“My mother was an incredibly tenacious and courageous woman,” Spring continued, “and she was a natural public relations person, so I certainly inherited a lot from her.
Equipped with this strong upbringing and an ambitious spirit, Spring grew up in New York and began working within then Mayor John Lindsay’s administration in that city.
It was during this time that Spring began to sense her calling to become active in assisting those dedicated to reinvigorating America's cities which had, in many cases, fallen into decline.
“American cities were dying in the 70’s. There were cities where we had all sorts of turbulence, particularly in New York. Large scale public protests broke out from anti-Vietnam war demonstrators to riots in the streets after Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were killed. It was in that context that I became incredibly attracted to the whole movement to save cities.
It was amid that tumultuous climate of unrest and change that Spring came to Boston to attend Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
Upon graduation and still in her twenties, she began working within the Kevin White administration and on the ground floor of helping to affect significant change in Boston
“I came in working at City Hall right after busing,” said Spring, “which was like a civil war had just taken place. I was able to see where government could be effective, especially if you look at the Boston of today and so much of it has to do with very wise measures. This city has been opened by very smart public policy.”
Spring’s commitment to help improve Boston did not go unnoticed by her boss, Mayor Kevin White. Her drive helped her to not only advance her professional career but also, by extension, opened doors for later generations of women, minorities and Latinos to follow to this very day.
"(Mayor) Kevin White was known for giving opportunities to young people,” said Spring.
“He certainly gave me plenty of opportunities. However, I had to learn to get things done in an environment where it wasn’t always easy. There were lots of obstacles - bureaucratic obstacles as well as cultural ones. I learned a lot about how to get things done which still serves me well to this day, when I’m trying to get complex things done for my clients.”
It was during this period where Spring discovered she could be a key advocate for Boston’s growing Latino community from her position within city government.
"When I got my job at City Hall and I was promoted to Deputy Mayor," said Spring, ”I was Deputy Mayor for policy. I wasn’t Deputy Mayor for Hispanics. However, that day when I got appointed, a group of Hispanic social service leaders and community leaders came to thank the Mayor for appointing the first Hispanic Deputy Mayor in the city of Boston’s history. They came to embrace me and make me their champion and from that moment on, I felt so responsible for steering any requests that came out of the Hispanic community. They anointed me their (own) deputy mayor and that was very meaningful to me.”
Eventually, Spring would leave the world of Boston city politics and venture into the private sector as a communications strategist. Once again, Spring often found herself in an environment within the corporate world where she had to draw upon her experience and instincts to survive and excel in newly uncharted professional waters.
“I found it more difficult when I went out into the private sector and was in endless meetings where I was the only woman and that was hard at times to navigate,” said Spring.
“Like so many women of my generation - so many Hispanics of my generation - we learned to develop new instincts of survival and navigating the environment which have been incredibly useful in my career.”
To date, she has been named on multiple occasions as one of the “20 Most Powerful Women in Boston” by Boston Magazine.
In 2014, she was named to the Boston Business Journal Power 50 List. Under her leadership in 2015, Weber Shandwick ranked first on the Top 100 Women-Led Businesses in Massachusetts by The Boston Globe Magazine and The Commonwealth Institute. She has received numerous other professional awards and sits on the boards of multiple organizations.
Micho Spring has seen Boston evolve greatly over the years especially in its degree of inclusiveness and opportunities for the young Latino community. Just as she benefitted from the opportunities she experienced in her youth in Boston, she sees even greater potential for young people today in the city.
“We’ve come from a city 40 years ago that had a long history but not a very bright future”, said Spring, “to a city that is perceived as being at the forefront of innovation, inclusion and, I think, not only tolerant but also, is embracing of its diversity and really capitalizing on it.”
“I also think Boston is a magnet for talent”, added Spring.
“We have this influx of a new young generation that comes every September that challenges us and makes us better.”
However, this proud Bostonian still remains devotedly loyal to her Cuban heritage and culture.
I’ve made my life here and I love Boston,” said Spring, “but, I’ve never forgotten my roots in Cuba. That’s what shaped me, even though I left at 10 years old. My parents, my culture, the history of me and my family is all part of Cuba. My family fought for Cuban independence for three generations. It’s very much a part of my identity, but I have made my life here in Boston. I love the values we stand for here. I love this community and I’m proud to be a very engaged citizen.”
“I’ve always considered myself a daughter of Havana... but, a citizen of Boston.”