NELSON RAFAEL ROMAN
Winner of the Hennessy VSOP Privilege Latino 30 under 30 Award
City Councilor, Holyoke, MA
Executive Director, Nueva Esperanza, Inc.
Heritage: Puerto Rican
Business West 40 Under 40, 2017
The International Jose Julio Sarria Civil Rights Award
The Audre Lordes Founder Award by the Hispanic Black Gay Coalition of Boston 2013
International Court Commendation by Queen Mother Nicole the Great 2014
El Coqui Youth Award by Hispanic Action Council of Waterbury, CT 2001
by April M. Crehan
Nelson Roman grew up in Connecticut. He moved to Western Massachusetts a decade ago and quickly fell in love with his city
“Holyoke is truly like a mini Puerto Rico,” he said as he talked about how residents will both help you out and hold you accountable.
Proof of the former was quickly visible to Roman, when he became homeless after living in the area for about a year and a half. He couch-hopped and stayed in tents until he found assistance in a local program that paid the first and last months of rent and a security deposit to obtain housing.
“I love Holyoke. It helped me stabilize. It helped me become the man I am today,” he said. “I’m able to be out as both gay, positive and Boricua. It’s not seen as a negative,” he continued, noting that “being Latino first is the identifier that I have to hold on to because even in queer spaces, it’s segregated or in the media, it’s whitewashed.”
These intersectional identities are what prompted Roman to run for office. He said he remembered thinking “I’m tired of waiting for that politician...who is going to represent me.”
As a city councilor, Roman is working on an ordinance to slow gentrification by giving current residents first right of refusal to buy their building—with potential help from community organizations-- if a current property owner puts it up for sale.
“If we are able to get the city of Holyoke to pass this gentrification mitigation ordinance passed we can really set the standard,” he said.
Roman’s day job aligns well with his political ideals: he is the director of Nueva Esperanza, a community organization focused on promoting Puerto Rican/Afro Caribbean culture and responsible, affordable property management.
The group originally formed, Roman explained, to fight a wave of arsons committed for insurance money. When Nueva Esperanza was under threat of merging with a larger group several years ago, the community banded together to revive the organization instead.
Roman said the Puerto Rican community needs forces like Nueva Esperanza at national levels as well. In the future, in addition to his plans for a house and kids with his partner Manny, he sees himself expanding his community efforts.
“My dream is to do this work. I love local government and being a local representative,” he said.
“We need to tap in on a national level and so I’m happy to be part of the national Puerto Rican agenda.”