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Chelsea: An Essential City

Chelsea – An Essential City

A small Latinx immigrant city on the Boston harbor provides fuel, food and an essential workforce for the entire Northeast Region. “Chelsea – An Essential City” (working title) is a window into an essential city and its essential workers on the frontline of a battle against a global pandemic.

Synopsis

The city of Chelsea, Massachusetts is often overlooked. It’s the smallest city in the state of Massachusetts – 1.8 square miles in total – sitting on a tiny peninsula in the Boston Harbor. Yet in the spring of 2020 Chelsea became the city with the highest COVID-19 infection rate in the state and one of the highest infection rates in the country. Chelsea was on the frontlines of the first wave of the pandemic, but why?

Eight out of 10 residents of Chelsea are essential workers. The majority are Latinx immigrant workers.

This film is a portrait of Chelsea, a city made of essential Latinx workers whose contributions allow daily life to go on in the midst of a deadly pandemic. Because of its proximity to the airport and its extensive seaport Chelsea’s contributions are essential to the basic functioning of the region. Food, cargo ships, oil, natural gas, gasoline and tons of consumer goods enter New England through Chelsea. Many factories and industrial operations are located there. Rocksalt to de-ice winter roads in 350 cities is stored in Chelsea. Tanks along the Chelsea Creek hold 100% of the fuel for Boston’s Logan airport – one of the busiest international airports in the country. Chelsea is a vital part of the regional supply chain powering the industrial and consumer economy of most of New England. It is also home to the New England Produce Center – one of the largest produce distribution centers in the country selling produce to all of New England, multiple mid-Atlantic states, and southern Canadian regions.

Yet Chelsea bears a disproportionate burden despite the benefits it provides. Pre-existing conditions that made COVID-19 such a deadly disease are precisely the conditions most prevalent in Chelsea: it is among Massachusetts cities with the highest incidences of asthma, pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Chelsea and her residents are symbolic of the contributions of Latinx immigrant workers; providing essential labor and bolstering industries for the larger economy, yet bearing the largest burden and going largely unseen. While the benefits of their labor are essential to daily life during a pandemic, the majority of residents in Chelsea live below the poverty line and due to immigration status, do not qualify for assistance.

Roseann Bongiovanni, Green Roots’ executive director, whose organization is on the front-lines of pandemic relief, sees several clear messages emerging from the pandemic that need to be heard across the nation: “First, all essential workers are, in fact, essential. They must be treated with the same respect as nurses and doctors. Second, communities of color cannot continue to serve as environmental sacrifice zones.

“Much like Hurricane Maria’s lasting impact in Puerto Rico, the devastation of the first wave of COVID-19 has laid bare and further exacerbated already existing inequality. Now Chelsea faces a tidal wave of evictions and continues to have the highest COVID infection rate in the state.

Associated Members

Sabrina Aviles

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Jenny Alexander

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