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Nelson Merced papers

Identifier: M125


Nelson Merced, a Latino politician and activist, was born in New York City in 1948. Merced first became politically active in Puerto Rico in the early 1970s, working with squatters in San Juan. He moved back to the United States to attend the University of Connecticut, graduating with a bachelor's degree in anthropology. He did graduate work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, held positions at La Alianza Hispana and the Boston Public Facilities Department, and returned to politics in 1988 as a candidate from the 5th Suffolk district in Boston. This collection focuses on his political career as the first Latino candidate elected to the Massachusetts State House of Representatives. Merced held his seat from his election in 1988 until 1992. After leaving the State House, Merced worked for Inquilinos Boricuas En Accion, YouthBuild America, and, most recently, NeighborWorks America.


  • Creation: 1966-2002
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1988-1992


Language of Materials

The collection is primarily in English; some materials are in Spanish.

Conditions Governing Access:

The collection is unrestricted.

Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use:

Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be discussed with the University Archivist.

Biographical Note

Nelson Merced, a Latino politician and activist, was born in New York City in 1948 to Puerto Rican immigrant parents who moved back and forth between Puerto Rico and the United States. Merced joined the United States Navy in 1965 when he was seventeen years old and served for three years. He lived in Puerto Rico with his parents in the late 1960s and early 1970s and became an active participant in politics in 1971, working with a squatters' rights movement in San Juan. Merced later said that this experience was seminal for him, proving that joint community effort "could accomplish something significant" ("From 'Migrant' To State House in Massachusetts," New York Times). He returned to the United States after 1971 and received a bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of Connecticut. During this period, he worked as a paralegal in Hartford, Connecticut. He moved to Boston in 1976 and had a brief stint as an insurance salesman before taking a state job at the Department of Public Welfare. He did graduate work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in urban planning, which he put into direct use when he became director of La Alianza Hispana in 1981. He stayed with La Alianza until 1986, leaving for the post of deputy director at the Boston Public Facilities Department.

Merced had left the Boston Public Facilities Department and was working as a private management consultant when he was approached by community activist Yohel Camayd-Freixas as a potential candidate for public office in the mid-1980s. Merced took advantage of recent Boston redistricting to run from the newly created 5th Suffolk district. He won the seat in 1988 and held it as the first Hispanic elected to the House of Representatives in Massachusetts. He kept his seat in the House until 1992, running a successful re-election campaign in 1990. During his time in the House, Merced was on various committees including the Housing and Urban Development Committee and the Minority Business Oversight Committee. He was also a member of the Massachusetts Black Legislative Caucus, the English Plus Coalition, and the National Alliance of Latino Elected Officials. In 1992, Merced was forced off the ballot when another candidate, Althea Garrison, questioned the validity of the signatures on the mandatory paperwork to put his name on the ballot. Merced attempted to run a sticker campaign but was unsuccessful, losing his seat to Garrison in the fall of 1992.

After leaving the House of Representatives, Merced was involved with YouthBuild America as the Director of Technical Assistance. He was also involved with The Boston Foundation's Persistent Poverty Project as a member of its directing Strategy Development Group. In 1994, Merced took a position as the CEO of Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción just prior to the organization's proposed merger with the Escuelita Agueybana Day Care Center. The merger never took place, however, and in 1996 he left a year short of his contracted three-year term amid widespread criticism. In 2005, Merced took a position as the Director of National Initiatives and Applied Research with NeighborWorks America, a nonprofit organization sponsored by Congress. Merced is married to Maria Estela Carrion and has three children, Jacobo, Rene, and Raquel.


Nelson Merced is born in New York City
Returns to Puerto Rico with parents
Moves back to United States; joins US Navy
Becomes involved with squatters' rights movement in San Juan, Puerto Rico
Completes B.A. in Anthropology at the University of Connecticut
Takes position as executive director of La Alianza Hispana
Leaves La Alianza Hispana to work for Boston Public Facilities Department
Is elected to Massachusetts House of Representatives; first Latino elected to state office
Loses re-election bid when signatures to place him on ballot are challenged and found to be invalid
Takes position as CEO of Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion
Leaves Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion
Is director of National Initiatives and Applied Research with Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, also known as NeighborWorks America


12.50 cubic feet (14 containers, 3 flat file folders)

System of Arrangement:

Organized into four series: Series 1. Campaigns; Series 2. Correspondence; Series 3. House Activity; and Series 4. Subject Files.

Physical Location

57/1-2, 56/4, FF4/D6

Custodial History:

The material was originally housed at the Healy Library at the University of Massachusetts/Boston until its transfer to Northeastern University in 2000.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Received from Nelson Merced in 2000 and 2005.


  • "Biography," M125, Box 1, Folder 1
  • "From 'Migrant' to State House in Massachusetts," Susan Diesenhouse, New York Times, November 27, 1988
  • "Latino Scales Beacon Hill," The Boston Globe, December 6, 1988
Finding aid for the Nelson Merced Papers
Finding aid prepared by Hanna Clutterbuck
August 2006
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections Repository

Snell Library
360 Huntington Avenue
Boston MA 02115 US