A newcomer’s guide to living in Dorchester

Every year on Labor Day weekend, thousands of people pack their suitcases, load up their moving vans, and make the drive (or flight) to their new residences in Boston. If you’re a current Dorchester resident, don’t be surprised if you see a few new faces around town: September 1 is the day when 70 percent of leases begin in the city.

And if you are one of the many people who set up shop in Dorchester this past weekend, welcome to the neighborhood! You’ve come to the right place to get an overview on this incredible neighborhood.

Here are some basic things for your information:

• You now live in Boston’s largest, most diverse neighborhood, alongside roughly 130,000 other residents. People from numerous cultural backgrounds live here, including, to name a few, Vietnamese, Haitian, Irish, Cape Verdean, Polish, Jamaican, and Dominican. 

• Speaking of which, Dorchester offers one of the most colorful arrays of multicultural cuisines in the city! Banh mi, jerk chicken, legume, kielbasa, cachupa, pho, roti, soda bread, curry goat, tacos, mofongo – it’s all here, and chances are it’s right down the street from you. 

• Dorchester is bustling with art and live music. Check out the Dorchester Art Project in Fields Corner, the Dorchester Arts Collaborative in Four Corners, All Saints Church in Ashmont (home of the Dot Jazz Series), or Dorchester Brewing Company on Mass Ave to take in the latest concert or exhibit. 

• Find an old map of Dorchester and study it! That way when someone says they’re from “St. Greg’s” or “St. Ann’s,” you won’t give away your newbyness with a blank stare. Also, you won’t incorrectly identify where you live as Savin Hill instead of Jones Hill when the mayor asks you where you live. (A purely hypothetical scenario, by the way.)

• Many locals refer to Dorchester as “Dot.” It’s not “The Dot.” Just “Dot.”

• On that note, Dorchester is so huge and divided into so many micro-neighborhoods— e.g., Uphams Corner, Fields Corner, Lower Mills — that they often change from one street to the next. After two years as a resident, I can say I am familiar with about 40 percent of them.

• Dorchester people take their politics seriously. This year is a city council election year, with a preliminary election on Tues., Sept. 24, and a final on Tues., Nov. 5. You can learn about where you vote online – and register, at sec.state.ma.us/wheredoivotema/.

• There are tons of green spaces and outdoor activities in Dorchester, from Franklin Park to the west, the Harborwalk to the north, and the Neponset River Greenway and the 72-acre Pope John Paul II Park to the south. Lace up those sneakers, hop on your bike, and get outside.

• You can learn about the area’s history by paying a visit to the Clap(p) houses, home to the Dorchester Historical Society, or the James Blake House, the oldest building in Boston. The Dorchester Historical Society operates these houses and offers monthly programs that are great ways to plug into our rich history. They also operate the excellent Dorchester Atheneum website— a terrific repository of local info.

• Do get involved in your local civic association and community activist groups! As a Dorchester resident, you should know what’s going on nearby, especially at a time when a lot is changing in the neighborhood. Volunteer your time at a library or shelter, participate in a park clean-up day, or show your support at a peace rally. Or start by familiarizing yourself with the issues that so many Dot community leaders work tirelessly to address in their efforts to make our neighborhood better. We humbly recommend DotNews.com as a great resource in this regard

• Do not feed the goats in Dorchester Park. They are hired contractors sited there to clean up poison ivy, brush, and other unwanted growth. Please let them do their jobs!

• We have beaches! Malibu Beach in Savin Hill and Tenean Beach in Neponset are Dorchester’s two official beaches, while many residents also head to Carson Beach on the South Boston border to take in the surf.

• In this editor’s humble opinion, the best view in Dorchester is from Ronan Park at the top of Meetinghouse Hill, from where you can see the southern part of the neighborhood, Dorchester Bay, and the gleaming rainbow swash of the National Grid gas tank. The rainbow tank design was created by Corita Kent and it remains one of the most iconic landmarks in the city of Boston.

• A forewarning: there’s a good chance you have at least one neighbor who will invite you to a barbecue if you’re friendly enough.

• Another forewarning: there’s a good chance you have at least one neighbor who sets off fireworks on a regular basis between the months of May and September.

• Some of you may live in a three-decker; it’s not a triple-decker.

With autumn fast approaching, you’ll soon be entering one of Dorchester’s most picturesque seasons. In the months that follow the fall, you’ll learn that snowy Dorchester — while it admittedly can be a pain— has a certain charm to it.

But to see Dorchester at its very best, you’ll have to wait until next year and the first Sunday in June. That’s when the holiest of all events, the Dorchester Day Parade, comes marching up Dot Ave.

You’ll see and hear a whirlwind of color and culture: Latin and Caribbean dancers in feathered headdresses stomping and twirling to pounding drums, brass bands belting out joyous tunes, rainbow flags waving from prideful floats, wistful bagpipers in plaid kilts, hip-hop booming from subwoofers of passing cars, residents decked out in traditional Vietnamese garb, colonial-era fife and drum bands – all passing by on the same route within minutes of each other. You’ll see smiling faces – black ones, brown ones, white ones, and tan ones. You’ll hear languages of all kinds. You’ll hear laughter, a universal language. And you’ll think to yourself, ‘This is what America is all about.’

Daniel Sheehan is the Arts & Features editor of the Reporter and a native of Connecticut. He lives in the Meetinghouse Hill village of Dorchester. Follow him on Twitter @dsheehan1890.

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