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14 August 2008

Shenandoah Pa. could easily be Kearny

It could very well have been Kearny. A small town. A once bustling economic structure. A loss of a lot of tax money when plants closed. A town once dominated by Irish and Scottish immigrants now with many Latino (and Portuguese-speaking) people.

Enter Shenandoah, Pa., a small town (around 6,000 residents) where there were once a score of available jobs. It's a place where there once was a lot of white faces—but where there are now many more faces from several Spanish-speaking countries, including Mexico, which plays an important role in this place.

Save for the gap in population (there are 40,000 or so in Kearny), Shenandoah and Kearny share a lot of similarities. Once economic hotspots, neither is exactly a perfect picture for economic bliss.

In Shenandoah, like Kearny, the jump in Latino residents is easily noticeable. The jump in Shenandoah was 65 percent since the 2000 census.

Kearny has seen a considerable jump in Latino residents, too.

So in a way, this little Pennsylvania town is a lot like Kearny in many ways. And unfortunately, Kearny is a lot like Shenandoah for the wrong reasons too—the lack of appreciation by many for the diversity of the townsfolk.

Yet we can only hope Kearny doesn’t completely follow in this town's footsteps, because what happened there recently is almost impossible to fathom. It's almost incomprehensible that in 2008, something out the history books could happen again. But it did—and this little town is reeling.

The big story: A Mexican immigrant, who was here illegally, were beaten to death, allegedly by four teenagers who were members of the local varsity football team. Though he survived his attack initially, Luis Ramirez eventually died of his injuries these four supposedly inflicted on him. Let's not focus on the perpetrators in this case though—instead, let's look at the incident itself.

A man, who granted was not supposed to be in this country, was savagely beaten. He was beaten badly enough that it killed him. And according to numerous published reports, he was killed because he was an immigrant—and because he wasn't like the faces that once ruled the land in Shenandoah. Others say racism is rampant in this neck of the woods. Some, conversely, say we should turn our attention to other matters, because racism isn't found there.

Yet whatever the case may be, one thing is absolutely certain: A man died, he'll never roam this earth again and four teens—including one being treated by the juvenile justice system—stand accused of the beating.

The video on (which I'll embed below this post) shows some white kids saying the underrepresented people (a much nicer word for 'minority') have caused there to be more trouble. They claim the circumstances would be different if the victim has been white and not of Mexican descent.

Quite frankly, I'd love to know: What the hell does it matter what this man's ethnicity was? What the hell cares if there's a belief that the guy's getting more attention that if he had been white? What kind of kids are living in this community?

Maybe more importantly, what are these parents teaching their kids? What are these schools teaching these kids about diversity, uniqueness, character? What are they teaching these kids about tolerance?

Ask me, it seems like they're not doing a damn thing.

And because they didn't do anything, a man is dead, four teens are accused of killing him—and this little town will never be the same.

Shenandoah is a microcosm of many small towns, where not all the people respect others for who they are, and not for the color of their skin. Given what I've seen, this could just as well be Kearny, N.J., where there are still many people who don’t appreciate the diverse cultures right before their very eyes.

This is, of course, not to say there's anyone in Kearny who would kill someone just because he's Mexican. But it does mean there are people here who still just don't get it.

If anything good comes out of this story, it will be that people who are less tolerant than others might just get a better sense that diversity, in its purest form, is not a bad thing. There have been many whites caught committing crimes—why else would there have been a police department in town up to now?

I can only hope something good comes of all of this.

I won't be holding my breath waiting.


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