Letter from Chair of Ethnic Studies at UC San Diego

This letter began circulating this past weekend.

Dear Chancellor Fox:

As a Full Professor who has spent her whole 20-year career at UCSD, as Chair of the Ethnic Studies Department, and as a woman faculty of color who has faced many indignities over the years, I write to ask you to exercise your leadership today to declare a state of emergency and close down the campus–in recognition of the shattered state that the campus is in.

Since the “Compton Cookout” incident, many students and faculty of color and their allies have devoted countless hours to do your/our job of teaching about racism on campus and of ensuring that UCSD lives up to its mission as a place of learning–in the most profound sense of that word. Their labor–physical, mental, emotional, intellectual–goes uncompensated, unrecognized, and even mocked by the largely apathetic UCSD community. Because they have had to put aside their study, their teaching, their research, their writing, to do the university work, they will again bear the brunt of the costs of being at a university that views “diversity”, at best, as a benign celebration of multiculturalism and “economic empowerment.”

As many of us face down today in the shadow of a noose, we ask that you share in this labor and that you ask the ENTIRE community at UCSD to share in this labor. To not do so will be to benefit, once again, from the labor of the marginalized and maligned at UCSD.

Every crisis can bring forth great change. You have an opportunity to participate in this movement of change in a real and fundamental way. Please do so, or we risk a campus that will be deeply divided for years to come. The campus will be shut down, one way or another. It’d be in our best interest that you are the one to shut it down.

Yen Le Espiritu
Professor and Chair
Department of Ethnic Studies
University of California, San Diego

Luis Ramirez and American Racism

On Friday, May 1, while thousands of people in the U.S. were marching for immigrants’ rights, an “all-white” jury in Pennsylvania acquitted two “white” teens of killing a Mexican immigrant.

Derrick Donchak, 19, and Brandon Piekarsky, 17—along with Colin Walsh, 18, who did not stand trial but pleaded guilty to federal charges—beat up Luis Ramirez on July 12, 2008 in Shenandoah, PA.  They left him with his head so severely beaten that his brains were slowly leaking from his skull.  On July 14, Ramirez, who was an undocumented immigrant, died from his injuries.


There were accusations of racial epithets being used and of the crime being motivated by Ramirez’ ethnicity and race. One witness testified another youth who accompanied the accused teens shouted “This is Shenandoah. This is America. Go back to Mexico.”  Others accused Ramirez of being violent and of instigating the conflict himself.

Now a jury found Piekarsky not guilty of third-degree murder; not guilty of voluntary manslaughter; and not guilty of involuntary manslaughter. They found Donchak not guilty of aggravated assault and not guilty of assault with a deadly weapon. They found both guilty of assault. Without criminal records both are not likely to serve any time in prison.

For some coverage of the verdict, see the local Morning Call and CNN.

Some people are asking if the verdict is racist.  They want to know if these two boys were acquitted because of their race, or because of the race of the man they killed.  They wonder if immigration figures into it.

They are asking the wrong questions.

Shenandoah, the accused, the jury, the judge, the prosecutor, the witnesses, the police, the reporters, the people who sat and heard testimony, me, and you, we all have somethings in common.  We live in a society with a long tradition of nurturing a belief in the superiority of one “race” (the so-called “white”) over all others.  We live in a society with a long tradition of elaborating on the particular inferiority of each “other race.”  We live in a society with a long tradition of thinking of the nonwhite and the nonwhite immigrant and threats, as not human, and as inherently criminal.

These are not the only traditions in our society.  They are not equally encountered and inherited by each of us.  They do not absolve us of independent thought, or of the ability to interrogate and dismantle them.

But they are there.  Much more than  ideas, prejudices, and thoughts, they are the rationales our daily interactions with each other, and for our own interactions with systems of power.  They have been a shorthand for ordering our lives, for defining “we” and “they.”  They have played a role in helping you define yourself, who you are and who you are not.

In her book “Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”: A Psychologist Explains the Development of Racial Identity, Beverly Daniel Tatum equates this to smog. We may not have created it, but we are born into a world polluted by it. Whether or not we like it, all of us—both people of color and “whites”—breathe it in.

Likewise, it is each of our responsibilities to do something about it.

LatinoLikeMe featured a few posts on the murder and subsequent flurry of national media attention. Even without doing much more than re-posting a story from another news source, they became heavily trafficked posts for this blog. They also inspired a host of comments. Read the ones below this post, for an example of the way certain people were moved.

You see, here’s the thing: none of the so-called “facts” here matter. No matter what “side” you are on, there should be no legal protection for beating a man until his brains seep out of his head. Irregardless of whose testimony you believe, we are all products of a reality which sympathizes “whites,” criminalizes Latinos, and dehumanizes immigrants.

I didn’t know Luis Ramirez. He might have been an asshole, he might have been a saint. In a few years, maybe more, most people not directly affected by this case will have forgotten about him, if they ever knew who he was to begin with. But that’s not really the point.

None of us should ever forget what these events tell us about ourselves, as individuals and as a society. As I wrote last summer:

“In the end, stories like this tell us far more about ourselves than about the victims or perpetrators–whether in how we make sense of it, identify with it, or seek to incorporate its balance into our lives.”


They called it “beaner jumping”

From the Associated Press comes this update on the murder of Marco Lucero:

Immigrant’s killing shows tensions on Long Island

PATCHOGUE, N.Y. (AP) — The flowers have wilted and the candles are burned out at a makeshift memorial where an immigrant from Ecuador was stabbed to death in what police say was a hate crime carried out by marauding teenagers.

But the outrage over the killing has only intensified in the two weeks since Marcelo Lucero was attacked, reverberating around the hemisphere and resurrecting the debate over illegal immigration at a time when communities nationwide have seen an influx of undocumented workers.

Marcelo Lucero’s death Nov. 8 has drawn the attention of officials in Ecuador and forced the Suffolk County executive, the co-founder of a national group against illegal immigration, to apologize for belittling the importance of the case.

Seven Patchogue-Medford High School students have been charged, one of them with murder. And the case has once again highlighted the extraordinary amount of tension between white Long Island residents and the booming Hispanic population.

At a funeral last week in the victim’s hometown in Ecuador, the Rev. Jorge Moreno called Lucero’s death “a product of a feeling of xenophobia that makes some people believe they are worth more than others.” Ecuador’s ambassador to the United States, Luis Gallegos, described it as a lynching.

A grand jury indictment and comments by police and prosecutors paint a picture of a group of bored high school students who regularly found enjoyment in what they called “beaner-jumping,” a derogatory euphemism for attacking Hispanics.

“To them, it was a sport,” Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota said.

Immigrants on Long Island say they are often harassed, but are reluctant to go to police for fear they might be deported.

“Spanish people think the police department is the monster, you can’t talk to them,” said Jose Bonilla, who runs a grocery store and deli and was friendly with Lucero. “People were scared. They thought they would be asked for immigration papers, that’s why they don’t call.”

The 37-year-old Lucero, who came to the U.S. 16 years ago and worked at a dry-cleaners, was with a friend Nov. 8 when they were surrounded near the Patchogue train station.

Lucero’s friend escaped but Lucero tried desperately to fight back, smacking one of the teens with his belt, authorities said. One of the boys, 17-year-old Jeffrey Conroy, is accused of plunging a knife into Lucero’s chest before running away. The prosecutor says the other six were unaware of the stabbing until Conroy told them.

Conroy is scheduled to be arraigned Monday on second-degree murder as a hate crime, manslaughter and other charges. The others entered not guilty pleas Thursday to gang assault, conspiracy and attempted assault. Conroy faces 25 years to life and the others five to 25 years if convicted of the most serious charges.

Attorneys for the seven insist their clients are innocent and several have denied suggestions the teens are bigots. But prosecutors said that a half-hour before Lucero’s killing, the group attempted to accost another Hispanic man, and that two of the seven had attacked another man 18 hours earlier.

According to Spota, one of the seven allegedly told police: “I don’t go out doing this very often, maybe once a week.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy is a co-founder of Mayors and Executives for Immigration Reform, a national group against illegal immigration. He signed a local law requiring county contractors to prove that their employees are in the country legally, and after Lucero was killed, he initially suggested the media had blown the killing out of proportion because of his own view on immigration.

He later apologized for his claim, saying: “It was the wrong thing to say because there could have been an appearance that we were indifferent to that terrible crime and that is the last thing in the world that I would want to do.”

Advocates say that harsh anti-immigration rhetoric by Levy and others created a climate that led to attacks on Hispanics. But Levy cited statistics claiming hate crimes in Suffolk County had gone down during his five years in office.

Animosity over the influx of thousands of immigrants from Central and South America has been simmering for nearly a decade on Long Island.

Two local men are serving long prison terms for attempted murder after luring two Mexican laborers to a warehouse in 2000 with the promise of work, only to beat them with shovels.

Two years later, a Mexican family’s home in Farmingville was destroyed by teenagers who tossed fireworks through a window on the Fourth of July.

Bonilla, the store owner, said some positive things have emerged from the killing. He said a community meeting with police, Patchogue village officials and others held in the wake of the killing helped clarify the situation.

He said his customers are still “a little scared, but they see the community trying to work together … so it can’t happen again.”

••Racism and the Murder of Marcelo Lucero

A group of teenagers murdered Marcello Lucero on November 8th.  An Ecuadorian immigrant who had lived in the U.S. for 16 years, the 37 year-old Lucero was lynched in the Long Island (New York) suburb of Patchogue.  The seven teenage assailants–ranging in age from 16 to 17–apparently sought out Latinos to beat up.  They were quoted as saying “Let’s go find some Mexicans.”

While the spectacular character of such a tragedy is clear to almost everyone, the sad murder of Marcelo Lucero should serve as a living lesson of the continued presence of anti-Latino bias and hatred which are heavily embedded in our national cultures and, increasingly, being picked and poked to disastrous consequence.

There is an injustice in merely criminalizing these seven young people who committed this crime, though they must face justice.  There is an added disrespect in isolating this gross act as an abberation to the daily existence of Latinos in this country.  While most of us will never die the victim of a hate crime, it is the barrage of daily instances of a cultural difference and social separation–which do not rise to the level of violence and death–that flesh out the fuller picture of the setting of Lucero’s murder.  We all are guilty of letting such currents to thrive; some of us are far more guilty of nurturing them in our present.

For more information on the Lucero murder, see the following:

  • A Death in Patchogue” [NY Times (Nov. 10, 2008)]
  • A Killing in a Town Where Latinos Sense Hate” [NY Times (Nov. 13, 2008)]
  • Hundreds pay respects to slain immigrant” [Newsday (Nov. 15, 2008)]
  • Defining a hate crime” [Newsday (Nov. 16, 2008)]
  • The Death of Luis Ramirez and Shenandoah, PA

    An updated post on the latest news relating to the trial can be found here.

    The horrific murder of Luis Ramirez and the increasingly tragic story of the small town in which it took place are both featured in today’s New York Times.

    Mexican’s Death Bares a Town’s Ethnic Tension
    By Sean D. Hamill

    SHENANDOAH, Pa. — Crystal Dillman knows that four teenagers have been charged in the death of her fiancé, Luis Ramirez, that the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is monitoring the case and that most people in this small town in the Appalachian Mountains believe it was a horrible crime.

    But Ms. Dillman, the mother of Mr. Ramirez’s two young children, is not sure justice will prevail.

    “I think they might get off,” she said of the four teenagers, “because Luis was an illegal Mexican and these are ‘all-American boys’ on the football team who get good grades, or whatever they’re saying about them. They’ll find some way to let them go.”

    The case has raised similar concerns among Latinos across the country.

    “For many Latinos, this is a case of enough is enough,” said Gladys Limón, a staff lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “And it can help us get attention to the wider issue that this is happening all over the country, not just to illegal immigrants, but legal, and anyone who is perceived to be Latino.”

    Mr. Ramirez, 25, who had been in the country illegally for six years, picking crops and working in factories, died July 14 from head injuries received two days earlier.

    Investigators said he had gotten into a fight with a group of teenage boys — most or all of them members of the town’s high school football team, the Blue Devils — who left him unconscious in a residential street, foaming at the mouth.

    Exactly what happened during the fight is still hotly debated on Internet message boards in Shen’doh, as the town is called, with some saying it was just a street fight that went bad, and others claiming the teenagers singled out a Mexican immigrant for a beating and made anti-Mexican remarks.

    Since Mr. Ramirez’s death, this town of 5,600 has been bitterly divided over the case, illuminating ethnic tensions that surprised town leaders.

    “I’ve heard things like, ‘We don’t want to send our kids back to school because we’re afraid people don’t like Mexicans,’ ” Mayor Thomas O’Neill said. “That’s shocking to me. That is not the Shenandoah I know.”

    Prosecutors have charged Brandon Piekarski, 16, and Collin Walsh, 17, with homicide, ethnic intimidation and other counts in adult court, though their lawyers are trying to have the case moved to juvenile court.

    Derrick Donchak, 18, was charged with aggravated assault, ethnic intimidation and other counts, including providing liquor to the other boys on the night of the confrontation. All were members of the football team; Mr. Donchak was its starting quarterback.

    A 17-year-old, whose name has not been released, was charged in juvenile court with aggravated assault, ethnic intimidation and other charges.

    They have all pleaded not guilty.

    After anthracite coal was discovered near the town in the late 1800s, immigrants poured in, mainly from Europe. The hamlet grew to a borough of 25,000 before the mines started to close. The immigrant groups largely got along, but they also felt the need to ethnically divide not just their churches — some of which are still considered “the Italian church” or “the Irish church” — but also the town’s volunteer fire companies.

    The town’s biggest festival every year is Heritage Days near the end of August, when the major ethnic groups, among them the Lithuanians, Irish, Italians, Greeks and, more recently, Mexicans, put floats in a parade and sell ethnic food from booths.

    Mr. Ramirez’s death has also reignited a regional debate over immigration that began two years ago when the town of Hazleton, about 20 miles from Shenandoah, enacted an ordinance that sought to discourage people from hiring or renting to illegal immigrants.

    At the time, Shenandoah, whose Hispanic population has grown to about 10 percent, from 2.8 percent in 2000, considered a similar ordinance but held off after Hazleton was sued.

    Even then, there were signs of tension. After the debate over the Hazleton ordinance, Shenandoah’s Mexican community pulled out of Heritage Days in 2006.

    “They just didn’t feel comfortable then,” said Flor Gomez, whose family runs a Mexican restaurant in town.

    Many people believe the debate fueled by Hazleton’s actions helped create the environment that led to Mr. Ramirez’s death.

    “Clearly there were a lot of factors here,” said Ms. Limón, of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which has been helping Ms. Dillman. “But I do believe that the inflammatory rhetoric in the immigration debate does have a correlation with increased violence against Latinos.”

    Hazleton’s mayor, Lou Barletta, said he saw no connection to his town’s ordinance, which was scrapped after the town lost a court battle.

    “It’s a tragedy what happened to that man,” Mr. Barletta said. “But I don’t believe our ordinance had anything to do with it. Every person is responsible for their own actions.”

    James P. Goodman, the Schuylkill County district attorney, who is prosecuting the case, said ethnic intimidation cases were rare in his county.

    But town leaders have now heard about a number of incidents from Mexican residents that were never reported. The town is trying to reach out to them, said Mayor O’Neill, who said he still could not believe the fear some residents had expressed to him.

    “How it came to that point, I don’t know,” he said. “But maybe these are things that it is good that it came out.”


    Luis Ramirez is Dead

    An updated post on the latest news relating to the trial can be found here.

    The recent beating death of immigrant Luis Ramirez is getting some but not nearly enough attention.  This is one extreme example of the all too common culture of hate in which we live.

    This story from Democracy Now! is a great introduction to the events surrounding his tragic murder.