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By Thomas F. O'Neill

Shenandoah must find a way to heal

August 5, 2008

I was one of the participants at the vigil last week for Luis Eduardo Ramirez, the young man who died, the police say, from a severe beating at the hands of Shenandoah teenagers. His candlelight service was very moving and a lot of wise words were spoken. It revealed that we must take responsibility for the community. We can't, however, return bigotry and prejudice with hate. We must rise above by extending an understanding hand to our neighbors and to the community as a whole.

We all tend to have condescending dismay for our town's condition. We live from day to day, wishing for the community to change. We rarely take responsibility for our own lives by becoming the change that we would like to see in others. People spoke openly and honestly at Ramirez's vigil, without fear. They chose to attend not just to bring about a positive change for our community but to bring about healing. These values are not for the few. They are rooted in our ethnic heritages and family trees.

The violence and killing of Luis Eduardo Ramirez is extremely painful for his immediate family, his friends, and shocking for the entire community. This tragic hate crime should be a wake-up call for the adult community. We cannot rely on schools whether they are private or public to instill values in our neighborhood children. Those values must be instilled in the home. Bigotry and prejudice beget condescending hate and eventually violence against our own humanity.

If we want to live in a better world we must take responsibility for the condition of our neighborhoods, and our community, by becoming the change. We as individuals must change for the better. It is easy to sit by and point the finger at others. It seems also that the biggest bigots rarely live up to what they believe is society's standards and principles. Rather than being a positive force in their community, they tear others down with racist remarks or, in extreme cases, with violent attacks.

The immigrants in our communities may not look like the majority of us. They may or may not speak our language, and they may not fit into the prejudicial world that some in our community would like to live in. It wasn't that long ago when segregation was the norm, but it took forceful and enlightened voices to put an end to that extreme racial discrimination.

We also tend to forget that our ancestors, when they came to this country, were also abused and discriminated against. That is why we must reach out a helping hand, just as our ancestors reached out to members of their community when they arrived here as immigrants from foreign countries.

It is also unfortunate that the mining legends are becoming ancient history for Shenandoah's youth and that the Shenandoah Historical Society is not reaching out to our community's younger generation. We must help the youth understand that the immigrants who came to our region to work the coal mines provided our town and the region as a whole with cultural diversity. That cultural diversity gave our coal-mining towns a rich character.

Our ancestors, with their rich ethnic heritage, implicitly understood. What we give to our community we give to ourselves, and what we change in ourselves we change in our community. Our humanity whether we are aware of it or not is our greatest resource, in times of plenty, and in times of great need.

This community must realize also that if we truly want to see the town of Shenandoah become revitalized -- whether it is through Downtown Shenandoah Inc. or other endeavors -- we must reach out and become more accepting of the Hispanic business owners and to the Hispanic population as a whole.

We must also reach out to the town's youth. Perhaps what the town needs is a youth center. The teenagers complain that they have nowhere to go in the town.

This national news coverage of the beating death of Luis Eduardo Ramirez only goes to show that today's Hispanics have a voice and that voice was heard. Their voice is bringing about a change for the better, not only in their own lives but perhaps for our entire diverse community.

The Hispanics' cultural heritage is being instilled in their American-born children and their children will instill those same values to their grandchildren. They are contributing to our region's overall heritage, a heritage that can be proudly passed on to the next generation.

With love,

Thomas F. O’Neill

(800) 272-6464

Yahoo Screen Name for chatting online: introspective777

 Other articles, short stories, and commentaries by Thomas F. O'Neill can be found at the links below.











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