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By Thomas F. O'Neill

A community coming together for hope and understanding

I was one of the participants at the unity gathering at the Kahillat Israel Nondenominational Christian Church in Shenandoah on Saturday, August 30, 2008. It follows the July 12 beating and subsequent death of Luis Eduardo Ramirez Zavala, 25, of Shenandoah, PA — about 75 people, mostly Latino and many non-borough residents, filled the small church, listening to several speakers, singers and musicians.

Some who attended commented to me afterwards that they felt as if they sat in on an evangelical political rally. Their comments seemed to have been made sarcastically though because of the religious and political undertone of the main speakers.

Leaders from various state and Hispanic organizations spoke to show their support for our town’s Latino’s, and to gain the media coverage.

The gathering did bring members of our community together though in a positive way. People left the event knowing that they are not alone in their frustrations with the racial tensions in our town.

At the same time a group calling themselves ‘the voice of the people’ was rallying across town. Their rhetoric seemed counter productive and their actions spoke louder than their words. They seemed angry and bitter towards immigrants in general. Their arrival was divisive to the community and in no way have they brought about healing.

The anti-immigration rally on the most part was taking advantage of our town’s economic condition. Poverty has gripped our region in a severe way. The Hispanics simply became the rally’s whipping-board for everything that is wrong with our society.

It is true that our town is impoverished and that is one of the reasons why the Hispanics are moving here. They are here because of the low cost of living. They are also willing to work hard manual labor jobs that the average person will not work.

We also have to realize that most of the Hispanics that immigrated to our region left behind in their native countries the most impoverished conditions imaginable. I have seen this kind of extreme poverty first hand. In the early 1990’s, I lived in Ecuador, India, Malaysia, and Australia. People living in the hills of Duran in Ecuador are living in sugarcane huts. They have no electricity, indoor plumbing, and they wash with rain water. They eat only what they can gather for that day because they have no way of preserving their food. Water must be boiled prior to using it to prevent an outbreak of cholera. Cholera is a common ailment in that country that can kill you. When I returned to the United States I was grateful for what I had and the little inconveniences were just that--little inconveniences compared to how the poor live in Ecuador.

When I look at life in terms of my experiences, I realize how our beliefs are a major part of who we are in terms of how we relate to others. I also realize, more so now than before, how the people living in those impoverished conditions rely on their community for their survival.

The individual cannot place themselves above their community because it is the welfare of the community that is vital for their survival. In America we rely on our rugged individualism. In Ecuador in the hills of Duran where I lived for three months there is no such concept.

The people in Ecuador looked at me with such curiosity and they were the most loving people. I washed my clothes with them, ate with them, and we had to communicate in body language because I could not speak their language. There was one thing that they loved to do however and that was laugh. They were not aware of what they did not have in terms of technology because they were pretty much isolated from the rest of the world. On the most part they are content to live in their community because the community is their family. They could rely on one another in times of need.

That is how most of the Hispanics in Shenandoah would like to live. They would like to reach out to their neighbors and to their community free from racial bias, bigotry, and hate. They understand implicitly what we give to the members of our community we give to ourselves.

Our town might be ailing but the cure is in the people. Whenever we enhance the wellbeing of a person in need we in turn enhance our own lives. This type of living is becoming lost in our modern, high-tech society, but it is something we can learn from the Hispanic population.

Most of the Hispanics have the same values our ancestors brought with them when they emigrated here. Some of our ancestors settled down in our coal region to work the manual labor jobs that most of us today could not imagine working. Some of our ancestors made little financial gains in life but they implicitly understood. You can save anything in life but life itself, and what you give to others makes your life worth living.

Some of those same immigrants did not strive like fools for the possessions they did not have. Instead, they wisely developed what they already possessed within themselves. Today’s immigrants will pass on those same values to the next generation. Those values are what made our nation great and an example for other nations to emulate.

The foreigners are coming to our country because they want their children and grandchildren to have better opportunities and a better life as Americans. That is what makes our country the greatest nation on earth and a beacon of light and hope for the other nations of the world.

As for the group calling themselves ‘the voice of the people’ they seem to have an unenlightened voice. Especially, when you consider that our community is trying to come together to bring about change for the better.

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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