In 2001, the hate-based attempted murders of two Mexican day laborers catapulted the town of Farmingville, New York into national headlines. Filmmakers Carlos Sandoval and Catherine Tambini spent a year there so they could capture first-hand the stories of residents, day laborers and activists on all sides of the debate, and Farmingville premiered on POV in 2004. After two recent hate-based crimes against Latinos in the New York area this fall, Carlos wrote in to share his fears for the future if Americans don’t “hold back the hate.”
“Beaner hopping” is what the seven restless teenagers called their Saturday night sport. They didn’t do it very often, say once a week or so. They’d set out to “find a Mexican” who they would taunt, maybe punch in the face.
On November 11, 2008, the hopping turned into a stabbing. A man was killed.
The victim was Marcelo Lucero, an immigrant from Ecuador. The town was Patchogue, just south of Farmingville, New York. (Read an article from the New York Times about the incident.)
Less than a month later, three men screamed anti-Latino and anti-gay epithets as one pulverized Jose Sucuzhanany’s head with a steel bat. Mr. Sucuzhanany, an immigrant from Ecuador, had been walking arm-in-arm with his brother in Brooklyn. He died without regaining consciousness. (Read an article about this incident from the New York Times.)
These lynchings — hate-driven, murderous wildings, one next door to Farmingville, the other in my own New York City — have sadly confirmed my reason for making Farmingville (POV 2004). They’ve also left me despairing of my hope for the impact of the film, and wondering about our future as a nation.
While Farmingville was received as a film about immigration, it was really about fear. I made it because I was afraid that the hate that had led to the beatings of two day laborers from Farmingville would spread like a malignancy, from “illegals” to Latinos. I was afraid that a new generation was about to become entrapped in the cycle of non-acceptance and condemned to the corrosive sense of low esteem that comes from being identified as the “other” — just as I and generations of Latinos before me had been.
I hoped that a film that attempted to listen to all sides might become a bridge for dialogue. To be sure, Farmingville triggered lots of discussions. But now, eight years after Catherine Tambini and I started our small, quixotic crusade to hold back the hate, hate seems to be oozing from more and more places… and intensifying.
Fear has grown into a daily fact of life among Latinos. Some of us are telling our children to play inside to avoid trouble. Others are avoiding going out alone after dark. Yet others walk with cell phones at the ready. And with reason. According to FBI statistics, hate crimes against Latinos grew four years in a row from 2003 to 2007. Nearly one in 10 Latinos — including citizens and legal immigrants — has been stopped and asked about their citizenship status, according to one recent study.
As a result, I am again feeling as fearful as when I began Farmingville. However this time, it’s not just for myself, or the Latino community for whom I fear. I fear for the welfare of the nation.
The Latino population is a demographic force. It’s predicted that we will constitute nearly one-third of the country’s population by the year 2050. We are rapidly becoming the young workers upon whom an aging population depends.
Put another way, the economic welfare of the country will soon rest on a population that we currently run the risk of alienating through fear, of isolating through intimidation, of limiting through unseen barriers that erode the sense of self, and the sense of polity.
Why should Latinos who are being intimidated out of the public square care to support those who make them feel unwelcome? How — in the not-too-distant future — can we ask them to underwrite our social welfare costs, let alone our bloated national debt, when they will remember that we let them be killed in the streets? And how, as journalist Jesse Trevino has so pointedly asked, will they even have the skills to help sustain America’s economic preeminence when we have alienated them so much that they are dropping out of schools at record levels?
Let it be known that the violence we allow to be reaped today will come back to haunt us tomorrow. And if we’re not careful, it will stalk our “beaner hopping” teenagers… and their children.