News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Friday, July 25, 2008

“You tell all your Mexican friends to get out of town.”

“You tell all your Mexican friends to get out of town,” one of the youths yelled at the bystanders as they left the body of Luis Ramirez lying on the ground in convulsions and foaming from the mouth following a brutal beating. Luis Ramirez was twenty-five. He worked two jobs to support three children and a common-law wife. Two days later, Luis died in a hospital.

The young men who beat Luis senseless at a city park in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania did not know he was an illegal immigrant. He simply looked like a Mexican to them. That was enough to condemn him in their eyes.

What would drive a group of youths to attack a total stranger? Some of the online comments to the news of Luis’s death in The Republican Herald of Pottsville, Pennsylvania give us a glimpse into the intense loathing of illegal immigrants among some in that community.

One reader wrote:

“HE WAS ILLEGAL!!! If he didn't want to die, then he should never have even been here. According to the US government, he doesn't even exist. Now, throw his body, his wife, and his illegal brats out of the country!! The DA should not even get involved because these pieces of garbage have NO RIGHTS UNDER THE US CONSTITION. [sic]”

From another reader:

“If this man had bothered in 6 years to become legal then I would have sympathy. Personally anyone involved in the fight should not have any charges filed against them, this person did not exist on any paperwork with the US so no harm done.”

While it’s only a small xenophobic fringe of Americans that share these views, the mindless hate in these comments is evidence of a toxic wave of hatred that can quickly spill over to include any Latino—with deadly consequences. It would be convenient to dismiss this death as an aberration, a tragic excess of youthful passion. But the sad truth is the young men who killed Luis Ramirez were clearly acting out on the same hatred harbored by some of their elders. And that’s perhaps a greater tragedy than even Luis’s death … because it portends the violence may not be over.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

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