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How a small town confronted hate and teaching San Diego students about acceptance of others

February 6, 2012 1:11 p.m.


Paul Pontieri, mayor Patchogue, New York, highlighted in Not In Our Tow: Light in the Darkness

Tina Malka, Associate Director, Anti-Defamation League, San Diego

Related Story: 'Not In Our Town': How One Community Responded To Hate


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

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MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tina Malka is associate director of the anti-definition like here in San Diego. Tina, good afternoon thanks for coming

TINA MALKA: And thank you so much for having me.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Mayor Pontieri, you spent the morning visiting students at Southwest high school in the South Bay on this educational mission to share what your town went through. First of all, can you tell us first about the murder of Marcelo Lucero?

PAUL PONTIERI: Yeah you live in a small community, you live there your whole life I grew up three blocks from village hall. So I didn't get too far from home. When something like this happens it changes everything about you. People our age it was the murder of JFK, for my parents it was Pearl Harbor day for the youth of today a lot of it has to do with 9/11. For the village of Patchogue it was November 8, 2008. It changed how we perceive what happens in our community and how we go forward, so we are watching the film, people asked me what do I think of it it makes me sad that our committee had to go through that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right of course and just so our listeners know, Marcelo Lucero was murdered in Patchogue New York in 2008 and he was the victim of a small group of white young men who were on a hunt.

PAUL PONTIERI: You know, it was seven young man not actually from the village of Patchogue itself but from the school district Patchogue Medford school district from a different part of the community to do what they called beaner hunting which for them had become a sport, so Friday or Saturday night when the workers are leaving the restaurants and places and they would assault the mandate became part of the routine that they had. Today look at myself and I criticized myself that I didn't know it and it was allowed to continue to the point they assaulted somebody who fought back and eventually bled to death on the streets.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How large a Latino Hispanic population is in Patchogue?

PAUL PONTIERI: The village of Patchogue itself is about 12,000 people it's about 30% I suspect it's 35 to 38% because there is a part of the population it doesn't want to be counted and so it's a very significant part.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Tina, this is an outreach program that's going to some schools here in San Diego there will be an event tonight at UC San Diego you would think that living near the border with Mexico that I would give San Diego a big advantage in dealing with issues of diversity. Is that actually the case?

TINA MALKA: I think diversity is an issue in every community. I think making sure we live in an inclusive society and making sure that our students are aware of that. The phone the reasons that the anti-defamation league we have the program no Place for hate which is appropriate we bring into entire school districts so the Sweetwater district and the Chula Vista district are to districts that we have all the schools in the districts of the program and this morning it was Southwest-had the activity was fabulous.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tell me a little bit about that then, how fabulous was it?

TINA MALKA: It was fabulous it was great. First of all you combine so many wonderful things that assemblyman Wessa with his office in partnership with the ADL spring sponsored a proclamation in the state of California making February 20 12 No Pl. for eight months. So he came to announce that proclamation itself at Southwest high school. We had of course mere pond Jerry who was talking to students about his experience but we also make sure that all 600 students at the assembly had seen the film. Last week, so they really could talk about it. And then we had to students from one of our programs the leadership mission over the emcees and Fernando (Paré) and Eileen (inaudible) just did an absolutely amazing job.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Tina, what do we see here in San Diego in terms of hate crimes and hate speech and incidents like this?

TINA MALKA: Well, in 2010 the statistics are that it has, from 2009 where we had a total of 132 incidents of hate crimes in 2010 we had 172 so we had a 30% increase in the amount of hate crimes in San Diego County.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is significant.

TINA MALKA: Yes it is.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Just on a normal basis the anti-bias programs that are being run in the schools, are they therefore not as successful as they could be?

TINA MALKA: I don't think it's a matter of being successful in the community or not. Think that we have to start with our students in making sure that the generations that are coming up their voting and will be productive members of our society are aware of what a strict diversity is and how important it is to be inclusive in our society really to be role models to the rest of us in the community.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Mayor Pontieri, in this tragic event where Marcelo Lucero lost his life, you really went through a period of learning and discovery yourself. You went out into the community, you visited Latino members of the community to talk to them, to hear what they had to say about living in Patchogue. What did you learn?

PAUL PONTIERI: Just to back that up a little bit, when this happened it struck me that I lifted this community my whole life and I've always felt safe and secure that there was a population of people that in substance in my responsibility weren't safe. And I knew that I had to get out I knew I had to talk to people. I learned, I think out of everything is sometimes we don't, do we not see us or do they not want to be seen? And if you think about it I went to the site where the vigil was and I went there at 11 o'clock at night because I knew by then all the satellite dish trucks would be left and move someplace else and the people left there would be just residence in people who are concerned and I spoke to the gentleman and I asked him and this was part of the film I asked him how long have you been in the village she said 23 years the same as Luis where do you live in he lived three or four houses down across the street from my mother he was there for 23 years and I didn't know who he was. My mother's been in the house for 63 years I went there almost every day and I never saw him. It struck me that I am I not seeing that necessarily or are they not being seen and had to stop. That's part of the healing is how do you cross the barrier?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How long did you find out that these attacks had been going on against members of the Latino community?

PAUL PONTIERI: It sounds to me that it been going on for probably five or six months prior. Might have been longer. I had heard about some of it before the murder and the library the Patchogue library which is just a wonderful place has ESL classes and I got a phone call that some of the people worked, because they felt danger leaving, so we put public safety behind the library. It never came to us that it was happening in the neighborhoods could have been five or six months could have been a year. Nobody really knows because unfortunately the undocumented worker does not want to be found out about and part of not being found out about is not talking to the police.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: As you mentioned some of the people who had been harassed in some way have lived in Patchogue in the US for more than a generation.

PAUL PONTIERI: Absolutely and that is the part of it that is so disturbing because Patchogue has always had a Latino influence for the past 50 or 60 years from the middle 50s. On through the Puerto Ricans who came in, and there's always been 15, 2025% higher than 35% so it struck me that it happened where we are.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You are quite the documentary as single life doesn't change unless you make changes. Tell us the kinds of changes that you sponsored as mayor of Patchogue to make sure that these things weren't going to happen anymore.

PAUL PONTIERI: Well you don't do it anymore you do it with others in cooperation with others one of the first things we did was look at how we staff fill a child. Why people were not being forwarded coming forward. Well if you don't speak the language it's very difficult to speak to the problem so we hired people into village hall into the community development agency into building housing into the courts, making it, you comment, you have somebody in one of the young ladies we hired in fact Nadia Iglesias, she came when she was 14 got a two-year degree, got a four-year degree, that works now works at the foundation. That was the first that we wanted to make village halls and open place to be. The second thing is we had a unity coalition and it was a group led by Galen Kirkland committee for human rights in the state of New York and brought together members of the entire community. But the Latino community the African-American community and the Chamber of Commerce and so forth and you get to plan things to bring us together to have us talk to the issue so it has been those series of things, that I go to the Lucero foundation on a monthly basis and just listen. Sometimes I will sit back and listen to what's going on. Of course it has to be translated because I don't speak Spanish very well.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What can we learn from what Patchogue, Long Island did, Tina?

TINA MALKA: I think one of the first things to witness the power of the individual. I think often times especially with youth that they don't realize the power that they have. They feel powerless because they are young. They don't understand that it is their actions and the choices that they make that have real long-lasting effects and that happens to the choices they make in their school, how they behave with their classmates, how they behave with their teachers, how they behave with their friends, the kind of role modeling they do by choosing their words carefully and making sure that they don't discriminate even just with the words that they use, that can change a lot.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: One of the things I remember you said the documentary Mayor Pontieri,s that we don't even know what we say, how it will affect people in a minority community. We don't even think about it. We just say things. That's one of the things that you try to correct.

PAUL PONTIERI: At one of our board meetings we talked a pass a resolution talking about language, language it is really adult side frame the conversations kids have to learn it someplace and we placed a resolution the talks about the language we use when discussing issues of immigration. You know illegal immigration to a 10-year-old means that there is something wrong with the person because in school they talk about illegal drugs so and so forth and it really is how we frame the conversation whether it is a medium, whether it is parents, or whether it's government we need to frame it in a matter manner that does not devalue the person.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do you see that there's any linkage, Tina between hate crimes and hate speech and the debate over illegal immigration, does that ratchet up in some way?

TINA MALKA: Well we know that at least terms of hate crime statistics that we've had this year there is a 47% increase in hate crimes against Latinos. So I think it is safe to say when you have a climate where people are devalued in any society, when you devalue human beings you make it easier for them to be victims of a hate crime.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Mayor Pontieri in the documentary not in our town it also points to the serious and for their families heart wrenching consequences for the young men were involved in this attack.

PAUL PONTIERI: And when I spoke to the kids this morning at Southwest and then we also went over to hilltop I said to them we live with the decisions we make in that the decisions you make that date many people. There were eight families destroyed. Obviously Marcelo Lucero's family; son, brother, friend, cousin and for all the skits I've talked to many of the parents of the seven young men, Jeff, his father was talking about how his family is just destroyed.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: He was convicted of manslaughter in the case

PAUL PONTIERI: Manslaughter 25 years the others are getting seven years I spoke to the parents and families are just devastated. It is the pebble in a pond. You throw it, there are ripples much greater than what actually happens itself, many times.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right, it is just a circle of consequences for hate crimes like that.

PAUL PONTIERI: Absolutely.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You are headed Mayor Pontieri to Arizona some would say in a couple of recent years it has been ground zero for the immigration debate out there. How will you encourage students there to be Mark subject.

PAUL PONTIERI: I think what kids have to understand again it is with the simple concept of living with decisions in understanding the consequences of decisions and that these in thinking that what they were doing was sport ends up affecting themselves and that whole concentric circle circle of people out and about them and really beginning to talk to kids about that. I think that the life lesson for kids is what you do and the consequences are the consequences of what you do are the ones you create yourself, not others.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to tell everyone that the documentary not in our town light in the darkness will be screened tonight at UC San Diego student services center. And I've been speaking with Paul Pontieri, Mayor of Patchogue New York and Tina Malka, associate director of the anti-defamation league here in San Diego thank you both very much for coming in and speak with us.

TINA MALKA: Thank you so much

PAUL PONTIERI: Thank you for the opportunity.