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Posts Tagged ‘Hazleton’

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Photo: Erin Clark/Boston Globe
Hazletonians reacted to a hula hoop competition during Fun Fest in downtown Hazleton, Pa., a city that has benefited from the influx of immigrants.

In 2019, the Boston Globe did an interesting series on battleground states, going into communities to listen to a range of voices in hopes of understanding what people are really thinking. Laura Krantz covered Hazleton, Pennsylvania, where residents have mostly embraced a change of industry — and of population.

She reports, “Bob Curry is a man in constant motion, not unlike this fast-changing community he’s always championing. Passing a colorful mural in the community center he runs, its rainbow letters spelling out a Maya Angelou quote about the strength and beauty of diversity, he paused for effect.

“ ‘You see our mural, if you don’t like it, get back on the elevator, you’re free to leave,’ Curry proclaimed.

“He’s kidding — sort of. The Hazleton One Community Center is in a small city all too familiar [with] incendiary anti-immigrant proposals and political dog whistles. … Back in 2006, the City Council voted to make English the official language and proposed fines for landlords and employers who rented to or hired undocumented immigrants, all in an attempt to preserve, as one official said back then, ‘Small Town USA.’ …

“Curry and most others don’t feel a need to talk about that anymore. Time has marched on, and Hazleton has changed with it. …

“Like the rest of this swath of northeast Pennsylvania, Hazleton flourished more than three-quarters of a century ago during the mining of the anthracite coal buried deep below the region’s green hills. But that industry, and that generation, began to fade in the 1950s.

For a while Hazleton was practically a ghost town. Then starting in the early 2000s, something strange happened. A new industry took root, and with it, a new population of mostly Latino families arrived from New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia.

“Hazleton is located near a confluence of major highways that connect it to much of the Eastern Seaboard. The proliferation of online shopping gave birth to a booming sector of distribution warehouses, long low-slung buildings tucked into the rolling hills that surround the city. And with those warehouses came salaries that would cover the cost of a perfectly nice home. Families arrived in pursuit of a middle-class life. …

” ‘Everything has changed here,’ Curry said. …

“Amilcar Arroyo is in many ways the personification of this change, as well as the chronicler of it. He is the publisher of El Mensajero, and from his first-floor office, he has seen the sleepy downtown street revived by Latino families who have flowed into town over the past two decades. There were few children when Arroyo arrived some 30 years ago from Peru; now they are everywhere.

“Amid the surge in Latino residents, Arroyo has taken it upon himself to show the town the many contributions of the Latino community. There always seems to be a need for more justification.

“So he keeps a tall whiteboard in his office where he has scribbled a long list: barbers, beauty shops, car garages, grocery stores, restaurants, bars, discotheques, furniture stores, pawn shops, transportation companies, media companies, cleaning businesses, photographers, DJs, nail artists. One afternoon, he remembered he needed to add something else — food trucks.

“ ‘I want to present how many businesses we have in Hazleton,’ he said. …

“Up the hill from Broad Street, the gridded neighborhoods are filling up again with young families. Flowers sprout through cracks in the sidewalks. Sloping awnings cool front porches. Tucked between the modest homes is the community center that Curry runs with his wife, Elaine. …

“Curry left a corporate job to run the center full time when it opened six years ago. He and Elaine don’t take salaries so this is not a luxurious retirement, but their house is paid for and their daughters graduated from college. …

” ‘We always talk about how one candle lights another. This ain’t one candle lighting another, this is lots of candles and really helping to try to illuminate the city.’

“When they opened the center, the Currys hoped they might see 300 children in the first month of their after-school program. Instead, families flooded through their doors, and they’ve never served fewer than 1,000 people — children and adults — each week. …

“After the center opened, the Currys quickly added English language courses for adults, citizenship classes, bilingual pre-kindergarten, and summer camps that cost $25 per week.

“This summer, the project was murals. The basement walls are now splashed with color. The hallway smells of paint. The children started the summer painting a daytime mural, but soon added a nighttime scene because someone drew fireflies and they needed the dark. …

“Earlier in the summer, [after news] that there would be massive immigration raids across the country, … someone drew an alien spacecraft that captured the fireflies, and many of the children painted rocket ships hurtling away through the darkness.

“ ‘There is an undercurrent of nervousness and trepidation that flows through the city,’ Curry said. …

“Mariluz Rodriguez represents the new Hazleton. Her family moved here from Queens, N.Y., when she was 8. Now she is a mentor at the center and preparing to leave for college on a full scholarship.

“ ‘It was just weird being different at first, but after a while it didn’t matter, you’re just part of the community,’ she said as she paused to have a snack. …

“This year, Elaine Curry gave her a wall to paint her own mural. She designed a glowing bouquet of flowers that surrounds the doors to the elevator.

“These are the things Rodriguez thinks about, not demographic shifts, presidential politics, or a sense of belonging. She’s gotten a few looks over the years, but she said she has never felt like a target of racism.

“Here, even though there are always the little things that you get from people, we still have it off really well, and we make it work.’ …

“Penelope Rodriguez [her mother] said she has never felt the kind of racism you hear about on television in Hazleton. Her co-workers and parents in the PTA have been kind and welcoming. The neighbors on their street know each other. …

“ ‘The unknown, which is the great fear, becomes the familiar. And when it’s the familiar, your biases start to dissipate,’ Curry said.”

More here.

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