The mood at the Allentown vigil was more political, with Hispanic advocates criticizing Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta and Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli for helping to create an anti-Hispanic climate.
The fatal beating occurred on July 12, as Ramirez, 25, walked home with his fiancee’s sister. Police said the teenagers ran into Ramirez at 11:30 p.m. and told the woman to ”get your Mexican boyfriend out of here,” according to court documents. When Ramirez responded, ”What’s your problem?” the fight began.
The teenagers beat Ramirez so severely he never regained consciousness, authorities said. Two days later, the father of three died.
Colin J. Walsh, 17, and Brandon J. Piekarsky, 16, were charged as adults with homicide, ethnic intimidation and related offenses. Derrick M. Donchak, 18, was charged with aggravated assault, ethnic intimidation and related crimes. All live in Shenandoah.
Police said a fourth teenager, who is 17, was being charged as a juvenile for other offenses.
On Sunday, the Rev. Brunilda Martinez expressed disappointment at the size of the crowd: About 60 people gathered for a ”Reconnecting Healing Service” Sunday afternoon at First United Methodist Church in Shenandoah.
The bad publicity the borough is getting could translate instead into opportunity for showcasing its strengths, she said. ”That is a challenge for us. You say what? I can prove you wrong,” said Martinez. ”We are going to make a new Shenandoah for our children and our grandchildren.”
Outside Sacred Heart Church in Allentown, nearly 50 people gathered, holding candles near a sign that said ”No to Racial Discrimination.”
Marcos Urbina, president of the Mexican Cultural Association of the Lehigh Valley, said Barletta and Morganelli seemed to forget their families had at one time also been immigrants. He criticized those who said Ramirez was in part to blame for being in the country illegally.
”This man isn’t dead because he was here illegally,” Urbina said. ”This man is dead because he was Hispanic. It could have been me or anyone else.”
Ann Van Dyke, assistant director of the state Human Relations Commission, said the small coal town fits the profile of a community more prone to fostering hostilities.
In such places there might be fear about the changing demographics, Van Dyke said. She said there’s a separation based on race, ethnicity or economics, youth feel alienated and often, the place may be struggling economically.
”The eyes of the country are on you. Now is the time to define Shenandoah,” she told attendees in Shenandoah.
In a report released earlier this year, the Southern Poverty Law Center found 33 hate groups in Pennsylvania in 2007, up from 27 in 2006.
The Alabama-based civil rights group linked that increase in part to growing anti-Hispanic sentiment, pointing to FBI data that showed 819 hate crimes against the ethnic group in 2006, a 38 percent increase from 2003.
Anthony Stevens-Arroyo, who teaches Puerto Rican studies at Brooklyn College, said while there may be an anti-Hispanic feeling now, it’s always some group.
”It’s not just now. It’s not just Shenandoah,” said Stevens-Arroyo, who spoke in the borough.
Racial and ethnic tensions have existed as long as humans have been around, he said.
Allentown Councilman Julio Guridy said Barletta’s attempts to get legislation fining landlords who rent or employ illegal immigrants was instrumental in creating a situation where people could feel comfortable giving in to their hate.
He called on state and national leaders to get serious about passing meaningful immigration reform.