A reaction to ignorance
The story of Hazleton’s Joe Maddon and his interview with Harry Smith on NBC ripened into some perfect perspective.
I was made aware of the story by a Latino friend. When I saw that it was on Megyn Kelly’s new program, I flinched. But overall, I couldn’t miss it, for yet it was another national story about Hazleton, just as much as it was about Joe.
In all, I thought Harry Smith did a fair, balanced report, although he overestimated Hazleton’s rebounding economy. He was correct, however, about Latino businesses helping to keep it just barely alive. If we had 200 more small businesses, we could realistically sing Smith’s song.
Also, I disagree respectfully with one point Joe made in the report. When Joe said that Hazleton was like “Ozzy and Harriet,” again I flinched. (I am just a few years younger than he is, so we grew up during the same era here.) That was not exactly my experience, although holistically, I agree that this city was an exceptional place to grow up, and perhaps for the same reasons: the deep family and neighborhood bonds, and a love of watching Little League games atop a desolate hill because when baseball was played, the absolute sun shone over the neighboring graveyards and even the ancestors woke from their eter nal sleep to cheer.
In those cemeteries lay most of the men I grew up with — my father, uncles, one grandfather — all dead of Black Lung, or in my grandfather’s case, crushed by a coal boulder.
Coming from a struggling coal family, I knew what it was like to go until the next paycheck without shoes, and also to have no food in the house for several days. Fasting was good for the soul, we were told.
And then there was the Mafia. When I was 8, my dying father gave me a coal necklace made by a black man he worked with at the Hazleton Shaft. He emphasized the artist was black to underscore their legalized mutual slavery and friendship. He told me to remember him with the necklace and then added, “If the Mafia ever comes near you, you walk over to the other side of the street.”
So, not quite “Ozzy and Harriet”-land everywhere. But still I would not trade my childhood here for anything.
After the NBC report, Joe’s remarks became so ridiculously inflammatory, interpreted as concrete by the slug-minded. In John Mellencamp’s song, “A Peaceful World,” from 2001, the hook is, “If you are not part of the future, get out of the way.” I believe that is the best way to interpret Joe’s words. Let Hazleton evolve.
In my own neighborhood after the report, I heard horrendous things being said about Joe and stood aghast. With his every accomplishment, he raises a glass to Hazleton and gives thanks. I heard jealous racist residents (all white by the way) cursing him, and saying he should “stay away,” and that he is “so full of himself.”
I see a man who gives back to this city every day, someone who is humble to the core, and aggressively works to improve this city, to feed children and enhance their education.
We cannot ever quantify the good that his Hazleton Integration Project has done during its years of existence. There is just no yardstick. But with even one child kept out of gang life – and countless more have been – the gift to our community has been one of life and hope.
Lots of these Latino- and minority-haters are churchgoers, and some were exhorted by their priests before the election to vote for Donald Trump. That’s fine, as long as these churches are willing to pay taxes for being political organizations.
Just as girls are now playing baseball, lots of churches will soon be paying taxes. Well, the city needs more tax dollars, so perhaps the prayers of the just are answered, with piercing irony.
Reality check: When you hate a true hometown hero or a group of people based on race or ethnicity, you just can’t be a true Christian. It’s a joke.
Maria Jacketti HAZLETON