A re­ac­tion to ig­no­rance

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - OPINION -


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

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