Members of the Farmingville Residents Association, founded a decade ago, say their community has come a long way since it was the focus of tension between residents and day laborers that drew national attention.
Farmingville, home to Brookhaven Town Hall, had by 2000 become a destination for day laborers, who stood on street corners looking for work, as well as the site of hate crimes and the firebombing of a home rented by day laborers.
In 2004, the documentary “Farmingville” was released, showcasing for a national audience the open hostility in the community.
“There was a lack of community cohesion,” said Marisa Pizza, president of the civic association, formed in the aftermath of the tension with the goal of unifying the hamlet of 16,000 residents. “The organization sought to find common ground for the betterment of Farmingville.”
The group celebrated its 10-year anniversary this month and counts bridging the gap between residents and day laborers as one of its successes.
The association has 600 members, but between 25 and 50 people regularly attend meetings. There are no dues as the group functions on grants, donations and raising money from flea market sales.
Since its inception, according to members, the association has worked with a group called One More For Jesus, led by Pastor Ruben Cruzate, to offer free Spanish and English classes to anyone in the community. The church has other outreach programs and services to assist immigrants.
And going beyond day laborer-resident issues, the association has drafted a far-reaching plan for the hamlet’s revitalization anchored by the $100 million Arboretum Project, featuring a 292-unit, single-family and condominium development that is now in the review process before Brookhaven Town.
In addition, the civic group instituted a hamlet-wide cleanup, which was endorsed by the town. It also created a multicultural day, a free event in which residents dress in multicultural clothes, network with each other and listen to music. More than 300 people attended the event last summer, members said.
The accomplishments are a long way from the controversies that engulfed the community more than a decade ago.
Residents complained that day laborers lived in overcrowded houses, and congregated on street corners as they looked for daily construction and landscaping jobs, according to Newsday stories at the time.
At the time, advocates said the laborers were the latest in a long line of immigrants who viewed America as the land of opportunity.
“There was lots of fighting and unrest. That’s why the association was formed,” Pizza said. “It’s dramatically different now.”
Forming the association has also helped longtime residents who, as they watched the community change, felt out of place.
“We didn’t bother each other,” said Alexis Grasso, 67, an 18-year Farmingville resident, of relations with some of her neighbors. “It was like living in a cocoon. But since I’ve been involved in the civic, that feeling has changed. I feel a community spirit.”