For some of our politicians, this week is a chance to raise money and to bring the loud, angry presidential campaign to Patchogue, the village where my brother Marcelo and I lived for years. For me, it represents a flashback to the most painful time of my life: Marcelo’s violent death.
On a November night in 2008, a group of seven young men from Patchogue-Medford High School went to the streets of Patchogue looking to indulge in something they considered a sport: beating up Latino immigrants.
That night, they jumped Marcelo, and he died. They all paid for that act with prison terms, including a very long one for the person who stabbed my big brother. My family and I have paid, too, with endless grief. For my mother, that pain ended only with her death last year in Gualaceo, the town in Ecuador where Marcelo and I grew up.
Every November since that hate-filled night, friends and community members have gathered with me for a peaceful vigil at the spot where Marcelo fell. Now, a short distance north of that spot, supporters of the Suffolk County Republican Party will gather at a nightclub for a fundraising event. The guest of honor—in my mind, the guest of dishonor—will be Donald J. Trump. His appearance should serve as a wake-up call for the immigrant community.
Anyone who has been paying attention knows about his anti-immigrant ideas. He wants to build a border wall and make Mexico pay for it. He wants to deport all 11 million immigrants here illegally. He wants to bar Muslims from entering the United States.
Obviously, I disagree strongly with that rhetoric, which has led a lot of fearful people in America, worried about the way the country is changing, to express strong support for him. But I don’t blame the Republican presidential frontrunner for picking this spot. I blame John Jay LaValle, the Suffolk County Republican chairman.
I don’t believe I’ve ever met LaValle. But he has been living in Suffolk County his whole life, including recent years, when the county became known for anti-immigrant anger and violence—long before hatred led to Marcelo’s death. He should have known better than to invite someone who speaks so hatefully of immigrants to a fundraiser a short walk away from the site of the fatal attack on my brother.
It’s hard to understand what LaValle was thinking. I don’t know whether he considered the impact on the immigrant community and the people of Patchogue. I’m not sure which is worse: that he didn’t even think about it, or that he considered the pain involved and decided to extend the invitation anyway.
This much is clear, though: LaValle endorsed Trump for president, and Trump agreed to appear at LaValle’s fundraiser. Trump talks a lot about making good deals, and maybe this seems to him like one of those. To me, it feels a little like blood money. Trump’s appearance in that nightclub is helping to sell tickets and raise money for the Suffolk Republican Party. For me, and for Patchogue, it’s a thoughtless reminder of innocent blood spilled.
It would have been helpful if LaValle had recognized the hurt that this event is causing and decided to change the venue. But it’s too late for that. My way of responding is this: I won’t carry picket signs and stand outside the nightclub to confront anyone. I’ll show up, as I have so often in the past, stand at the site I consider sacred to Marcelo’s memory, and remember him with a prayerful, peaceful vigil—accompanied by many compassionate people.
Somehow, we’ll get past this, and I truly hope LaValle will learn something from it.
Joselo Lucero is the outreach coordinator for the Hagedorn Foundation of Port Washington.