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'Hunting Season,' the story of a murder in Patchogue

Marcelo Lucero, 37, shown on Nov. 10, 2008,

Marcelo Lucero, 37, shown on Nov. 10, 2008, was beaten and stabbed to death by seven teenagers in Patchogue. Credit: Handout

HUNTING SEASON: Immigration and Murder in an All-American Town, by Mirta Ojito. Beacon Press, 252 pp., $24.95.

The murder of Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue on Nov. 8, 2008, will already be familiar to most Long Islanders. The killing of the undocumented immigrant from Ecuador and the trial of his seven teenage attackers -- all were convicted and sentenced to between five and 25 years -- received such extensive coverage, in this newspaper and elsewhere, that some may wonder if there is anything left to say about the case. Journalist Mirta Ojito's masterful new book, "Hunting Season," suggests there is. By recounting events clearly and even-handedly, and describing the larger political forces that shaped the people involved, she finds seeds of hope in a senseless tragedy.

Ojito's scope ranges from international migration patterns to small-town politics, but she is particularly strong on the motivations of the men -- and they are mostly men -- who leave places like Lucero's hometown of Gualaceo, Ecuador, for the United States. Many feel it is their duty to depart to avoid becoming a burden on their families and to provide for relatives left behind. In his 15 years in New York, Marcelo Lucero is said to have sent about $100,000 back to Gualaceo to buy land and build a home where he could one day live with his family.

Until then, though, he endured loneliness and separation. "The men sending their dreams home, one paycheck at a time, often slept in stables in eastern Long Island, next to the horses they tended, or crammed into basement apartments in Queens and elsewhere. They lived for the future," Ojito writes. When Ojito visits Gualaceo, she finds social ills brought on by the absence of so many men: "Divorce is rampant.... Some children who long for their missing parent have turned to alcohol and drugs, and bitter relatives resent the success of those who left."

Ojito, a former reporter at The New York Times and the author of a memoir, "Finding Mañana: A Memoir of a Cuban Exodus," is careful not to speculate about things she cannot know, such as why the young men attacked Lucero and his friend Angel Loja and earlier that same evening had set upon a Colombian-born naturalized U.S. citizen. Nevertheless, she establishes that most of the Latinos who moved to Long Island in the decade before the incident lived in a separate, Spanish-speaking world. They were vulnerable to violence because they were unlikely to report attacks to the police, and because, as Ojito writes, "Their perceived immigration status rendered them somehow lesser human beings in the eyes of the teenagers." The young men didn't really know about the lives of recent arrivals any more than their parents, local politicians or clergy did. Thanks to coverage of this case and books like "Hunting Season," that is finally changing.

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