By Isacc Feldman
Many people all across Long island have different opinions about day workers and immigrants. Some will show an unbelievable amount of hate towards people that they barely understand. Others do their best to help these people be accepted into society.
In 2000 when Israel Perez and Magdaleno Estrada were brutally beaten by at the time two considered contractors, a major uproar occurred. Thinking they were going to do work for the criminals, Perez and Estrada were brought to an abandoned warehouse and beaten to death. It’s after this, that local immigrant activist and passionate helper of the community, Lisa Melendez devoted a lot of her time and energy in a way that is still helping these misunderstood people today.
Born in the Bronx, Lisa didn’t grow up speaking Spanish and had to learn the hard way. Her grand parents were from Puerto Rico so she heard Spanish all the time and grabbed words from time to time. But when the tragedy happened, Lisa wanted to help her local community, but needed to tighten up her Spanish. She traveled to Venezuela for 6 weeks alone, so that way, the only way she could survive was to speak Spanish.
With a stronger understanding of the language, Melendez was ready to help in any way she could. When workers weren’t paid for their efforts by a contractor, the Workplace Project got involved and held an organized protest in front of the contractor’s house. Lisa was there; alongside with many others doing what she could to support.
Other than physically being on the scene, she organized a room full of day laborers just speaking about issues going on in their community, in the past some of these immigrants may have had nowhere to turn. Also what Lisa has been doing for the fourth straight year, was hold a week of awareness on campus, that argues for immigrant rights and breaks some of the myths about day laborers.
There are arguments that debate whether or not immigrants are helping the economy. Extremist feel that they aren’t paying taxes and the residents of these communities are taking a hit. Lisa firmly believes that is an irrational thought. She says before she saw Farmingville it was like a ghost town now she says “I see thriving businesses”.
Years ago a tally was taken to record the number of immigrant beatings that were happening and there were only two recorded. Something was wrong, because it seemed that many victims weren’t coming forward. Lisa said it was probably because the immigrants didn’t know who to turn to. She said that the workers weren’t ready to go to the police because of the risk that they could get deported.
Made not too long ago, a magazine was made that documented the many hate crimes that happened right under the noses of Long Islanders. “Climate of Fear” takes the many accounts of hate crimes and shows that there isn’t just one or two a year, but several hundreds. It gives the workers or immigrants an outlet that they might not have had before. The magazine also gives the workers a way to express themselves threw art and photography, this gives outsiders a chance to get a different perspective and realize these are people to.
When asked if she feels Long Island has evolved since the terrible crime in 2000, Lisa responded, “I don’t think so, some people might have, but overall no” She also mentioned that as recent as last year there was a hate crime in Patchogue that left Marcelo Lucero killed by a bunch of ignorant teenagers. It’s hard to imagine young adults purposely hurting someone just because of his race.
If all else fails, all Lisa Melendez seems to be trying to relay is the message that everybody is still a human being, and people should be treated equally. One of Lisa’s small request for the future is “my hope is that Obama can do something so that all people living in the shadows can just live a normal life.” Hopefully, no matter what someone looks like or what you might think they are, all people will be treated fairly and equally, because if you think about it, we were all immigrants at one point to.
photo provided by: www.reform-america.net