During a conversation I had on matters affecting Guatemalans, it was obvious that in the U.S. the harassment that our compatriots suffer is not evident in the country itself. What they suffer is a product of xenophobia, hatred toward foreigners, and worse still, racism and discrimination toward a group considered inferior, based on their physical appearance.
As I write these lines I am receiving information from the town of Jupiter, off the Atlantic coast of Florida, where young white locals participate in what they call “Guat hunting” for amusement. Their entertainment consists in physically beating Guatemalans in the streets. As a consequence of this, Onesimo Lopez, an 18-year-old worker, died after being stoned to death in the garden of his house in front of family and friends the night of April 8.
This tragedy contrasts with the location where it was perpetrated. Jupiter is a small tropical paradise where golf courses and condominiums for the retired are in abundance. With the rise of construction in recent decades, working hands became a necessity and thousands of workers, most of them originating from Jacaltenango, Huehuetenango, satisfied the labor demand.
With regard to immigration, Jupiter is a community like no other. It excels in its level of organization, which together Jacaltecos and local authorities have come to develop. The most evident example of the alliance is “El Sol,” a community center that passionately protects the rights of the immigrant community.
The model of this immigrant community and local authorities is playing a momentous and significant role. First, in capturing the self-confessed defendants and then, in the police revealing that the criminal motive was racial hatred toward Guatemalans. In Jupiter, the motive is clear and not being covered up.
However, in other U.S. cities the victims of what is apparently systematic racism do not enjoy the same protection. An example of this is the collective worry experienced by the Guatemalan community in Stamford, Connecticut, due to the recent disappearance and murder of three countrymen. The reasons behind these acts are associated with similar practices to those in Jupiter. The community in Connecticut complains that the police and the consul ignore their denouncements of racial persecution and dismiss the cases as simple acts of common violence.
The immigrants who suffer from this are afraid to denounce the crimes out of fear that their immigrant status will be identified. Some cities promote programs to inspire confidence in the police, but the atmosphere created by the deportation politics of the present administration does not help in eliminating the fear of all government authority.
The proliferation of racial attacks should be attended to quickly and without qualms, because this type of violence tends to escalate. The death of just one Guatemalan due to his nationality is motive enough for our embassy in Washington to demand protection for our community.