Guest opinion: Say no to hate crimes — work to be welcoming |

Guest opinion: Say no to hate crimes — work to be welcoming

Jon Fox-Rubin
Staff Photo |

Many of us were shocked, outraged and saddened to learn that on Aug. 23, someone attacked a Latino man sitting in his own car in the El Jebel City Market parking lot. (A man named Jerry Lloyd Cunico of Old Snowmass has been accused of the crime.)

This random hate crime reminds us that our beautiful valley, where we welcome immigrants and visitors from all over the world, is not immune to the vitriolic anti-immigrant and racist sentiments that exist below the surface throughout our country. These sentiments are periodically stirred up and exploited by politicians when it serves their narrow interests. Regardless, it’s a real wake-up call when it happens here in our community.

But more than that, it’s an opportunity for those of us who cherish a tolerant, generous-spirited community to take a stand for what we believe in. And from the reports in the newspaper, it sounds like several people in the City Market parking lot did exactly that, apprehending and holding the alleged perpetrator until the police arrived on the scene. Let’s be inspired by their integrity and bravery. And let’s each decide what we can do to heal the wound that this hate crime has left in our valley.

And to the immigrants in our valley, I say this: This community welcomes you with open arms. In fact in 2001, the Basalt Town Council passed a resolution in support of “humane treatment of all people regardless of immigration status.” And in 2011, Basalt was the second municipality in the U.S. to become a “compassionate city.” I want you to know that many more parents, schoolteachers, police, firefighters, town managers, bus drivers, ski pros, elected officials, bankers, business leaders and community-minded folks want you here. And we want you to know that we have your backs covered.

How ironic that, despite of the fact that the Roaring Fork Valley (like our nation as a whole) is a great place because of the multiple waves of immigrants who have settled here, some people choose to blame and scapegoat our newest wave of immigrants. The first wave of immigrants to the valley came to mine for precious metals. They were “discovered” by the indigenous Ute Nation that used to spend their summers in this region. Unfortunately these immigrants displaced the Utes as part of the prevailing, yet misguided, notion of manifest destiny first promoted by John L. O’Sullivan in the 1840s.

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Over time, the mining slowed down and more immigrants came who were interested in ranching and farming. In fact, many of today’s streets in Ute City (aka Aspen), Woody Creek, Basalt, El Jebel, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs are named after settlers from these various waves of immigration. These immigrants shared their different languages, cultures, customs and traditions with their neighbors, and contributed to building the valley we love today.

Today the Roaring Fork Valley thrives on international visitors who come here to relax, enjoy the outdoors, solve physics problems, listen to music and work on global issues, among other things. We also thrive because of new immigrants who come here to work hard, raise families and settle here.

There are lots of ways to show our appreciation for and support of our region’s newest wave of immigrants, and to benefit from their rich history and culture, as it will continue to make this a great place to live. Some examples include: making a friend with someone who just immigrated here, volunteering as an English tutor (e.g., with English In Action), learning a new language and seeking out folks in this community who speak that language (e.g., Arabic, Berber, Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Somali, etc.)

And while we are at it, let’s also try to understand why someone would perpetrate the kind of hate crime we experienced in El Jebel a few weeks ago. Perhaps nobody welcomed the perpetrator when he moved here, or perhaps he was victimized as a young kid (e.g., bullied in school) or perhaps he recently lost his job. We may never know, but research around the psychology behind hate crimes suggests that perpetrators often act out with increasingly aggressive behaviors until it culminates in a hate crime like the one we have just experienced. Let’s be on the lookout for that aggression and try to address it before it escalates.

Jon Fox-Rubin is executive director of The Manaus Fund — home of the Valley Settlement Project.

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