Tragedy Shapes Community Leadership
Joselo Lucero never imagined that he would become a spokesperson and a symbol for community safety and immigrants’ rights. As he spoke Saturday night before the crowd gathered at the site of his brother’s murder one year earlier, the hundreds who had gathered despite inclement weather stood rapt.
On November 8, 2008, Marcelo Lucero, a 35-year-old Ecuadorean immigrant, was beaten and stabbed to death. Seven teenagers, students at the local high school, have been charged in the killing. Since then, residents of Patchogue have had to face up to the deep divides over race and immigration in their town. Three days before the vigil, one of the defendants pled guilty and agreed to testify against the other six.
Performances by local musicians, flowers, and candles reflected Lucero’s request that the vigil be peaceful and apolitical. In his release about the vigil, Lucero stated, “Our message is no more violence but peace, no more racism but instead brotherhood and no more abuse rather respect.” Mayor Paul Pontieri addressed the crowd, saying, “We are one single community who live in Patchogue.” Pontieri welcomed Rosario Lucero, mother of Marcelo and Joselo, who said, "I don't feel any hate or revenge, because I'm not the one who has to judge the others, but I'm only asking for justice.”
After the vigil, people walked to the Congregational Church of Patchogue for a religious service. The next day, a memorial service and rosary were held at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church, directly across from South Ocean Middle School.
Joselo Lucero has worked tirelessly to share his brother’s story and shine light on the damage being done by anti-immigrant sentiment and legislation. The week before the vigil, he visited Patchogue’s South Ocean Middle School to speak to the students about diversity and acceptance. Assistant Principal Rui Mendes said that Lucero’s presentation touched the students deeply. “If you don’t know anything about middle school kids,” he said, “they’re never quiet… When [Joselo] did the whole presentation, you couldn’t hear a pin drop. They knew that this was important.” Lucero pointed out one of the large banners on the front lawn of the school depicting one large heart made up of many smaller hearts. “You are like these hearts,” he told the students. “You have to change the world.”
Patchogue Continues to Focus on Acceptance
The exhibit of banners on the middle school lawn was the brainchild of Mayor Paul Pontieri, who has been instrumental in efforts to heal the Patchogue community since the killing of Marcelo Lucero. After seeing Embracing Our Differences, an exhibit of billboard-sized work by local artists, on the SUNY Stonybrook campus, Pontieri approached Principal Linda Pickford and asked if her school would host the exhibit. The banners serve as conversation starters for the students to discuss diversity and acceptance.
Middle school teacher Jackie Nolan took her sixth grade students outside to talk about the banners. “They’re very eager to share and to discuss,” she said. “And a lot of times … in the classroom, when we have our objective, we preach, we talk to them. But …we need to give them that opportunity to be able to talk and share. And this opens that up for them.”
Principal Pickford noted that not only the students were affected by the display. “As it evolved,” she said, “I watched cars slowing down and people sometimes pulling over and getting out of their car” to look at the banners."
COMING SOON: Look out for a new Not In Our School video featuring South Ocean Middle School students and the Embracing Our Differences exhibit!