January 2011
December 21, 2010

First person: Global friends to the rescue

Author: Regina Casale
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: The group TUNAS performed at the unveiling of the mural in Gualaceo Town Hall.

I've spent many summers in Ecuador working on educational projects with "children of immigrants" exploring the other side of the immigration coin.

Globalization has not only allowed us to welcome transnational students into our schools, it has created Gringolandias across the globe populated by expatriates living abroad.

In solidarity, these global neighbors in Ecuador helped us accomplish an important task.

After the tragic stabbing death on Long Island of Marcelo Lucero, an immigrant from Gualaceo, Ecuador, four teenagers were sentenced in August to several years in prison for their role in the 2008 hate crime in Patchogue.

To help the community heal, Shannon Lustig's Patchogue-Medford art students created a mural as a "symbol of peace." It was to be shipped to Gualaceo so Ecuadoreans would know that Patchogue cares.

As a pseudo-Ecuatoriana and educator, I felt my role was to support both communities and help the kids send the mural to Ecuador.

Ms. Lustig and I began soliciting help from local politicians, but they couldn't promise funding. So as the 2009 school year ended and a new one began, the mural remained in boxes in Ms. Lustig's art room.

I decided to write to NYSUT requesting help to send this gift of healing from our Patchogue students to the students of Gualaceo.

NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi presented the generous donation of $2,200 to Joselo Lucero, Marcelo's brother, and Ms. Lustig at the Long Island Latino Teachers Association's Men's Conference at Suffolk Community College.

Finally, we were able to ship the mural in May, but little did I know that was only half the battle.

Days later I called Gualaceo to confirm that they had received the 12-box shipment and discovered the mural had never arrived. Instead, it was held captive in Guayaquil customs. May turned to July and I found myself in Cuenca on vacation, still battling with Fed Ex and Guayaquil customs.

While Fed Ex and custom agents continued to blame the other, the mural was acquiring storage fees in Guayaquil. We needed to pay $700 in ransom to have the mural released.

Due to the lack of humanity shown by those bullies, I turned to the expatriate community in Cuenca for help.

Lee Dubs, a retired professor from North Carolina who now owns Carolina Bookstore in Cuenca, agreed to help. He posted the news on the Gringo Tree blog and within three days the expat community raised more than $800.

While Lee's fundraiser was under way, he also contacted Bernal Abad, an Ecuadorean commentator for TeleAmazonas. Our cause became a national story. The expat community was able to rescue the mural from customs and it arrived safely a few weeks later.

On Oct 7, I was in Gualaceo sitting with Mayor Tapia, the Lucero family, and Lee, waiting for the unveiling ceremony to begin.

Marcelo's childhood friends, the group TUNAS — todos unidas nunca andamos solos ("All united we never walk alone") and a handful of expats were also present. After the TUNAS sang in memory of Marcelo, the mural was unveiled to the public.

Finally, after a year of perseverance, the mural in memory of Marcelo Lucero hangs in Gualaceo's village hall as a reminder that racism and xenophobia have no place in any community.

Regina Casale is a member of the Middle Island Teachers Association.