Last week I was at Hofstra to see the play “What Killed Marcelo Lucero?” by the experimental theater company Teatro Yerbabruja. About two hundred students were seated behind me, some because their teachers required their attendance.
During the play, a demagogic politician ratchets up the hatred against Latinos as teens run wild, hurling stupid insults at hardworking brown men. Some of the students behind me muttered that the dialogue was “unrealistic,” but I recognized much of it as culled from the collected works of Steve Levy and the written statements of the seven young men convicted in the Marcelo Lucero killing.
I wondered if the students came from worlds where ignorance dared not raise its head, or if they had become so inured to prejudice that they did not connect the soft racist statements of their own uncles and aunts around the Thanksgiving table with the actionable words that inspired the tormentors of Marcelo Lucero.
One of Jeff Conroy’s friends told a New York Times reporter earlier this year that attacks on Latinos by students at Patchogue-Medford High School didn’t start with the seven who set Lucero up for slaughter. He said he first heard of “beaner jumping” when he was in middle school.
If Conroy and company weren’t the first, the odds are they will not be the last. We know that in the months after Lucero’s attackers were jailed, similar attacks by teens continued.
Some of the first generation of beaner jumpers are still out there, in their 20s now. Most likely, some kids younger than the Patchogue Seven have taken up the cause.
I told the students at Hofstra after the play that if they did not want their younger brothers and cousins to become the next generation of Jeff Conroys, they had to confront the hatred when it appeared at the family dinner table. If not for the Marcelo Luceros of the world, then at least for the potential Jeff Conroys within their own families.