February 27, 2011; Source: St. Petersburg Times | In 2006, Hazleton, Pa., Mayor Lou Barletta led an effort to enact a draconian ordinance aimed at penalizing landlords who rent to undocumented aliens and employers who hire them, a response to Hazleton's growing (legal) population of Hispanics. The town also passed an ordinance making English the "official language" of the small coal mining city.
Although the courts overturned the ordinance, Barletta was apparently pleased that the ordinance drove perhaps half of the town's 10,000 Latinos to move away.
Native Hazletonian, Joe Maddon, manager of the Tampa Bay Rays, thinks this is the wrong direction for the town to take and aims to change the anti-immigrant tone in his old home town.
Maddon knows the bitterness of these economically depressed coal mining cities, but as manager of the Tampa Bay Rays, he also sees that the Dominicans and Puerto Ricans of Hazleton (like the Latinos in major league baseball) are "following the same path the European immigrants, including his own family, did generations ago but are not being welcomed."
The same could be said for Barletta and his Italian immigrant forbears. "It's exactly what we looked like 50, 60, 70 years ago," Maddon said. "There's no difference, and I think that's where the people back home are losing sight, or our memories are too short."
Maddon wants to counter the unwelcoming attitudes of Hazleton and raise charitable funds to purchase a community center for after school programs for Latino kids and English classes for Latino adults. "Let's take advantage of these good people and help them assimilate into the community," Maddon challenged, "because otherwise the city is going to go away as far as I can tell."
He also wants to fund a public viewing of "It's a Wonderful Life." Maybe Mayor Barletta and his allies might take special notice of the scenes when the townspeople contribute whatever nickels and dimes they can find to help George Bailey's building and loan company escape bankruptcy. They might see that the donors include people of all races and ethnicities, recent immigrants and long time Bedford Falls residents – the kind of community that Joe Maddon's charitable instincts would help create in Hazleton.
The Nonprofit Quarterly wrote about Hazleton, Pa., in our special Summer 2009 issue of the magazine dedicated to nonprofit roles in helping immigrants.—Rick Cohen