Crate Bust in Holyoke

Holyoke Police Chief Anthony Scott recently launched an APB on milk and apple crates and beverage cases cluttering city sidewalks and streets. The chief said he is attempting to clear pathways for pedestrians and vehicles and at the same time help keep the city clean.

The Springfield Republican covered this unusual yet legitimate law enforcement development in a June 28, page 1 story. Apparently the use of milk crates has become a public nuisance, with some people using them as picnic furniture, eating, drinking and tossing out the leftover wrappers and bottles right there where they just ate.

The newspaper went on to note that Chief Scott personally confiscated several milk crates from three men whom he later saw shooting dice. That won them charges for gambling on a public way.

Cleaning the streets of props and accessories conducive to nuisance and crime is a law enforcement job, for sure. But when the article went on to imply that milk crates, garbage and Puerto Ricans go together like rice and beans, the story revealed just how offensively out of touch some media outlets are from the communities they cover.

“In response to a query as to cultural practices,” the June 28 article stated, “(Mayor Michael J.) Sullivan said, ‘This has nothing to do with culture. It is a problem of people using these devices for their own convenience, and they don’t own them. Besides that, there is the trash issue, and the littering problem that we are trying to stop.'”

Sullivan, an Irish-American who is a friend to many a Puerto Rican both in his public and private life, handled the offensive query with his customary charismatic aplomb.

But not satisfied with Sullivan’s response to the “cultural practices” question, the writer of the article sought further illumination from the city’s Puerto Rican-in-Chief, City Councilor Diosdado López, who also naturally rejected the notion that there is any connection between loving milk crates, throwing trash and polluting public ways, and being a Puerto Rican.

I called López and asked him about this misconception apparently reigning in a certain segment of the Anglo world, and he was as baffled as I. (Full disclosure #1: I worked as a reporter and columnist at the Republican between January, 2004 and August, 2006).

How did the question of “cultural practices” even come up? And from whom? Apparently there are some people who think that Puerto Ricans, milk crates, crime and garbage are cultural manifestations. I wrote to the paper’s managing editor asking about this. I haven’t heard back. (Full disclosure #2: I own two milk crates; one’s for car junk, the other serves as a plant stand on the deck. I’ve never sat on them.)

For several months, public radio WFCR 88.5 FM has stated that it wants to hire a bilingual news reporter. The job listing remains on its website. The search began as the station chopped in half Tertulia, a mostly Spanish-language Sunday evening talk and music program that was hosted by Luis Meléndez and Víctor “Cuco” Guevara, renowned figures in Latino communities here. The disappointment was not assuaged when Tertulia’s lost two hours were replaced by two hours of Epicentro, a national radio talk show on Latino affairs.

It is a fact that the profile of the general population is shifting. With or without the self-proclaimed guards along the U.S.-Mexico border who call themselves the Minutemen—clearly a reference to how long their thought process lasts without burning out—people from poor Central American countries will continue coming here to work. With or without insults or smug silence, Hispanic communities here will continue to grow. A majority of California’s residents will be Latino by 2042. New England is not far behind.

One hopes for Latino news and cultural programming to be boosted rather than replaced in a zero-sum shell game. Today certain media sometimes pose questions and frame the discussions based on misinformed views, yet won’t answer questions posed to them. One hopes that by tomorrow, the changing demographics will force them to provide answers—and ask informed questions.

This column appeared originally in The Valley Advocate on July 19, 2008