The initial reports of the crime were hideous and unbelievable, three teenage sex slaves held shackled and imprisoned apparently by three grubby, seedy, horribly abusive middle-aged brothers. The kidnapping and decade-long captivity of those young women in a boarded-up hell house in Cleveland is bad enough. How could they rob those girls of their freedom, their youth and this substantial hunk of their lives?
When it became clear during Thursday’s arraignment that only one of the three Castro brothers was involved, the crime became more emotionally manageable; still, the selfish sadism involved was heartbreaking and outrageous. The fact that a six-year old child was born in that house of horrors aggravated the terrible crime. The cruel bastard. Did 52-year old Ariel Castro allow the child a doctor’s care? She was born in a plastic tub in that revolting, filthy house. Were there other babies born there, as reports suggest? If so, where are they? Did he murder them? Were there other teenage girls snatched by Castro who did not survive to be liberated? How could no one notice either the house of horrors or the monster’s sick world?
Every time Castro’s picture is shown, ugly and disheveled, I cringe. His admitted cruelty will fuel the negative stereotypes and clichés about Latinos, and for a time even add fuel to efforts to derail progress we have made on many important issues, including immigration.
As the wretched extent of Cleveland’s notorious crime becomes known, there will be necessary scrutiny of the heartless, wicked, perpetrator. And from my point of view, making Ariel Castro’s terrible crimes even harder to bear is the fact that he is Puerto Rican.
When I was growing up in Brooklyn and later on Long Island in the 1950s, my dad Cruz Rivera was far more sensitive than I am. Hard-working and focused on our assimilation into our mostly Italian and Irish working-class community, all he wanted was for us to be regarded as Americans. I remember clearly that whenever there was a notorious crime reported, he would say a little prayer, “please God let it not be committed by a Puerto Rican.”
His reasoning was simple. During that period a half century ago, many Puerto Ricans were recent arrivals having a hard time fitting in. Yes, they were American citizens, but they were still strangers in a strange land, often with English-language difficulties, poverty and worse. And my dad’s thinking was that every time one from our community did wrong, it added another hurdle we had to jump to become “real” Americans, accepted as equals by our neighbors.
Fifty years later, I know intellectually that the ethnic background of criminals should not reflect on anyone other than the criminals themselves. Every barrel has its rotten apples. But it does matter to me. In the same way I celebrated the ascendancy of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the pride of Puerto Ricans, to the U.S. Supreme Court, I grieve that the Cleveland cretin who did this to those young girls hails from our beloved Isla del Encanto, specifically Yauco, Puerto Rico.
Every time Castro’s picture is shown, ugly and disheveled, I cringe. His admitted cruelty will fuel the negative stereotypes and clichés about Latinos, and for a time even add fuel to efforts to derail progress we have made on many important issues, including immigration. Thursday morning on my nationally syndicated radio show I started getting the calls. Some guy named Mark from the Florida Panhandle calling to taunt me, “Well, how about all those hard-working immigrants you’re always talking about now? Ha ha.”
My sidekick on the radio show, Noam Laden, thinks I’m far too sensitive.“It didn’t even occur to me that Castro was Puerto Rican until you mentioned it,” he told me on the radio show as we watched charges being dropped against two of the three brothers, and the fiend Ariel Castro being held on an unmakeable $8 million dollars bail. “And even then I was surprised by your sensitivity. I think we're beyond it. Maybe it’s generational. People don’t look at Puerto Ricans the way they did in the 1970s.”
I hope he is right. I was further reassured by Cleveland’s City Prosecutor Victor Perez, who said during Castro's arraignment that he too was born in Puerto Rico. Perez added, “I want everyone to know that the acts of the defendant are not a reflection of the Puerto Rican community here or in Puerto Rico.”