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Steelworker Statue Angers Croatians, Union

May 31, 1990 GMT

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ An artist’s use of an alleged ethnic slur in the inscription of a steelworker statue is being attacked by Croatians, the United Steelworkers union and other ethnic and labor groups.

The 12-foot fiberglass statue, in the middle of a downtown park, is inscribed with the title and signature: ″Hunky Steelworker. Luis Jimenez ’90.″

″The sculptor’s choice of words has touched a raw nerve among our members across a wide range of ethnic backgrounds,″ said Andrew V. ″Lefty″ Palm, director of the union district that covers Pittsburgh steelworkers.

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″It’s a blatant insult,″ said Edward Verlich of the Croatian Fraternal Union. ″We aren’t trying to deny anyone freedoms, but we don’t want this emblazoned on a statue where a half-million people will see it.″

The term ″hunky″ originated in the late 1800s as a term to describe people of Hungarian descent, but its use was expanded quickly as an insult toward anyone whose ancestors came from central Europe, said Sarah Thomason, a professor of linguistics at the University of Pittsburgh.

″It’s also of the same origin as the word ‘honky,’ which some blacks use to describe whites,″ Ms. Thomason said Wednesday.

The city’s controller, Tom Flaherty, noticed the inscription on the back of the statue while jogging past it. Last week, he held a press conference at its base to decry what he called a slur against eastern Europeans.

The statue was erected as a tribute to steelworkers.

Jimenez, the artist, expressed surprise at the criticism of his work.

″I certainly didn’t think there would be a problem with this,″ he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. ″I was trying to pay tribute to the contributions steelworkers have made to this country.″

Jimenez, 49, of Hondo, N.M., said he researched steelworkers at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Library.

″I came across the term ‘millhunk’ or ‘hunky’ as a way that steelworkers referred to themselves,″ he said. ″I used it as a term that was part of the popular culture. I didn’t mean it as any kind of derogatory term.″

Verlich, the son of a Croatian father and Czechoslovakian mother, said he didn’t fault Jiminez but would like to see the title changed.

″He thought he was using a term of endearment, but the term is derogatory and inflammatory and has no business on a statue in the city of Pittsburgh,″ Verlich said.

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The city’s Croatians and other ethnic and labor groups have suggested that covering up the ‘Y’ in hunky - forming ″Hunk Steelworker″ - would be appropriate. The new title could work, they said, because the steelworker depicted is disproportionally stout in a hunk of fiberglass.

″They can cover that with plastic,″ Verlich said.

The organizers of the Three Rivers Art Festival, which brought the statue to the city, have said they’ll meet with people who don’t like the statue but won’t remove it from the park’s most prominent part.

The festival director wasn’t available immediately Wednesday. The festival opens Friday.