Hazleton In Spotlight Again With Magazine Article

March 19, 2018 GMT

Hazleton once again finds itself in the national spotlight, as National Geographic magazine unveils its April issue which focuses on race — and as the publication acknowledges its own past racist coverage. The magazine zoned in on the city, which has seen a dramatic shift in its Anglo-Latino population in the past 16 years well ahead of a projected national shift to a Latino majority in the next quarter century. The city’s non-Hispanic white population was at more than 90 percent in 2000, but Latinos took over that majority by 2016 with 52 percent and the Anglo population in the minority at 44 percent, according to statistics listed in the story written by Michele Norris, who interviewed locals last year. She looked at how the long-time Anglo population found itself adjusting to the change, which was depicted as anxious, uncomfortable and outnumbered as the nation, too, begins to deal with a shift in status, such as the protests and social media battles that emerged over the removal of Confederate monuments. The story was met with mixed reactions among Hazleton’s leaders and residents, some of whom preferred not to comment as they saw the city once again portrayed in a less-than-favorable light by a national media outlet. Businesswoman Sally Yale, who spoke to Norris for some three hours at her Heights coffee shop and restaurant, said she feels hurt and disappointed in how she was portrayed in the story. “I’m very unhappy with how she made me sound like a racist and a bigot,” Yale said. “People who know me know that’s not true. I wouldn’t be in business this long. We’re all equal. She pulled out nothing positive from what I said.” Yale talked to Norris about participating in the annual Funfest, the two-day celebration in the city’s downtown with fair foods, rides, competitions, a variety of music and a parade, but stopped when the community began to change and become “scary.” Yale was referring to the increase in violent crime that came with the changing population, she said. Norris wrote that Funfest had become “too uncomfortable” and “too brown” in Yale’s eyes, something that Yale said she never uttered. “I’m so hurt by some of the stuff she said,” Yale said. “Yes, there is change. Yes, there is violence. Yes, people are afraid. There are a few bad apples.” Yale said she always gives other people the right-of-way, does any job that needs to be done in her business if others are busy and has been welcoming a Latino clientele that is growing by word of mouth. Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce President Mary Malone understands the city’s rapidly changing demographics was the reason it was chosen for this story. “I think the demographics reflect the point (Norris) was trying to make,” she said. “At the chamber, we’ve been seeing those changes in the needs of our members.” The chamber works with the Small Business Development Center to help establish businesses and/or help newly formed businesses, and on Friday, brought in a bilingual representative to offer counseling services, Malone said. It’s not that some prospective businesspeople don’t speak English, but it may be more comfortable for them to receive the counseling in Spanish, she said. The chamber also is doing mixers with the Latino Business Association, and a number of Latino businesses belong to the chamber, Malone said. As for Funfest, the event has transformed with the changes being seen in the overall community, she said. Faith-based groups have joined in, a bilingual faith service has been added and the recent themes reflect the community’s diversity, Malone said. “Funfest is reflective of the community,” she said. “Funfest isn’t the same as Funfest five or six years ago. It has evolved and changed. In 2018, Funfest will be reflective of what’s going on 2018.” She feels people have a perception of crime in the community, and statistics show that crime is down 40 percent thanks to recent efforts by the city police force, Malone said. While she believes in being aware and looking out for your own safety, she has seen the shift toward less crime and is in and out of her downtown office as late at 8 p.m. People have also been enjoying evening First Friday events downtown and see firsthand the changes occurring with downtown revitalization, which in turn brings renewed interest in the downtown, she said. Long before recent events of violence in the nation, the chamber provided security at its events, including Funfest, employing private security and working with local police departments, Malone said. “Show me a place that’s the same as it was 15 years ago,” she said. “Communities change. The world hates change and it’s the only thing that brings progress.” Rapid change, Malone admits, is more difficult for people to accept, but a natural evolution is happening within the community, which she says will continue to change. Norris, in an interview with NPR about the National Geographic story, expressed optimism for the future as young people seem to embrace the change and deal with race. She said it still may not be easy, but it’s going to become easier for future generations. Contact the writer: kmonitz@standardspeaker.com 570-501-3589