By Merry Pool, FI2W contributor
BROOKLYN, New York — The death of José Sucuzhañay, an Ecuadorian immigrant, who last December became the victim of a hate crime aimed at the Latino and LGBT communities, has turned from tragedy into a symbol of hope with the naming of a street in his honor.
On Saturday Aug. 1, representatives from the governments of Ecuador, New York City and the State of N.Y. along with police officers from Brooklyn’s 83rd Precinct and numerous family and friends, gathered for the unveiling of Jose Sucuzhañay Place, located at Bushwick Avenue and Kossuth Place. The corner marks the spot where, on December 7, 2008, the 31-year-old Ecuadorian who had come to the United States in 1998 was attacked with a bat and beer bottles while walking home arm in arm with his brother. Witnesses heard the aggressors yell anti-immigrant and homophobic slurs before they got into a car and drove away.
Watch City Council Christine Quinn speak at the ceremony:
José Lucero, the brother of Marcelo Lucero, another Ecuadorian who was also a victim of anti-immigrant hatred when he was stabbed to death on Long Island only a month before Sucuzhañay, said that while the street naming wouldn’t take away the pain of losing a brother, it would empower people who in the past have remained silent.
“More people are speaking out about abuse and injustice, they aren’t afraid,” he said.
In March, the Suffolk County Legislature passed Marcelo’s Law in honor of Lucero, which adds a fine to the sentence of anyone who commits a crime fueled by racial or ethnic bias.
Amidst the national debates over immigration reform and a federal hate crime amendment, the unveiling of José Sucuzhañay Place served as an example of both the advances made for immigrant rights and the work that remains to be done.
At the ceremony, Diego Sucuzhañay accepted the street sign that bears his brother’s name on behalf of their mother, Julia Quintuna. However, he said, “this sign should be received in my mother’s hands.”
Quintuna, who lives in Ecuador, had tried to come “but, despite the efforts of the offices of Senator [Charles] Schumer, Congresswoman [Nydia] Velázquez, and Councilwomen [Diana] Reyna and [Christine] Quinn, she couldn’t be here, and I think that’s the wrong message this country is sending,” Diego said.
Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez criticized a system that utilizes immigrants for the military but denies their families visas.
However, she praised the way that the community had reacted to Sucuzhañay’s death, a “tragic event, that instead of pitting one community or one race against each other, brought the best out of all of us.”
Ana María Archila, co-executive director of community group Make the Road New York, said that José’s death was just another reminder that “you don’t have to be gay to be killed by homophobia, and you don’t have to be undocumented to be killed by anti-immigrant hatred.”
Before the uncovering of the sign with his brother’s name, Diego Sucuzhañay thanked everyone for their support and asked for continued help in the effort to bring his mother to the United States to be present for the trial, which is pending.
“And I just want to say again –he added–, immigrant rights are human rights.”