Luis Ramirez came to the U.S. from Mexico six years ago to look for work, landing in this town in Pennsylvania's coal region. Here, he found steady employment, fathered two children and, his fiancee said, occasionally endured harassment by white residents.
Now he is headed back to Mexico in a coffin.
The 25-year-old illegal immigrant was beaten over the weekend after an argument with a group of youths, including at least some players on the town's beloved high school football team, police said. Despite witness reports that the attackers yelled ethnic slurs, authorities say the beating wasn't racially motivated.
Crystal Dillman, the victim's 24-year-old fiancee, who is white and grew up here, said Ramirez was often called derogatory names, including "dirty Mexican," and told to return to his homeland.
"People in this town are very racist toward Hispanic people. They think right away if you're Mexican, you're illegal, and you're no good," said Dillman, who has two young children by Ramirez and a 3-year-old who thought of him as her father.
On Dillman's fireplace mantel hangs a medallion of Jesus that Ramirez was wearing the night he was beaten. Ramirez had an imprint of the medallion on his chest, marking where an assailant stomped on him, she said.
Police Chief Matthew Nestor acknowledged there have been problems as the community—the birthplace of big band musicians Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey and home of Mrs. T's Pierogies—has tried to adjust to an influx of Hispanics, who now comprise as much as 10 percent of the population.
Teenagers have sprayed racially tinged graffiti and yelled racial slurs at the newcomers, he said.
"Things are definitely not the way they used to be even 10 years ago. Things have changed here radically," Nestor said. "Some people could adapt to the changes and some just have a difficult time doing it. ... Yeah, there is tension at times. You can't deny that."
Retired Philadelphia police Officer Eileen Burke, who lives on the street where the fight occurred, told The Associated Press she heard a youth scream at one of Ramirez's friends after the beating to tell her Mexican friends to get out of Shenandoah, "or you're going to be laying next to him."
Arielle Garcia and her husband, who were with Ramirez when he was beaten late Saturday, said they had dropped their friend off at a park but returned when he called to say he had gotten into a fight.
She saw someone kick Ramirez in the head, she said, and "that's when he started shaking and foaming out of the mouth."
The Garcias said they heard the youths call Ramirez "stupid Mexican" and an ethnic slur.
Burke, the former Philadelphia officer, said she saw shirtless youths swarming around Ramirez, called 911 and went outside, when she heard a youth yell obscenities and make the get-out-of-Shenandoah remark.
Ethnic slurs against immigrants from racists?
Calls of violence (and death threats) towards immigrants?
Xenophobia run amuk?
Hmm, I wonder if conversations in Shenandoah Pa prior to this horrific beating echo the nonsense we currently hear in Danbury...
Food for thought.