Lucy Pozo fought hard not to let the people sitting in front of her see her cry.
The senior at East Rockaway High School stood before the district’s Board of Education after a Donald Trump flag surfaced during the school’s annual Sports Night event last month. For Pozo, it wasn’t just about what the former president stands for, but what the display of such a flag said about some of her classmates. Some of the same people she believes target her because of her Hispanic heritage.
“East Rockaway schools have failed me,” she said. “That flag, the reason why nobody was talking about it that day, is because we’re scared.”
Just weeks later, there was an outcry of a different sort in Rockville Centre. A woman there who was reportedly troubled by a large menorah in front of a Chabad center — a display she said was the beginning of an Orthodox Jewish push into the community reminiscent of what has happened to the Five Towns over the past couple of decades.
If the Orthodox community does move into Rockville Centre, the woman said, they will force businesses to close for the Sabbath. They will take over school boards, and send money away from the district. And then they will sell those schools “to the highest bidder.”
Many called the Rockville Centre woman’s comments antisemitic, and it’s nearly impossible not to agree. Pozo’s comments, however, were followed by a number of students earlier this month sharing much broader concerns about how minorities are treated at East Rockaway High.
These aren’t issues unique to East Rockaway High or Rockville Centre, and they aren’t limited to these specific groups. Even as deep as we are into the 21st century, hate continues to find a foothold in our society. While much of it is focused on the color of someone’s skin, it also involves gender and gender identity, religion, where our money comes from, disability, and who we love.
A recent Pew Research Center study revealed that a third of Asian Americans still fear they could be the victims of slurs, jokes and even violence over the perceived origins of the coronavirus pandemic. Locally, that has led to the founding of the Asian American Institute for Research and Engagement, designed to advocate for Asian Americans while using research and data to uncover the roots of the discrimination they face.
“We are all Americans,” said Woodbury’s Farrah Mozawalla, the first-ever Muslim department head in Nassau County government, who founded the new organization. “We all believe in the same values, and it’s now time for us to combat this hatred and discrimination. We need that to stop.”
The battle against hate is seemingly never-ending, but it’s a battle that must be fought. Yet it’s often unclear who is doing the battling. There are informal student and religious groups, as well as organizations like Mozawalla’s.
But Long Island has another weapon against such hatred that has been largely silent in recent months — the Nassau County Human Rights Commission.
It’s made up of 15 commissioners representing those of various races and ethnicities as well as those with disabilities, according to its website. Its stated mission is to “promote harmony among the diverse populations” of the county, through “persuasion, conciliation, investigation and education.”
Could there be a better time than now to promote that harmony? The work this commission does is important, but it can’t stand by while many of these issues fill the pages of your local newspaper, with the fear that things will get worse before they get better.
The commission hasn’t been completely idle. Its website is full of information on what people should do if they feel they’re victims of coronavirus-related discrimination. That’s vital information, for sure. But while the pandemic has dominated our lives over the past two years, community members are bravely stepping forward to expose other issues we just can’t ignore.
And if the Human Rights Commission isn’t addressing these issues, too few people will hear about them. Now is the time for it to step up.
We need to promote harmony. We need to embrace the very differences that make us Americans. And we need that persuasion, conciliation, investigation and education to get that done.