Saturday, March 09, 2002

Crime victims

Mexican community knows fear

        Fifty immigrants stood forlornly on the sidewalk, watching the hearse as it pulled away. Some swallowed hard; others blinked back tears.

        They looked lost — in grief, but also in questions.

        Must we say goodbye like this? What happens next? And above all, what becomes of our American dream?

        Ricardo Rangel-Tapia, 19, was shot and killed at 2:25 a.m. on Feb. 26 while he and three fellow immigrants were stopped at a red light in Mount Auburn. The shots came from an adjacent car of four African-Americans, police say. Just before one of them fired, another shouted an expletive followed by a reference to Mexicans, a witness has said.

        On Friday, friends and relatives of Mr. Rangel-Tapia attended a funeral Mass at St. Charles Church in Carthage, which ministers to the Hispanic community.

        “We're all worried,” said one of the mourners, Feliciano Rangel-Alfaro, 23. “Everyone is worried in Mexico.”

Family known here

        You may know some of the Rangel clan. Various cousins and uncles work at La Salsa restaurant in Oakley, where they keep up a lively banter with customers and one another. Their goodwill, along with Latin music on the loudspeaker, gives the place a warm, festive feel.

        Mr. Rangel-Alfaro, a cousin of the victim, takes English classes between his shifts at La Salsa. Others hold down second jobs, sending their earnings back to Mexico to support disabled relatives or pay for houses.

        Mr. Rangel-Tapia was one of the family's hardest workers. He recently had returned from Mexico a newly married man, and had planned on bringing his wife to the United States this week, friends said.

        Now, many relatives in Mexico want the immigrants to return home, Mr. Rangel-Alfaro says. But the men are torn between what they can accomplish here and a new sense of uncertainty.

        Mr. Rangel-Alfaro says he now feels a vague uneasiness around some African-Americans — something he hadn't experienced before. He recently left a car wash before his car was done, he says, because African-Americans were talking loudly nearby and he felt uncomfortable.

        How frustrating. One horrific act of violence puts an entire population on edge. This is why we have hate-crime legislation: to address not just the crime itself, but the ripple effect of its message.

Donations helped

        Mr. Rangel-Tapia's body will be returned to Mexico on Monday. Su Casa Hispanic Ministry raised about $7,000 for expenses.

        There were a few sizeable donations: from Tellers of Hyde Park, Rudy Alvarez of the Corinthian club and the New Beginning Covenant Church, a St. Charles priest says.

        But most of the money came in amounts less than $100. A 98-year-old nun from the Sisters of Charity sent $10 — the last of her monthly allowance.

        “One little guy who can hardly walk, who lives in the neighborhood, gave me $20,” says Sister Margarita Brewer, director of Su Casa Hispanic Ministry.

        It's not too late to send your own donation to Su Casa, as a gesture of thanks and sympathy to a humble, hard-working people.

        And the Rangel family is indeed that. On Friday, an uncle told me to pass along his thanks to everyone who had helped. Then he and his companions sadly drove away — all of them headed back to work.

       Karen Samples can be reached at (859) 578-5584 or at


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