Editor's note: We received a raft of feedback regarding Kristen Hinman's March 1 feature, "Valley Park to Mexicans: ¡Hasta La Vista, Baby!" Many of the letters appear below. More comments can be found accompanying the story online at www.riverfronttimes.com.
Down in the Valley
A violation of the Fair Housing Act: Thank you for Kristen Hinman's story. The Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing Opportunity Council (EHOC) is a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit against the City of Valley Park because we believe that these anti-immigrant ordinances violate the federal Fair Housing Act. Indeed, your article gave us more evidence to prove our case.
The two situations Mayor Whitteaker credits with persuading him on the need to crack down against "illegal immigrants" relate to a Mexican family and Mexican workers all apparently in the United States legally. The mayor's assumption that these individuals are "illegal immigrants" uncovers his anti-Hispanic bias. In fact, most Latinos in the U.S. are citizens. Any ordinance developed with the intention of keeping Mexicans out of Valley Park is a clear violation of the Fair Housing Act.
A look at the organizations funding Valley Park's legal defense further reveals the deep-seated racism which is fueling this anti-immigrant agenda. On February 24, the mayor attended a fundraiser sponsored by the Minutemen, the Missouri Constitution Party, the John Birch Society and the League of Southern States, all of which are tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center as hate groups or organizations with ties to hate groups. We at EHOC are proud to be standing with property owners who have demonstrated that they would rather risk stiff penalties than participate in discrimination. I hope that after reading this article, others in Valley Park will have the courage to stand up and insist that their city change course.
Mira Tanna, assistant director, Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing Opportunity Council
Hinman missed the point: Kristen Hinman provides an interesting snapshot of some people who may have less-than-perfect motives in opposing illegal immigration. But the story makes light of something that is of concern to many who are not rednecks or bigots: our total failure to control illegal immigration and the impact this can have on our communities.
Such a law isn't being proposed in Ferguson, where I live. But I looked at a house for sale a few months ago and was shocked to find that the inside of the cute little home was absolutely destroyed. A neighbor told me that the house had been inhabited by about fifteen Mexicans, in violation of Ferguson's municipal occupancy code. I'm not sure why they eventually left, but the house was in foreclosure. Had this happened next door to me, I'd have been furious. How about you?
The United States has a liberal immigration policy, allowing legal entry to people from all over the world. As a result, the percentage of Americans who are foreign-born stands at its highest point in more than half a century. I don't think it's unreasonable to demand that those who would come here do so in a lawful manner. And in the absence of a working federal policy to deal with illegal immigration, local governments will continue to find the need to act, just as they have in Valley Park.
Nick Kasoff, Ferguson
Destroying ourselves from within: For decades America's enemies have predicted that this nation would eventually be destroyed from pressures within as opposed to outside influences. Kristen Hinman's article underscores this prediction.
My wife, a legal immigrant, followed the rules many years ago to gain U.S. citizenship. They included a three-year waiting period, written and oral examinations on American history and government and a demonstrated ability to read and write English. If she could do it the right way, why can't the illegals follow her example? Accolades should go to Mayor Whitteaker, an avowed politician of liberal persuasions. The mayor has taken a strong stand against illegals despite the fact that survey after survey indicates that they would support his political party.
Richard H. Gerding, Concord Village
Dontspeakforme: Most mainstream Americans of Hispanic roots do not support illegal immigration or amnesty as a solution to the problem in our country. Our families immigrated legally and respect the laws, customs, rules and norms of this great nation and we expect everyone else to do the same.
Please see "You Don't Speak for Me," a national coalition of Hispanic Americans speaking out on illegal immigration, at www.dontspeakforme.org.
M. Davies, Doylestown, Pennsylvania
Whitteaker's a redneck: Mayor Jeffrey Whitteaker of Valley Park is a racist redneck who probably loves the Ku Klux Klan! Judging from Kristen Hinman's article, Valley Park should be located in some redneck Alabama or Mississippi town. I can't believe that the governor of Missouri would allow one of his state's public officials to air his racist views to the media. I guess all of Whitteaker's ancestors were born in America, because he thinks that none of his family were immigrants.
Luis Martinez, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland
Ashamed of where I live: I am a resident of Valley Park, although after reading Kristen Hinman's article I am embarrassed to say so. On a weekend trip home from college, all I want to do is turn around and go back. I am thoroughly disgusted by the comments of our mayor and fellow residents. They should be absolutely ashamed of themselves!
I find it sickening that the whole issue of illegal immigration seems to be far from the minds of our residents. However, the fact that resident Lionel Hall's Hispanic neighbors were "yelling stuff, talking Spanish, where you couldn't understand them and shit" seemed to be so important. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe what those neighbors were doing was speaking Spanish. If you're going to make ignorant comments, at least do it the right way, without making yourself look like even more of an idiot than you already are.
These people give our town a bad name, and in no way are a valid representation of all of our citizens. They should do us all a favor and just quit talking, so at least some of us can maintain the small amount of diminishing pride that we have left.
Aubreigh Davis, Valley Park
Watch out for the hate mail: As a new Valley Park resident, I am glad the article was written to hopefully put some pressure on the mayor. Kristen Hinman is a wonderful writer, not just because of the content, but because the article was well-written. I hope she doesn't get a lot of hate mail, because I am sure some racist asshole is going to e-mail her. Well, at least the one who can read.
Mallory Box, Valley Park
Blame it on mass myopia: The mayor says: "The key word is 'illegal.' Why doesn't anyone get that?" What his supporters don't get is that the new law turns landlords into immigration agents by putting the responsibility on them to verify tenants' immigration status. Say he proposed a law that says, "No one can sell gasoline to drunk drivers." Sound good? Surely, no one would say it's OK to sell gas to a drunk driver! The problem is that you would then have turned all gas-station attendants into police deputies, because it would be their responsibility to assess sobriety or inebriation.
The question then becomes: Do you want to deputize an entire group of people (landlords, gas station attendants, etc.) to be law enforcers? I think most people who are far-sighted enough to understand how government works would answer no. Unfortunately for Valley Park landlords, the people that vote there aren't.
Brad Treft, Chesterfield
There's more where that came from: Please keep up the good work on the story. It hasn't reached the surface yet. The un-American hatred in that town reminds me of the South during the civil-rights movement. Thank you again.
Steven Lee, St. Louis
Judge a town by its mayor: Your article showed me why I would never want to waste my time taking up residence in that community. Racial discrimination is so discouraging when it pops up from time to time in everyday life I couldn't imagine living in a community where the city leaders decide to make racism a part of their everyday agenda. Even though specific nationalities were not mentioned in the actual wording of the ordinances, I think the mayor made very clear his stereotypical opinions of Mexicans and Hispanics, as well as his intentions for passing these ordinances. The mayor failed to give any substantial reason for these ordinances in the first place, and every reason he did bring up lacked factual evidence to back it up. He even admitted that he had never spoken to a Hispanic member of the community.
The residents of Valley Park need to speak up against these ordinances. The fact that the city attorneys of Valley Park advised the mayor against the interview for fear of racial slurs such as "beaner" and "wetback" slipping out of his mouth only tells me that those words must be a part of his regular vocabulary.
Valley Park, you are only as good as the people you elect to represent you, and the fact that this man continues to hold his position election after election tells me an awful lot about your community.
Amanda Ballance, St. Louis
Ian Froeb's January 18 feature story about printmaker Tom Huck, "Evil Ink," quoted Mark Pascale, associate curator of prints and drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago, commenting on a show of Huck's work at the Art Institute of Chicago. Pascale informs us that the exhibition was mounted at the Aron Packer Gallery in Chicago.