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Fear in Beardstown

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Fear in Beardstown

Picture of Jeff  Kelly Lowenstein
Fear in Beardstown
Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Photographer Omar Robles and I witnessed many emotions during our recent trip to Beardstown in central Illinois.

We saw and insoluble pure joy that grandchildren provide grandparents, just to be alive and be themselves.

We saw the pride in the face of the owner of a store in Beardstown who described having made a dream come true with the opening of a clothing store that sells clothing for events such as baptisms, XV years, graduations and weddings.

We have seen the sadness and grief cast a shadow over the face of the same woman, as she described had been the victim of racism. Although the abuse had happened years ago, the wound is still open and fresh.

We have seen the pleasure that only good food and company can provide while two elderly white women chatting over lunch at La Taqueria, a Mexican restaurant in the town square.

We have seen the frustration etched in the expression of a teacher who feels you are not getting enough support from their colleagues and administration.

However, an emotion seemed to underpin many of the interactions we had with the residents of Beardstown: fear.

The fear seemed to come from multiple sources.

For some, the fear was about being in the country without papers, to inhabit the same areas prone to vulnerability precarious, like millions of other illegal immigrants across the country.

The memory of that time seemed to survive in even the people who already have roles that give them legal status. For some, even if they have the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness given by the founders of the nation, as those born on American soil, the memory still makes them walk the streets with uncertain step.

For others, fear came from working at Cargill , the main employer in the city, and one that, according to some, does not tolerate discord, or even public comment.

For some more, was in the experience of having had trouble with the police and fear of persecution directed specifically against them because they are Latino.

And for others, there was a fear that stems from working and living in a small town, where every move can be analyzed and considered insufficient, especially for those who were in town before and who have not yet fully accepted in their hearts newcomers.

It is important to consider the history of Beardstown.

Like thousands of American communities, Beardstown was a "sundown town" , a community where people who were not white could not go out after sunset.

That hostility is not distant past.

Indeed, the Ku Klux Klan was manifest in the community in 1996, a day after a Latino man killed a white man.

A Mexican man who has lived in Beardstown since the late nineties told me that when he got here, never left his house unless it was shoulder to shoulder with three companions.

Compared to those turbulent times, some residents say things are much quieter, safer and quieter.

Besides the presence of shops with products for Latinos in the town square are held annually for cultural festivals and African Latino communities in the city. These celebrations of communal identity served as a source of strength and fortitude, some say.

But that does not mean that fear has been overcome.

Fear prevents people accessing be cited or that they take a picture.

Fear causes people to talk more, once the recorder is off, much more than while it is rolling.

Fear makes people lower their voice or look over your shoulder when you talk.

The fear that prevents people from asserting their rights and fight against injustice.

Let me be clear about the time we were in the city, the people we saw and the depth of our understanding of the community.

We were in town for a full day.

We spoke to a small sample of people.

And we did not see everything the city has to offer.

However, its inhabitants we did see enough to know that, at least for some, despite the considerable progress that has been done, fear is a presence in Beardstown.

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