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To whom it may concern (yes, you!):


Every person who feels the tug of conscience or necessity at this important juncture in the political life of our society must decide on how to respond to it.  Some will do nothing. Others will give their all.  But each one of us, publicly or privately, must one day reckon with the consequences of the choice we make.


José A. Villanueva, Retired Judge

As a member of Cleveland’s Latino community and who is grateful for everything he has received from this wonderful Nation, I also recognize she has not always fully embraced my community and other communities of color. The last four years of the current federal Administration have been particularly shameful.


The assault on immigrants seeking refuge in America, overwhelmingly from impoverished Central American countries, has been despicable.  Many thousands of children have been separated from their families by the government. Many children separated from their families at the border have been “lost” in a labyrinthine and largely impenetrable system for long periods. Too many have been cast adrift; some for years. Others, perhaps, are destined never to be reunited with their families.


Though no grand jury has issued the deserved indictment, the American people can nevertheless render their verdict this November. We must remove this Administration.


Also let us not forget that the fate of 700,000 or so DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) enrollees most likely hangs in the balance in the near term, notwithstanding the recent reprieve granted to them by the Supreme Court. It would be the height of betrayal to remove these young individuals, who are as “American” as any native-born child, from this country. They came out of the shadows in good faith so that our government would recognize them for what they are: contributors deserving of a secure place in our society. We cannot allow them to be dispatched to an uncertain fate in countries in which they would instantly occupy the status of “foreigners”. What a cruel irony that would be!


I myself was born in Utuado, Puerto Rico and brought to the Mahoning Valley and its bubbling steel-making cauldrons as a child of 5 years of age. I came as a citizen by virtue of my birth place. I was forged into an “American” by virtue of my emersion in and commitment to my new home. My parents believed in an American ideal, and they never wavered in that belief, even in the face of the slights and slurs sometimes directed at them and their compatriots by insensitive people.


But my parents, both deceased for some time now, would have been appalled by the lack of respect and disregard for Puerto Ricans demonstrated by the current Administration.  Puerto Ricans, hard workers, have always been good for America. The children of La Perla del Caribe (“the Caribbean’s pearl”) have died in every war fought by the United States since 1917. My parents would have despaired, as have many of us, at the callous disregard for Puerto Rico in the aftermath of the devastation inflicted by hurricane Maria.


And they surely would have wept at the thought that the President of the United States, successor to the legacies of Lincoln, Truman, F.D.R., and Kennedy, would trivialize our tethered journey of over 120 years by offering to sell us to the highest bidder.  We cannot withstand four more years of this unprincipled lunacy.          


Latinos and people of color make up a large part of the “essential workers” in America.  Essential workers are not just trained medical personnel or members of safety forces, though Latinos also number among their ranks. But more often they include those who pick our food out in the fields. It also includes the men and women who take care of the mess after the heroic work of doctors and nurses is done in our frenetic medical facilities. They scrub and clean and wipe down and disinfect in the aftermath, often without adequate personal protection equipment (PPE).  They keep supermarkets stocked, clean and open. And they expose themselves to the ghastly prospect that engaging in their livelihoods may kill them due to Covid19 infections. 


Latinos and people of color do much of the work severing, cleaning and packaging the meat that comes to stores where the rest of America can go and purchase it standing a safe six feet apart from other shoppers and protected by masks (at least those who choose to wear them).  Meat packing industry laborers are often forced to report to work despite deadly working conditions by employers who have been given immunity from legal liability by the Administration.


Essential workers are not “expendable” workers.  Since they are largely powerless, those of us with voices must step up to help protect them.


And Latinos feel the outrage when our African American brothers and sisters die in the streets and are denied long overdue racial justice. We can see how the disabled and LGBTQ communities are increasingly marginalized. All the while white supremacists eagerly “stand down and stand by” awaiting further orders from a desperate autocrat wannabe.


Latinos of conscience also want to change the regrettable trajectory in which our civil society and civil discourse appear headed.  First and foremost, there must be a restoration of a dispassionate respect for the Rule of Law and its evenhanded application.  The criminal justice system cannot continue to veer off course as it appears to be.


When the call for “law and order” simply becomes a bludgeon, Latinos, communities of color and the poor are victimized. When the rule of law is distorted into an “us versus them” calculus and particular citizens are demonized, armed militias and certain elements itching for a makeover of America feel empowered to take matters into their own hands. It does not help that the highest office seems to be encouraging them. This is one of the many dangers presented by this Administration. If we continue along this course, the precipice will not be far off. 


That is why I and many other Latinos across the state of Ohio have engaged with LatinOHs for Biden/Harris. Though some may regard this a cliché we intend to do our part to help “restore the soul of America”. 


Truth telling must be restored.  Facts must guide us. The “pande-cide” (ignoring the science that dictates otherwise and allowing the coronavirus to spread and kill) has to be stopped.  Our people are dying.


So, we phone bank; walk door to door; produce videos expressing our concerns and share them widely; talk to our family members and friends; ride around Cleveland streets blaring our happy music and a positive message (in two languages) through loud speakers encouraging the community to engage through voting.  


America is ailing and she needs us. When our decency and democracy are allowed to wither, make no mistake, among the first casualties will be Latinos, communities of color and the devalued.  Latinos must draw the line and take a stand.  NOW!


If you agree, then heed the words of the Honorable John Lewis. It is time for each one of us to “do something-say something”LatinOHs for Biden/Harris invites you to do what you can.


This part is easy: vote and get others to vote. Vote for hope. Vote for Biden-Harris.


It is the only path forward.




José A. Villanueva, Retired Judge

Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, General Division
October 20, 2020



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