AA: Amilcar Arroyo, participant
PS: Paul Shackel, interviewer
Transcribed by Aubrey Edwards
July 22, 2022
PS: First, Amilcar, if you could spell out your name and tell us…
AA: Sure, Amilcar, which is A-M-I-L-C-A-R, and my last name is Arroyo. A-R-R-O-Y-O.
PS: Great, and thank you for taking the time to meet with us.
AA: My pleasure.
PS: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your history and why you came to this area?
AA: Sure. My name is as I said Amilcar Arroyo. I was born and raised in Lima, Peru. I had a normal life. I graduated from the University with a degree in business administration and start working in a mortgage bank in Lima, Peru, until the early 1980s when Peru went through that very, very bad inflation, about 1,000% of inflation a year. So the bank that I was working [at] closed the doors and I had to emigrate. And I came to United States. I didn’t have anybody here I didn’t know anybody here so I came to Miami in 1989. I remember I was like a robot when I was moving this way. If I didn’t move, I was dying. So I had to move.
Looking for a job in Miami, I started working four months in, in a cruise ship. A cruise ship that was going from Puerto Rico to Venezuela at a trip seven days and [I] went back to Miami. Looking for a job was hard. So I found a small ad in the Miami Herald that was looking [for] people to work in Pennsylvania. For [inaudible] meals, housing and transportation, so everything and I have only $10 in my pocket at that time. So I took that one, and I came to Hazleton. I traveled for two days in a school bus from Miami to Hazleton. Places on the 81 route. When I drive now, backup my memory back[s] up and say and I go on purpose. I go to those rest areas. And I sit in the same bench that I sat in 33 years ago and I sit there and say “what I’m doing here what [do] I have to do here?” Now I know what I did, what I do, and I will be doing in the future. That is the way that I came here to Hazleton, to pack tomatoes. I came to pack tomatoes as a migrant worker in Drums.
A very nice area where I live now, too. When I was driving those years, 33 years ago in the direct pick, pack tomatoes, fancy nice houses. One of those houses is mine now. So this is sometimes I say — some miracle. It is a miracle. Yes.
PS: So what community do you live in now and can you describe it?
AA: Sure. I live in Drums. Drums, it’s 10 miles away from Hazleton. But my business is still in Hazleton, my office is in Hazleton. I spend, very much 11 to 12 hours in Hazleton. And after, I go to my house to rest a little bit, but most of my time is in Hazleton.
PS: So what’s your favorite thing that you like most about your community?
AA: Oh, the most thing, what I like is new people that comes here. I like to talk to them if they if, they are Hispanic, [in their] language. If not, I try to be a welcoming person. That, when I came here the first time everyone was welcoming person to me. Even when the language was not Spanish. But, I came to the United States speaking, writing and reading English. I learned in my country. And, I know it’s hard to learn a new language. So that’s the best part of that I like, meet people, talk to people.
PS: So what’s your favorite thing in the community?
AA: Oh, when I read in the news about shooting, stabbing, or bad incident, and the part that I don’t like more is if it’s a Latino involved in that incident. And, like I said, I don’t like winter. That’s the other part I don’t like in this area. But, other than that I’m happy here.
PS: So how would you describe this region, and this region is Northeastern Pennsylvania, how would you describe it?
AA: Well, right now it’s a vibrant region, [it] is a vibrant area with a lot of future. The future of this area is unbelievable. If I go back on the time when I moved in, to this place 33 years ago, it was a quiet, very quiet town. Most of the people living here, elderly people like me, veterans of war. We have veterans from the Second [world] War here, at this time they passed away. The Korean War. Now we have a Vietnam War veterans and all the wars after Vietnam. They are living around here, but we didn’t see, I remember, children. Youth, youth population. Now we have the children and youth population in Hazleton, and Pennsylvania is growing. That is the part that I like here. That means future, when you see young population it’ future. And we are working to start working together, the two communities that we have here yet. My, my hope is one day we can see we are one community.
PS: It took a long time to get there.
AA: Oh yeah. Generations. Yeah, we are the second generation.
PS: So what do you think is important about the history of this region?
AA: The history is very rich. In fact, if we go back in Hazleton 60, 70 years ago with a coal mine that was a boom at that time, and see pictures of this Broad Street, [inaudible] of people working. We have two or three theaters here downtown. We have stores. This one was one of the biggest stores, like a Macy’s here with three floors with different merchandise. That is the Hazleton that disappeared in the early 80s when they start trying to revitalize Hazleton with no the coal, because we didn’t have a war at the time. The people didn’t use much, the coal. So I started working on the industrial parks that’s why I came. Can Do. Can Do is an organization in this area that created Humboldt Industrial Park. That, that was the beginning of the industrial era here in this area. Now, that Humboldt Industrial Park, after the Latino migration, which started 2000, is part of workers, warehouses, most of those are warehouse. And like I say, what is coming is, is great, is great.
PS: Yeah. How would you describe the work that you do now?
AA: My work is the media. I have a magazine. It used to be a newspaper. Since I was in high school, I was involved in media. I like to communicate with people, talk with people. So when I came here to this country, I was working in the field packing tomatoes, my mind always was looking for something to do. I started working in a big factory, which we do phone books, and I remember the phonebook of the new year was huge, like this. That company is closed. But when I was cleaning floors, I was pushing the big ball of paper to put the press machine, my mind usually will say “How go back to the kind of life professionally that I was used to do in Peru, working in a bank, in the same way that I try now?”
So when the Latino population start to migrate, moving into this area, I created a newsletter. That was the beginning. The newsletter grew up month by month until 56, 58, a big newspaper now is only a small magazine that is somewhere here. But that’s what I’m doing now. I’m a communicator. I do interviews for clients. I’m very active in the social media, and that’s the part of 73 years old. I don’t feel old. 73 years, 73 years old, you say “I’m old. I have to retire. I have to sit and watch my kids, my grandkids and just watch TV.” No, no, no, it’s not for me and it’s not for anybody that is my age, because at this time 73 is just middle age. You know, you have a future. Years ago, 50 years old, you can’t talk about future. Now, it’s amazing. I talk about future projects in my mind, and decided how the future goes.
PS: So when you’re not working with the media, what, say for instance, on the weekends, what do you like to do? What do you do on the weekends?
AA: So there’s more time, short periods of time, that I have off because I work Saturday and Sunday in community services. But what I like is to go with my grandson to the parks, to the lakes, be in the in the swimming pool, or visiting my granddaughters and they live they live two hours away from here. And also, there’s community events, I’m heavily involved in community events. I used to have the Latino Festival here in the community park years ago, but support the Chamber of Commerce, Can Do, Housing Authority. Those are parts of my life.
PS: So what other activities are you involved in? Community activities?
AA: Oh, I’m on the board of directors of Hazleton Integration Project, which is an organization that we serve the underserved people, especially children. We provide English as a second language, after school programs, now we are in the middle of a summer camp. It’s a little bit sad to say, but in a town that has 29,000 population, 70% are Latino, about 20,000. Latino people have a lot of young kids and children; we don’t have a swimming pool in town. We don’t have a sports complex. So to our organization Hazleton Integration Project, and our community center that is located in an old school, an old parochial school. We tried to provide how to fill that hole. We have to serve the children. Not only Latino children, every child that comes to us. We have right now 100 children going to enjoy summer camp. That’s one of my activities.
The other one is – I’m on the board of the housing authority. And housing is a problem right now, Hazleton has zero inventory in real estate, there’s no houses to sell. All the houses are sold. The one house come up for sale, I think in one week is sold. It’s funny, I want to bring this, if you put your house for sale, and I come and say “I pay you $100,000.” Here comes another guy and says “I give you $110,000 $120,000.” So it’s like an auction and the house [snaps his fingers] goes fast. That is Hazleton now. So housing, we are working how to provide housing for people that we have here. Elderly people, low income people, disadvantaged people, handicapped people. So we have projects. We did one project with housing in [inaudible] street and we’re trying to look to do another one. We need, housing is in trouble right now in this area.
PS: So what’s the renovations across the street? The Altamont Hotel?
AA: Sure. The Altamont’s one of the oldest hotels around here. They are, they will convert into, the first two or three floors in commercial offices, commercial areas. And the rest of the six floors will be housing, apartments, apartments for rent. That’s what they are doing. And they are looking to do that one in another old building on Church Street. It used to be a hospital, St. Joseph Hospital. Because we need apartments, we need housing in Hazleton. That’s what, they are doing that in the Altamont building.
PS: Are there particular challenges you and your community face and what of those challenges?
AA: Yes. The big challenge that we have here is working together. Understand that we are one community. Understand the language is not a barrier. Understand that we are different cultures. Understand that the new immigrants, they come here with different mentality. Take the time to learn how we live in the United States. This is a big challenge. The other one is schools, jobs, public services. This area was never thinking to get more population. They prepared to lose population. So now the school districts are overcrowded, the hospitals they are not able to serve, especially in the pandemic, you know.
So we have those challenges. The authorities, they have to prepare services for the people that come here. And this is not the end. I was reading last week, in Hazleton, in Hazleton, are coming four new plants. Talking about 4000 employees in the next five years. So you will multiply four by five, which is the regular family. It’s about 20,000 more people will be living in this area. So we have to prepare to serve those people. Yes, yes, it is. It is, like I said, it’s good. But it’s hard to be worried about that. Yes.
PS: So it’s anthracite coal history important to you and to your community?
AA: It’s very important to me. It’s important, because I learn, I learn about the anthracite. I learn about the past of this area, the importance of that industry years, years ago. But the sad part is, my community, we’re talking about Latino people, from 10, probably one is aware of that part of the history. The rest of the Latinos just don’t know, or they didn’t have a chance to see it. No, because we don’t have an organization that can provide that information. We have Eckley Miners’ [Village], we have the museums there. In Scranton we have also an organization that provides information [Anthracite Heritage Museum], but the new community, the Latino community, particularly, they come here to work and work and they have not too much time to visit, it’s sad to say. Years ago, where did I go, I got to see all things that we have in this area. What they do is just rest or travel to their homeland. Dominican Republic. 90% of the Latino people in this area comes from Dominican Republic. Yes. But like I said, it’s very important to me -the anthracite history.
PS: So what parts of anthracite coal history are important to you?
AA: The very important part to me is how it changed the economy that coal changed the way to live in this area. It was a [luminary?] was a very were healthy area since the coal, but the other part was the people that work there without no insurance, without no protection. It was sad to see pictures of children in the coal cracker [pickers] areas picking up coal at year seven, eight years old. That breaks my heart.
PS: So what’s important for your generation in the next generation to remember about anthracite coal history?
AA: It is very important to learn that we had to preserve and respect the natural resources. It’s very important to know that the coal provides us heating in homes, you can move a train with that. We can replace it with gas right now. It has a price that I never seen before. Using the coal and we have coal in this area here. That is to meet something that we have to learn to understand and rescue that part of the anthracite history.
PS: So can you tell us a little bit about the painting that’s behind you?
AA: Oh, that one. That’s a coal miner and you see that other coal miners with coal, probably coming out from a mine. Sad, you see the face, sad face. And it is hard, I have no idea – to go underground 100 feet down with no air, with no proper equipment. Just the helmet and light in the front. And when I saw that, I feel happy. The way that the new immigrants have many assistance, to teach me, it teach me that we have to respect the history, we have to learn from the history and we have to understand that everybody in this country is an immigrant. Everybody comes from the bottom. And this is America and where you can fulfill your dreams, the American dream. That’s my [inaudible].
PS: So is there anything else that you’d like to share with us about yourself, your family, your community or coal history?
AA: Sure. About myself, I would like to share that, I’d like to be alive yet to see Hazleton working together. To see people talking about we are Hazletonian, not you are Latino and I’m Anglo. And that’s my dream. About my family, see my grandchildren grow up. The people working very good, working people, professional. I would like to see a doctor in between my children because that was my ambition, to be a doctor. That was when you are young, you don’t give too much importance to the books, but I can’t complain my life is great. But my ambition since I can remember was to be a doctor. My dream is to be a doctor in one of my children, my grandchildren. My daughter didn’t want to go to the universities.
And from my community, I would like to see the Latino people being part of the public offices. I would like to see a mayor, city council, state representative. I run for the state representative, April of this year. But Latino people need to wake up and come out and vote, that was my big, how can I say, that made me sad. That having 70% of the Latino population here and lose an election. But, this is only one time, but there are too many opportunities now in the future. That’s my dream, to see Latinos serving this country to see Latino people, the second generation children of Latino parents and they are in university graduating and already they are professionals, be part of the government. That’s my dream. And about the community, like I say that [inaudible] Latino be more a part, integrate into the American life. Be a part of the American life. How we live here, that is basically respect, honesty, and family oriented.
PS: Well, thank you Amilcar…
AA: My pleasure.
PS: Arroyo. It’s been an honor and thanks for taking the time.
AA: Oh, anytime, Professor. No problem.