EU: Eddy Ulerio, participant
PS: Paul Shackel, interviewer
Transcribed and translated from Spanish to English by Silvana Montañola
July 23, 2022
PS: If you could tell me your name and spell your name?
EU: My name is Edilio Ulerio, Eddy. It is E-D-I-L-I-O. U-L-E-R-I-O. Eddy. E-D-D-Y.
PS: So can you tell us a little bit about yourself and particularly about your family history and how you and your family decided to come to this area?
EU: I arrived in the United States, to New York in 2003, in January 2003. And I lived in New York, in Queens, for six months. After living six months in New York, a contact from a relative of mine told me about Hazleton and he told me, “In Hazelton there is a lot of work, there are many opportunities. You can go to Hazelton and when you are there you can bring your family.”
Because there was a part of my family that was in New York, so in May, 2003, I came to Hazelton alone. And after a month of being here I got a job and I started working in meat processor that is here in the park [Humboldt] and I worked there for two years. But in that same year, 2003, when I had been living here for two months, I brought a younger sister of mine from New York here and she soon started working.
After three months we were able to bring my older sister who had arrived from the Dominican Republic and our mother, also came with her because by that date, three months, we could be in Hazelton, rent a house and live together in that house. We lived there the first year. It was in Hazelton that we rented. We’ve been to Hazelton ever since. From 2003 to now.
Well, when I came to this country I had not yet married. I was single. But I had met my wife in the Dominican Republic and we had a relationship. After a year and a half of living in this country, I returned to the Dominican Republic, married my wife and after five years apart, traveling whenever I could, she came to this country with legal residence. My– Our first son was born in the Dominican Republic and our second daughter was born here in Hazelton.
PS: So what neighborhood do you currently live in and how long have you lived in the area?
EU: I have been living here in Hazelton since 2003, so I have been living in this city for nineteen years. I have always been in this area near Wyoming Street. I lived on the Green and then I was living on the Pine, which is a street that is close to here. Eh yes, I have always lived in the center of the city. And well, since I arrived here I have also tried to get involved in different activities to get to know what is in this city and experience other cultures, especially participating in parties, participating in cultural events.
PS: So what are your favorite parts of living in the community?
EU: Well one of my favorite things about living in this community is the diversity. Although sometimes there may be certain clashes, it is important that within diversity we can respect each other and that we can collaborate. I think that has been very important. From the beginning there has been some resistance here, but I think that little by little we are integrating and for me the most important thing has been that: being able to get involved in cultural activities and being able to participate in different boards of directors of the organizations that exist in this city – to be able to know and understand.
PS: So, what were your favorite things in this community? What are the least favorite things you do not like in this community?
EU: Well, I think I had said in the question that I sent that one of the things, and it’s not that I don’t like them, but rather that I understand that we are still in a process of change, I think there are things that are going to change, this is still needed, that there is more tolerance and that we can have representatives in the local government, who can help us to…to have a balance.
Because it is important based on respect, based on opportunities. But one of the things that I like the most about Hazelton is also, even though it has grown fast, there is still a certain tranquility, and people know each other. And the good people who want to do the right things are always more, and they get together so that those correct things are maintained, and what is not right then they try to correct it.
PS: So what kind of work do you do right now?
EU: Right now I am in the business of selling used cars. The newspaper, Latino News, I had it for seven years. 2013-2020, in the pandemic I stopped publishing the newspaper and then I started that business.
But I think it is important that there are media channels because they are presenting another reality of the community. Sometimes they wouldn’t say some things in some media and then it is very important that there are different voices. Right now I don’t have a newspaper, but I have some equipment that I want to start making videos…eh and to be able to start some things.
Sometimes the very economic circumstances make…and even more when considering the family that one wants to spend more time with…sharing more time with the family. Sometimes there is work like journalism that takes up a lot of your time. And since it takes up a lot of your time, it also takes away from your family, and ever since I came to this city I’ve wanted to change. I have changed jobs many times trying to find something that suits me.
Of course I like research, I like writing. I plan to update this book [La Inmigración Hispana en Hazleton: Resistencia, Cambios e Integración (The Hispanic Immigration in Hazleton: Resistance, Changes, and Integration)] because there is more information. This was published in 2019 and there is a lot…after one reads it, one finds that…that there are many things that were left out that it is very important that they are incorporated. And another thing, translate it into English, because many Anglo-Saxons have asked me – “why is it not in English?” They want to read it, many people in the community.
So one of the things that can make us understand each other, that there is a union, has to do with that, that the texts are in two languages, English, Spanish, so that we understand each other better. So I think it’s important and I have to translate it into English.
PS: So on the weekends when you are not working, what do you like to do with your family? What do you like to do on weekends?
EU: Well, generally we like to go to museums or, for example, in the art gallery they do a lot of artistic activities. For example, my youngest daughter is participating in some summer camps in the art league, painting and making things. Sometimes there are activities, for example cultural parties where people come to sing, jazz, or merengue, bachata, things that represent the different cultures that are here. So it is very nice because one gets to learn and one asks “and what is this? Why is it done like this?”
Also, the Mexicans ask because they want to understand, and I think that with the Downtown Hazelton Alliance for Progress, which is an institution we have been working with…the “First Fridays” that they do around Downtown, they visit businesses. People also come and participate in their cultural activities and it has been interesting to see that integration. And I like it.
I, for example, go with my family to parks because my small children like parks. But we also want to visit interesting places. For example, we went to Eckley Miners’ Village. We have gone…there is a place in Jim Thorpe [inaudible] which is about butterflies, a butterfly sanctuary. And so it is interesting that children get to learn all these things. I think that here the region needs more centers, more museums, that one can visit and learn about the history of anthracite, because we know that all the immigrants, many of the immigrants in this region, came from Europe to work in the anthracite coal mines and here there is a very rich history, very beautiful, that the new generations must know.
But well, anyway I think I don’t know all the places in the region that are important to visit and see what they have there and that part of the history that is told there is important that we also know it here.
PS: So, how would you describe our region? Northeastern Pennsylvania. How would you describe it?
EU: Well, it is a fairly rich region in terms of culture. I feel that people are hard-working people. People who like to celebrate. I have not felt as many problems here as other regions. People here interact, meet and perform activities. I believe that it is a very rich region, especially its history, which is why it is important that we know the history of the region in order to understand it.
In fact, I have researched and studied other books to be able to write this one, because I have learned a little more about what happened here: how the first immigrant settlements were here in the region and the hard work they were subjected to and many sudden changes, and it is important to know that history in order to celebrate it and to know that everyone who lives here who are descendants of those who first arrived, they are in a way jealous [perhaps a better word is “proud”] of their history, of their culture. And that one must respect, but that is why one must know first.
PS: So, what do you think is important about the history of the region?
EU: Well, the important thing is that this would not be what it is today if not for the immigration that came from Europe because this here was a poor region, it was a region that did not have much…they did have the mines, but they did not have the labor, that is, people who came to work for them, and that meant that Hazelton, for example, reached a time when it was the third most important city in the United States, because there was plenty. There was wealth.
And little by little it died when the mines began to close, especially when progress arrived, that is, electricity. That meant that people no longer wanted to use dirty energy, but instead preferred cleaner energy like electricity. And I believe that the crux is that, not forgetting where they come from or where we come from, so that in the future the many mistakes of the past are not repeated.
PS: So, are there particular challenges that your community faces, and what are those challenges?
EU: Well one of the factors that I think I have mentioned before is the fact that Hispanics are 70% of the population and we do not have representation in any sphere of government or in the school district. And it is important because sometimes because of the language barrier sometimes we do not understand the processes and it is very important that there are representatives who can explain this for the Hispanic community what is happening, and what is to be done so I believe that it is a challenge and in fact there are many Hispanics who are running for political positions to achieve that.
Because many times our people think that the decisions made by those who are now in power are at their convenience, not at the convenience of the entire community. Sometimes it may be like that, but we are also the ones who have to worry about having representatives because if we do not support people who reach those public political positions, then we cannot complain if…if those who are in power right now are doing changes or issues that favor them and not the whole community.
Because what it is all about is that we can think of a single community. An immigrant community, a diverse community, a community that needs diverse representation as well.
PS: So, is anthracite coal history important to you and is it important to your community?
EU: Yes, of course, yes. The people who came here knew that there were coal mines that were already closed. They came here to work in the factories. But somehow there is a legacy that remains from the anthracite coal mines. In fact, I think that there has been a lack here…perhaps we need to create a commission that can give tourists a tour in the region, come see what we have here, what we have there. Because there are many people who are unaware of everything that has happened.
That’s why I wrote that book in Spanish. For Hispanics to understand a little of how not only Hazelton but also the region was formed, and I think that education is needed to talk about the history of the anthracite coal mining and its legacy.
For example, we have participated in some meetings that Jamie Longazel has with Anthracite Unite, so we have participated in these activities and they are interesting. People have come from another area, from here in Pennsylvania, other cities, and we’ve gotten together here and talked about the working class. Due to the lack of opportunities that this current system of factories or industrial parks sometimes has, we have to think of another type of model because we are not going to depend on industrial parks all the time because in one way or another that brings poverty to the region. People are making money now, but in the end many people can get sick [financially].
We need a different type of economic model. Well, we are here fighting to achieve that, but returning to your topic, the important thing is that the history of the anthracite coal mine is well known and that many of the people who are descendants can talk about their parents about their grandparents, since they lived here, how strong they were.
I understand that yes, sometimes they have problems with the language. They spoke different languages. They didn’t understand each other. There was discrimination. There were many things. But there was something in common, which was the desire to prosper, to move the family forward. That the family had a chance in America.
PS: So tell me what part of anthracite history is worth remembering for your generation and the next generation?
EU: Perhaps the important thing about history for my generation and the next generation is that, for example, in the case of the next generation, it will be something more interesting because they come here to Hazelton or to this area, they are studying with young people who may be the grandchildren, great-grandchildren of those who came to work in the coal mines and at school they get to learn the story.
So those guys when they grow up are…they’re going to be different people. That is, they are children of immigrants but they are not immigrants. They were born here. In the case of us who come, move as adults from our countries, because the transition is done little by little and the important thing is that we feel part of it and we want our children to be part of it, too.
But they are also going to have something that surpasses us, which is the fact that they were born and have known the region and its history, and above all, knowing about their classmates what their parents and grandparents experienced in this area. I think it is something that will be interesting.
PS: So talk a little bit about your book, and tell us what we should come away knowing about your work? What are the major themes that we should know about?
EU: Ok, I wanted to write this book, Hispanic Immigration in Hazelton, and it has a subtitle “Resistance, Changes and Integration” because that is what really happened when the Hispanic community began to settle in this region in the 1990s or at the end of the 80s, because there was some resistance because they are people who come from another place with another culture. The natives said, “we don’t understand,” and at first they felt a certain fear, no, a certain strangeness.
So change…of course there has been change because immigration was growing. In 2000 there were only 1,117…1,132 immigrants in Hazelton but in 2010 there were 9,000…almost 10,000 immigrants, and the Hispanic community grew by 735 percent compared to 2000. In a decade, immigration grew a lot. So the integration process is now taking place little by little because there are no longer those tensions from before.
Now there are more…there are still elements to combat. There are still things that have to change, but now you don’t feel as much pressure as when Hispanics arrived in this city. I think that has been improving a little. And my decision to write this book was for the new people and the young people to know a little about history. What was the past.
For example, the first two chapters are about European immigration. The anthracite mine and all the conflicts that were between the first European immigrants here in Hazelton. And then the decline of the anthracite coal industry, and then the new model with factories or industrial parks, which meant that immigrants came from other states to work in the industrial parks.
Because they had the parks, but they needed them, because there came a time when Hazelton…after the mines were closed, it began to die. It was a town that needed to be rescued and the local leaders got together and came up with a plan on how to make Hazelton a productive town again. So they thought of creating these industrial parks and then they needed immigration – labor so they could do those jobs. And that meant Hazelton blossoming again. But at the same time it also meant a certain bitterness from the residents of…older ones who did not see the newcomers with good eyes. But little by little, as I said before, that has been changing. I think we are in a better moment.
PS: So, is there anything else you want to tell us about you, your family, or your work?
EU: I don’t have much more to say because well…after a while I have a lot of family here in Hazelton now. And I know a lot of people here, because I am old. As I said before, I have been committed because once we met and we thought of forming the Hispanic professional society to try to help Hispanics achieve a degree equivalency. They come with university degrees like that, so here we are through institutions like this…You see…[paper ruffling]…says World Education Services…so what these institutions do…agencies…that recognize that Bachelor’s Degree.
So we can work here because we are already recognized so there is a process from the agencies. We in the Hispanic professional societies submitted a document and delivered it to the state representatives at the capitol here in Harrisburg, and they submitted it, the House of Representatives submitted the project that we wrote, and then they approved a law that immigrants who come with a profession, with a Bachelor’s Degree, they no longer have to search for these agencies. It was a long time ago that I searched. If not, they can already do it in the state.
We achieved that with the Hispanic professional society. So we have also achieved in the state that the exams for some licenses, especially life insurance and car insurance, can now be taken in Spanish. Before they were in English nothing else. Now they are in Spanish and Chinese. So we have been concerned and we have been fighting for these things because we want professionals to integrate into…Here…above all we have spoken with institutions so that they can give them work. And I think it has been important. We have been immersed in social issues for a long time. And what we want is good for the region.
PS: Okay. Thank you very much.