Cambrians gave a standing ovation to a pharmacist who was the target of racism when he was introduced Wednesday at the end of forum prompted by his experience.
A nearly full house of about 100 people turned out at the Cambria Center for the Arts to hear a panel put together by the Anti-Defamation League discuss causes of and responses to racism in the wake of spoken and written comments directed at Alvin Ferrer.
The incidents, first made public in a column by John Brannon published in The Cambrian and The Tribune, sparked a flurry of responses condemning racism and supporting Ferrer, who purchased a Cambria business in 2012.
In the first incident, Ferrer, who was born in the Philippines and came to the U.S. when he was 4, was waiting at a Cambria business when a woman stared at him before saying, “You look like you’re Chinese. I don’t appreciate your coming into town and taking over white people’s jobs.”
And when Ferrer sent out a bulk mailing of postcards, he got two anonymous “nasty notes” in his mailbox, he said.
“In 700 columns over 20 years,” Brannon said, “I never had a response like this.”
The responses lamented and condemned the incidents.
“A community is defined by what it will not put up with,” Cyndi Silverman, regional director for the ADL district that stretches from Westlake for Paso Robles, said at the forum. “(Cambria) is such a fabulous, tight community.”
Three hate crimes have been reported in Cambria in the last five years, said panelist Jim Voge, a commander with the county Sheriff’s Office. Two, including the incident Ferrer reported, were directed at residents. One involved a slur about sexual orientation, as was a third incident involving a visiting victim subject to hate speech by another visitor.
In the same time period, there have been a total of 10 incidents in the county, including those in Cambria, Voge said.
“I really do think it’s an aberration,” said Voge, a Cambria resident. He emphasized that law enforcement wants to hear about incidents and officers will do everything they can to investigate and prosecute hate crimes.
Historical incidents of racism include how Chinese were treated in the 19th century when they came into the county to build roads, railroads and mines, said Cal Poly professor emeritus Dan Krieger, another panelist. Racist incidents included cutting off Chinese workers pig-tailed hair while they slept.
Krieger grew emotional as he described witnessing a Japanese kindergarten classmate getting beaten up in Long Beach during World War II, when America was fighting Japan. Krieger went home and told his father. His father told Krieger that as a boy in 1917 he was given a dachshund for his birthday. With America fighting Germany in World War I at the time, Krieger’s father and his house were stoned, and the dog killed, just because of the family’s German surname.
Panelist Catherine Ryan Hyde said that people can try to conceal sexual orientation or gender identification to “save your skin” — an option not available to Chinese immigrants who faced racism.
But concealing a person’s true identity destroys the soul, said Ryan Hyde, a Cambria resident and author.
“You have the right to exist, you have a right to be who you are,” she said.
“We need to have the courage of our convictions” opposing racism, said panelist Elizabeth Myer, a Cal Poly professor specializing in bullying.
“(Victims) assume everybody is against you. … (We) need to be on the side of the victim. To be passive is to be on the side of the bully. Fear of being victimized keeps people from standing up.”
At the close of the forum, Ferrer thanked the crowd for attending.
“It means so much to me and my family. … When I came here, I had a question for the (prior pharmacy) owner: ‘My skin, my eye shape, stand out. Is that a problem here?’ “He said, ‘if you treat them right, you’ll have no problem.’
“One or two rotten apples don’t spoil it,” Ferrer concluded. “We can thrive here.”
REPORTING HATE CRIMES
Hate crimes can be reported anonymously by calling Crime Stoppers’ 24-hour hotline at 549-STOP (7867) and online at sanluisobispocounty.crimestoppersweb.com. Callers are eligible to receive a cash reward if their information leads to a felony conviction.