March 15, 2002

Latino lawyers, groups receive same hate mail

By Lisa Fernandez
Mercury News

San Jose - In the past four days, more than 40 Latino attorneys and community groups from San Jose to Washington, D.C., have received hate letters containing a white powdery substance, and some community leaders worry the list could grow larger.

The vitriolic, one-page, typed form letter calls Latinos drug users and prostitutes, rails against bilingual education and says everything Latinos have is due to the generosity and leadership of whites.

Tests performed on the white powder in the letters have proved negative for anthrax. But they have frightened some recipients into worrying about what could happen next.

"I was scared," said Robert Salinas, who received a letter Saturday at his Oakland law office. When a fine, white mist from the envelope floated into the air, he called 911. The envelope had no return address, but as with all the letters it was postmarked from Oakland.

"I was shaken up for the rest of the night," Salinas said. "What concerns me is that there's this group out there that's very angry. They used every negative stereotype. What else are they willing to do?"

The letter is signed by a self-described legal Indian immigrant. A woman by that name who lives in San Ramon tearfully denied she was the letter's author, and two Latino lawyers said the FBI and a postal inspector have indicated they don't believe the woman is responsible.

The Mercury News is not naming her because she is not a suspect.

"We are family-oriented," the woman said. "We are victims. We ourselves are immigrants."

She declined to say more.

"We're working this as a hate crime," FBI spokeswoman Nancy Duncan said. "But we're not commenting any further than that because we're concerned about copycats."

There was a rise in hate crimes and anthrax scares across the country after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the East Coast anthrax deaths that followed. But those reports appear to have subsided in the past few months — for example, the state attorney general, in a survey that focused only on anti-Arab hate crimes, said reports of those crimes dropped from nearly 10 a day in September to less than one a day in January.

The attorney general's report didn't address the level of hate crimes against Latinos in California, and those receiving the letters said they were surprised at the number the perpetrator sent.

Form letter sent to many

"I've been called names like this in the past; it's meant to be degrading and dehumanizing," said Miguel Marquez, statewide treasurer for the La Raza Lawyers Association of California. "Of course it doesn't feel good. But I think it's going to empower our community. No one is really scared, even in these times, with terrorist threats and anthrax scares. But I think we're more miffed, like, what's going on? Why would they do this to us? We're trying to help people here."

Letters were also received by about 30 Latino lawyers in the East Bay; La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley; the Law Center for Families and Unity Council, in Oakland; the Latino Issues Forum in San Francisco; and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund in Sacramento and San Francisco.

The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials and the League of Latin American Citizens, both in Washington, D.C., also received letters Tuesday, La Raza officials said.

Mailing list suspected

Christopher Arriola, state president of La Raza and a Santa Clara County deputy district attorney, has been serving as the clearinghouse for the number of letters received. He has been tallying the number of e-mails from Latino groups and attorneys who have reported receiving the letter.

Arriola received one of the letters Tuesday at the post office box for La Raza in San Jose, but didn't open it because he said he could feel granules inside the letter.

At first Arriola, who prosecutes career criminal cases, said he thought the letter was sent by a disgruntled defendant. But because of the large-scale mailing and the contents of the letter, he said it's "obvious this person is deranged."

The author of the letter rattles off a litany of slurs and swear words, then adds: "And by the way, watch out for the white powdery stuff in this envelope."

Arriola said while he's not happy about the letters, some good can come from it.

"I think this has galvanized the community," he said. ". . . we should speak out against any type of hate crime and condemn it."

(Reprinted from the San Jose Mercury News, March 13, 2002.)

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