Patchogue Village took its first of many steps today to becoming a city of peace.
On Monday, the Patchogue-Medford library, members of the Long Island Peace Pole project, village officials, and various other community organizations gathered to celebrate International Day of Peace by planting two Peace Poles in honor of two deceased members of the community: Marcelo Lucero and Nina Uchida Friedberg.
A Peace Pole is an internationally-recognized symbol of the hopes and dreams of the entire human family, standing vigil in silent prayer for peace on earth, according to the Peace Pole Project.
The two poles in Patchogue were the first two planted for the project.
The group’s mission is to involve as many youth groups as possible in the planting, as well as have towns, like Patchogue, be recognized as a City of Peace.
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The first peace pole was planted at Carnegie Library for Marcelo Lucero — a 37-year-old Ecuadorian immigrant who lived in Patchogue for 15 years, working various jobs to send money home to his family in Gualaceo, Ecuador.
On Nov. 8, 2008, Lucero was killed by a group of teenagers in an act of racial violence. In the years following his death, his brother, Joselo Lucero, has dedicated his life to educating communities about the dangers of discrimination and intolerance towards immigrants.
“My brother’s death created another culture, created new meaning in my life, which is so difficult for me,” Joselo said. “I’m tired of having people in my community being discriminated against.”
He spoke on the division he sees not only on Long Island but across the country. He called on politicians and community members to take action in making places like Patchogue a safer place for immigrants.
“In the last 12 years, while I was going to schools and talking about bullying and hate crimes, I thought I was doing something good for the people that will come to this country, for the new generation,” he said. “In the last three years, we’ve seen so much division — we can always find a common ground and fix it.”
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Patchogue Village Mayor Paul Pontieri spoke about the day of Lucero’s murder, and how that day reminds him of how important it is to raise the younger generation to celebrate diversity in the community.
“During our lifetime, we recognize certain events as game-changers — it can never be as it was before,” Pontieri said. “As a lifelong resident of the Village of Patchogue, and mayor for 16-plus years, Marcelo’s death changed who I am and how I perceive others — it also reminded me that our diversity is what marks the strength of our community.”
Susan Perretti of the North Country Peace Group said on the night Lucero died, she was at the Congressional Church participating in a World Peace party. After the event, she said she and those who attended felt so empowered and uplifted.
“The next morning when I saw the cover story about Marcelo death, and I saw his picture, it was like my heart sank,” Perretti said. “I kept saying, ‘How could something like this happen right in the same village not far from where we were on Main Street?’”
Perretti recalled a tale about a grandfather and grandson talking about love and hate, which is described as “two wolves that live in each of us.” The boy asked which one is greater, and the grandfather said it is the one you feed.
She said she hopes this peace pole in honor of Marcelo will serve as a reminder during these difficult times to choose love, and keep believing that peace will follow.
“That’s a story I think about often, especially during these times we are going through,” Perretti said. “Those who knew [Marcelo] said he was a kind man, a loving son, a hard-worker, and a religious person — I am honored to be here to dedicate this peace pole in his memory. May it always remind us that we have a choice: Which wolf do we feed?”
The second pole was planted in the rear garden of the Patchogue-Medford Library for Nina Uchida Friedberg, a 40-year resident of Patchogue and Brookhaven. She was a former president of the Unitarian Fellowship of Bellport, a member of the South Country Peace Group, and served as the Social Action Chair of the UUFB, and several other community organizations.
Attendees of the event remembered Friedberg as a “staunch and spirited” advocate for peace and justice throughout her life.
“If you knew her, if you understood her, you were very impressed by her,” Pontieri said, “She was 4-foot-something, but a towering presence in this community.
One of her close friends who spoke at the event, Michelle Santantonio of the South Country Peace Group, teared up as she told the story of Friedberg being her matron of honor at her wedding.
“We became fairly close friends, she wasn’t just all work, she liked to laugh too, and that made it even more special,” Santantonio said. “I asked Nina to be my matron of honor, I felt closer to her than my own sisters because Nina cared about all of the things that I care about.”
Friedberg was born in Brooklyn and was both of Japanese and Russian descent. Her daughter, Marian Russo, said she dealt with discrimination her entire life, and with that hardship, she understood how to fight.
Russo recalled going to a peace vigil with her mother during the Vietnam War, where she held a candle and wore an anti-war armband — The Moratorium to End the War of Vietnam — to elementary school.
Instead of standing for the pledge of allegiance during that time, Friedberg had the school allow her daughter to stand out in the hallway.
“Peace was her driving force. My mother was a very courageous person,” Russo said. “I was an activist from an early age, but that was because my mother taught me.”
Friedberg’s last act before her death was working with Russo on a flyer that talked about the cost of war and the value of peace.
“So much of what we need in our country could be achieved if we just had peace,” Russo said. “We could help so many people, and that is the value of peace, but it’s also the lives lost by our children, our family members that go off to war — just any human suffering was her suffering.”
In between the peace pole unveilings, residents joined together in a “Peace Walk” from Carnegie Library to the Patchogue-Medford Library, waving rainbow “Peace” flags.
The event ended with participants writing messages of peace to place in a time capsule that will be stored in the peace poles so that years from now, attendees can reflect on this day.
The Peace Pole project is growing. Many schools and other communities have already participated by installing their own poles.
John Baum of Pax Christi Long Island said he hopes this effort to promote peace and social justice will go “viral,” and inspire others around the world to follow behind Patchogue.
“We have many people from different religions, different ethnic backgrounds, different jobs, different responsibilities, different abilities, different limitations, we all have one common goal — to make the world a better place,” Baum said. “We hope with these peace poles it is a step in the right direction.”
Below are more photos from Patchogue’s International Day of Peace event.