Regina Casale grew up in Suffolk County, but she thinks of herself as “at home” among Ecuadorans in Ecuador, Patchogue, and Sunnyside Queens. In 2008 this language teacher played an important role in bringing the stories of Patchogue’s abused Ecuadoran community to the broader public following the killing of Marcelo Lucero.
Regina lived in Spain for a year when she was eighteen and developed a life-long love of the Spanish language and Spanish and Latino culture. Later, as a student at Stony Brook, she developed deep connections with the immigrants of Patchogue. “I loved being with the Spanish-speaking community there,” she recalls.
After she graduated, Regina went to work in Ecuador. She was amazed that her English-language students there knew so much about Long Island. Many of them had family members on Long Island, or they had lived here themselves. Young people she met spoke of wanting to come to the United States. She said that their family members here told rosy stories of how good life was, but they did not talk about the loneliness and discrimination that they faced.
The young teacher became interested in the process of Ecuadoran immigration to Long Island. She said that as she learned more “I was embarrassed because I was always welcome in Ecuador and treated with great consideration, but the Ecuadorans who came to Long Island, to my home, were often treated very poorly.” She wonders at the psychological impacts of discrimination and recalls talking to one little girl in Patchogue, perhaps four years old, who described herself as an “illegal.”
Regina recalls that when she found out about the killing of Marcelo Lucero she was “shocked.” Although she knew that many of the Ecuadoran immigrants had difficult lives, “as someone who is white, these stories of violence that I heard after the killing had not been part of my experience before.” She says that “I did not understand the depth of the problem when I first got involved.” As the stories poured out, she realized that “the violence was so common among the Ecuadorans of Patchogue,” that it curtailed the way they lived.
After the killing, Regina became a conduit for Ecuadorans who wanted their voices heard by the English-speaking public. She worked with organizations and individuals to make sure that the violence, which went way beyond one killing, was not swept under the rug. She also played an important role in working with the Lucero family to memorialize Marcelo Lucero. She says that among Patchogue’s Ecuadorans, Marcelo was a friend from their home country, and a symbol of Ecuadoran life on Long Island.
Regina is completing her doctorate at Columbia University and teaching Spanish to the children of Latino immigrants. She is also an advocate for language teachers not to just teach Spanish or French, but to also help educate teenagers about the importance of respecting other cultures and countries and the people who come here from them.
Regina will be honored by CARECEN on November 20, 2014.