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Carmel valley taking a bad rap


Carmel Valley is an unlikely place for ethnic cleansing. Yet reading the daily papers and listening to the broadcast media, we are led to believe that the most visible hate crime in recent memory took place in Carmel Valley. It did not.

The brutal racist attack on migrant workers occurred north of McGonigle Canyon, several miles from Carmel Valley, on farm land near Evergreen Nursery. The police have arrested seven teens from Rancho Penasquitos.

The arrests in Rancho Penasquitos have not changed the reporting. On Monday, one week after the arrest in Rancho Penasquitos, KPBS advertised an upcoming "These Days" talk show as a discussion about the "Carmel Valley hate crime."

Editors at San Diego's largest daily newspapers and broadcast news shows haven't figured out that thousands of undeveloped acres and many linear miles separate Carmel Valley and Rancho Penasquitos. Carmel Valley is almost 20 years old, and what was once an irritation is now a source of palpable injury. Media tagging has deep impacts on a community's spirit ­­ ask the residents of Rancho Santa Fe who hunkered down during international coverage of the mass suicide several years ago.

The negative images displayed about "Carmel Valley hate crimes" are bound to affect people who are deciding on new homes, places to locate their businesses or schools for their kids. Like the news coverage of the sad events in Rancho Santa Fe, there's a reeking smugness about bad things happening in affluent communities wafting out of such reporting.

This has had effects that spread beyond Carmel Valley. During the investigations after the attack, our Torrey Pines High School students, who live in Solana Beach, Del Mar and Rancho Santa Fe as well as Carmel Valley, lived with the implication that the attackers attended their school.

Carmel Valley is not free from youth-perpetrated racism. The Jewish Academy, soon to grace the gateway to Carmel Valley, was covered with swastikas in May, and many years ago we had an elementary-school-age tagging crew.

But those of us who have lived in Carmel Valley since the early days remember when our elementary school parents and teachers fed, clothed and educated the hundreds of migrant children who lived in makeshift camps in the canyons between Carmel Valley and Rancho Penasquitos. This was the atmosphere in which most of our high school students grew up ‹ hardly an incubator for hate crimes against migrant workers.

By 1992, the largest migrant camp, in McGonigle Canyon, had swollen into a ramshackle small town of claptrap shacks with no plumbing and open fires, a serious problem for Rancho Penasquitos residents because of health and fire hazards. The city of San Diego shut it down soon after the election that year, relocating thousands of legal residents to safe homes.

We thought migrant camps were history, and the tensions between Rancho Penasquitos' neighbors and migrant workers had disappeared, with a decent dose of good public policy. Now we know that small camps still exist, with the tacit approval of agricultural employers ­­ not a good thing, but hardly the cause of this recent act of racial violence.

Anyone who spends time in Rancho Penasquitos knows it is a diverse and contented family community. It does not deserve the stigma that will come from what is sure to consume several weeks of media attention and analysis while the courts determine who did what.

Like other juveniles who commit hate crimes, the young, hooded bandits who senselessly beat up four elderly Hispanic men are products of dysfunctional families, issues best left to mental health professionals and the justice system to sort through.

For people in Carmel Valley, it is an unbelievable experience waking up to the morning news and discovering that we live in a hotbed of hate crimes. But we know why: It didn't happen here.

Lisa Ross lives in Carmel Valley.

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