Amid a climate of heightened xenophobia in his hometown of Hazleton, Pa., Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon has become an advocate for the immigrant community. In response to a ballooning Hispanic population, then-Mayor Lou Barletta supported a controversial ordinance in 2006 that prohibited landlords from renting to undocumented immigrants, fined the employers who hired them and that made English the town’s official language.
Maddon, who still owns a home in Hazleton noticed what was happening to the beleaguered immigrant community in his hometown and decided not to stick to sports and took action.
“You get this moment, this exact moment, that replicates what you experienced growing up,” Maddon told CNN’s David Axelrod. “And you’re pushing away from it because the people speak a different language or because the kids are ‘dirty’; all the different things that my parents and grandparents had heard when they first came.”
In 2010, Maddon launched the Hazleton Integration Project in an effort to assist the city’s Hispanic population. Maddon started by raising $1.5 million towards the Hazleton Integration Project and in 2013 opened a 60,000 square-foot school building. HIP also supports preschool and after-school educational programs, sports and cultural programs for disadvantaged youth and an innovative distance learning program for children who receive special help with their studies from Penn State education students.
“We are helping children grow up in a different environment. We help them with their education. We run sports programs. And we teach them to respect and appreciate different cultures and backgrounds and embrace their new home without losing their Spanish language and culture,” the executive director of HIP, Ben Medina said.
In 2016, Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant stances helped him win Hazleton’s Luzerne County by a 20-point margin. However, Maddon believes that the HIP can play a part in healing the community’s growing divide.
“Bring the kids together and the parents will naturally follow. … The kids don’t care what color your skin is. There’s no prejudice. That’s all learned,” Maddon told Axelrod.
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