Allentown makes national TV for white fear of Hispanic change
A CBS special report aired on Friday, July 8 analyzed how Jan. 6 insurrectionists came from areas where white populations were in rapid decline.
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The idea of change is something the U.S. has always had to reckon with. Communities change as newer, younger populations move in and older populations relocate or die.
It’s not meant to sound harsh, but it’s reality.
It’s a reality many long-standing white communities across the U.S. are reckoning with today, and will continue to reckon with well into the future, as more diverse, younger populations move into towns and cities and change them.
Analyzing that change was at the center of a CBS story aired on national TV on Friday, July 8, by reporter Tony Dokoupil. The story also cited a study from the University of Chicago that analyzed the race and origin of those arrested following the Jan. 6 insurrection in the U.S. Capitol. Of the insurrectionists caught, 93% were white and came from communities with a rapidly-declining white population.
The changing community Dokoupil chose as the setting of his story was Allentown, PA.
In the 1970s, the population of Allentown, Pennsylvania, was 97% White — by 2020, that share plunged to 31%, a factor researchers say may have contributed to many Americans’ desire to participate in the Jan. 6 insurrection.— CBS Mornings (@CBSMornings) July 8, 2022
One Allentown resident says that doesn’t surprise him. pic.twitter.com/CS2SSN1JoW
With a population of almost 126,000, per the latest census estimates, Allentown is 31% white, and approximately 54% Hispanic. As the CBS report highlighted, it’s a massive decrease from the 97% white population of the 1970s, when the city was on its last legs of the Second Industrial Revolution.
As happened with almost every industrial town post-Industrial Revolution, an identity crisis hit Allentown along with major economic turmoil that drove many residents away. Their replacements were the new generations of immigrants coming to the U.S. from Latin America and Asia, who’ve created their own economic engines that are back to growing these once big, industrial towns.
For his report, Dokoupil spoke to three Allentown residents — two white and one Hispanic. The white residents struck a very similar, nostalgic tone when discussing the city.
Gary Iacocca, owner of the local hot dog chain Yocco’s Hot Dogs, spoke of the days when factory workers would get off their shifts and grab a drink and a couple franks before heading home.
“The original Yocco’s opened at 6 a.m. and we closed at 1:30 at night, and we were busy all day,” Iacocca told CBS, “this was a blue collar town.”
He also got emotional talking about the closing of that original store after 82 years in business. There are still other Yocco’s locations open in the region.
“The problem is the neighborhood began to change. As other little restaurants opened up, you know, Hispanic restaurants, soul food restaurants, Asian restaurants, that became a little more competitive,” said Iacocca.
The other white resident interviewed, Ed Frack, said his 90-year-old mother hadn’t felt at home for at least a decade in Allentown. She passed away in 2020.
“It was just a different kind of culture,” Frack told CBS. “People talked, people said hello, shook your hand, and now it’s a little bit different.”
When asked about the connection to the Jan. 6 insurrection, Frack also acknowledged knowing that some people from Allentown went.
The third and final resident interviewed, Emely Minaya, represented the future of the city. Her family moved to Allentown when she was a child from the Dominican Republic.
She agreed with Dokouplis when asked whether Allentown was an example of the future of the country.
“Even those states where there’s probably no Hispanics at all and Black people, they will be seeing a lot of that in the next few years,” she said.
In response to the CBS report, critiques rained down on the piece for its framing, and for only interviewing two white residents that didn’t capture the city to the fullest extent. The first to capture some of the feedback was Allentown's own Morning Call.
Mayor Matt Tuerk wrote on Twitter that the report “missed its mark,” and called out CBS for making no effort to contact his office for the story.
“For the real truth about our amazing Allentown, come back and see us. We will show you around our amazing community,” he wrote.
Really disappointed in @CBSNews and @CBSMornings. No contact made with our office at all for the production of this story and it missed the mark. For the truth about our amazing Allentown, come back and see us. We will show you around our amazing community https://t.co/ASONmgJLYS— Matt Tuerk (@matthewtuerk) July 9, 2022
PA Democratic Governor candidate Josh Shapiro also weighed in on the report, calling Allentown “a diverse city full of hardworking folks raising their families and building community.”
Here’s the Allentown that I know — a diverse city full of hardworking folks raising their families and building community.— Josh Shapiro (@JoshShapiroPA) July 9, 2022
Our diversity is our strength in Pennsylvania. Proud to work with leaders like Mayor @MatthewTuerk to make our Commonwealth a place everyone is welcomed. https://t.co/Kpqk2inEHA
But while those were light jabs, the heaviest came from Luis A. Miranda Jr., father of now world-famous artist, director, playwright and musician Lin Manuel Miranda, who called out Frack on Twitter for agreeing with Dokouplis when asked whether there were people in Allentown that blamed the city’s negative change in their eyes on the new nonwhite populations moving in.
In his tweet, Miranda Jr. told followers to “remind” Frack that “we clean homes, replenish shelves, take care of children and elderly, and little by little get elected [and] become professionals.”
“Here to stay [and] grow together,” he continued.
Good morning. To those who like this Allentown neighbor, believes WE are poisoning his community, let’s remind him we clean homes, replenish shelves, take care of children and elderly, and little by little get elected & become professionals. Here to stay & grow together. pic.twitter.com/YAu2rn4UyA— Luis A. Miranda, Jr. (@Vegalteno) July 8, 2022
Minaya probably put it best in the end of the CBS segment when asked about a message to people that felt that way.
“Suck it up,” she said.