Both articles report that the Warren County (KY) Sheriff's department is investigating the act as a hate crime. The Knoxville News-Sentinel article says that the FBI is also aware of the incident but has not yet opened a formal investigation.
The anger-mongering by some members of the exclusionist ("illegal immigration") political movement is the subject of this recent story here in the Hispanic Nashville Notebook, as well as this story about violent rhetoric. The convictions of Hispanic-targeting Nazi vandalists and a KKK bomber in Tennessee last year reveal that the Kentucky cross-burnings are an indictment not of our neighbor state to the north but of an American culture that has permitted the demonization of Hispanics as a group. The demonizers' defense, always some variation of, "but what if they're ILLEGAL," holds no water and instead fuels the flames of rage by giving exclusionism the illusion of legal legitimacy. This recent NPR story reported that the tone of the immigration debate is emboldening white supremacists and making Hispanics their primary enemy. Local governments are part of the problem as well, responding with disrespectful statements and isolationist proposals (story here). Some Hispanics trace the seeds of this sentiment to patriotism gone amok in the wake of 9/11 (story here).
Cross-burning is a tool of intimidation and exclusion that is often associated with whites' attempts to exclude blacks from integration in the 1960's but dates back a century (read more here). It is in disfavor in modern society and illegal when used as a tool of intimidation and expression of hate. It is unfortunately obvious, however, that the practice, and the sentiments which accompany it, have not died out. This PBS article describes a 2004 cross-burning in Anderson, California, and the community's response.
The Espinozas are natives of El Salvador. They have been in the United States for five years and moved to their neighborhood in Rockfield only two months ago. Rockfield is near the Kentucky/Tennessee border, close to Bowling Green, Kentucky and Portland, Tennessee. As I hope and pray that many of their neighbors in Rockfield have already told them, they are not alone, and our best hope is for the Espinozas' safety and for the refusal of any one group of people to isolate another. The Hispanic Nashville Notebook offers its condolences to the Espinoza family but also a warm embrace, and we hope we can offer you a hospitable welcome should you ever choose to visit Tennessee.
Image source: Dallas Morning News photo, Texas cross-burning