More than 100 people gathered Wednesday evening as the sun set on Harrison Park in Pilsen for a candlelit vigil to mourn the victims of the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas over the weekend.
“Unprovoked, without remorse, a terrorist drove out of his way and came to kill Latinos and Hispanics, immigrants in a community he knew was proud to be what they were,” said Chantal Diaz, an El Paso native now living in Chicago who organized the vigil. “Saturday was one of the worst days of my life. Not know if my family and friends were alive, being in Chicago and stuck here.”
On Saturday a gunman entered a Walmart in El Paso, Texas and opened fire with a semi-automatic weapon, killing 22 people and wounding 24. A manifesto laden with white supremacist and xenophobic language was posted online shortly beforehand and has been attributed to the shooter, a 21 year-old man from Allen, Texas named Patrick Crusius. The author opens by praising the Christchurch shooting that took place in March at a Mosque New Zealand, where a white supremacist killed 51 people and wounded another 49. He goes on to say his attack was “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” and his choice of victim was inspired by a white supremacist conspiracy theory known as the “Great Replacement.”
The El Paso shooting comes at a time of already heightened fear in communities of color due to the further rise of open white nationalism along with ICE raids and deportations, migrants being imprisoned in camps for crossing the border, and racist and xenophobic rhetoric coming from all levels of government, including the White House. Those gathered, including several El Paso natives, mourned the loss of loved ones and strangers, tried to comfort each other, and called for people to stand together in the face of white supremacy.
“As a Hispanic, Latino, Latinx community, we stand together against racism, xenophobia – everything that is hate, we are against,” said Diaz. “We are also here to come together and be proud of one another, to love, to continue to love one another, and support each and every one of us, because we are all human beings, and we all have a right to be here – all of us, together.”
A woman who identified herself as Claudette told the crowd her father was in the Walmart just prior to the shooting, but her feelings on the attack were more than personal.
“The shooting isn’t just personal because it was my family, it was very representative of the fact that all of us of any minority have a target on our back,” she said.
Eddie Gamboa, another El Paso native now living in Chicago, said that the mass shooting wasn’t the first time he cried for the city. “The first time I cried over El Paso recently was when they opened up the child detention centers, the first time they started testing out the separation policy at the borders I used to cross as a child. Right now El Paso is the nexus of family separation, but this country is a place that’s defined by family separation.”
President Donald Trump visited medical facilities in both El Paso and in Dayton, Ohio, a city where another horrific mass shooting took place less than a day later where a gunman killed 10 people and another 27 were injured. While press was kept at arm’s length during the visits, with the administration saying they weren’t intended to be photo-ops, Trump managed to tweet three campaign-like videos in less than 24 hours. Additionally, the President spent a hefty amount of time Wednesday making the day more about him than anyone else – grousing about his critics while his social media team said he was treated “like a rock star” during the Dayton visit.
Trump has also spent the week defending his racist and xenophobic rhetoric as well as playing the “both sides” card, trying to conflate white supremacists and anti-fascists, who are directly opposed to white supremacy and fascism. “My rhetoric is very—it brings people together,” Trump told reporters before he left for his visits to El Paso and Dayton.
Back in Harrison Park, Claudette extolled the efforts in the communities hit by these tragedies in taking care of one another in spite of the horror around them.
“People always say to look for the helpers – that’s what you’re seeing,” she said. “The community are the first responders there. The community is the one that steps up and takes care of their mothers, sisters, friends, and neighbors. The community is the one that makes sure in spite of all of the horror and pain that you find the will to get healthy and look for that joy in life again because we love hard, all the time, even when you’re down.”
She also urged people to pay attention and work together in their communities.
“I urge you to pay attention to every elected official, especially this administration,” she said. “I urge you to pay attention to these concentration camps…I urge you all to pay attention to communities of color…. This is not a guarantee that this isn’t the last time, but we can unite and make it less so. As much as these people like Trump show up and try to oppress so many communities through a lot of carnage, loss, and pain, those communities somehow make it through because we’re survivors. We’re survivors above everything.”