We Remember

I took some time off from the blog to focus on my intense anxiety around my kids returning to school, but before I write about that I want to focus on my city for a minute.

I’ve moved around my whole life. It’s what I expect for the rest of my life, even though my husband and my father have very different careers that may not result in the same somewhat nomadic lifestyle. I feel as though it’s time to move because I’ve lived in El Paso longer than anywhere else — the end of this month will mark five years since we arrived — and it just seems like we are overdue for relocation. The problem is that I like El Paso, and if I push for a transfer there is good chance we’ll end up somewhere less…El Pasoan.

It’s not just the incredibly dry weather that I find appealing, though I don’t know how I could ever survive in a swampy place after witnessing that magic that is “dry heat.” It’s not just the rustic beauty of this region, with orange sandy deserts and rough mountainsides. It’s really about El Paso itself.

The city has it’s struggles like any other, it’s not a utopia, but its unlike anywhere I’ve lived before. In the car on the drive to school I listen to the radio, which I didn’t enjoy much in other cities, but the morning show people are so normal and appealing and focus their news and interesting tidbits on El Paso specifically. Their trivia games are mostly about the city and it’s history, for example. Beyond the hosts, the people who call in to play always take me by surprise. When they ask for callers to give opinions or share something funny that happened to them, the folks who call in are so friendly. They share their anecdote and follow up with things like, “thank you so much for this segment, it made me feel so good!”

When people call in to play a game and they lose, you expect a bit of “ugh, that sucks,” but the people here instead say things like, “Oh no! Oh well, it was so lovely to chat with you guys, thanks so much for the opportunity to play!” And of course, everyone says goodbye with some version of, “y’all have a blessed day!”

I’m not tuning in to hear that same Taylor Swift song four times, I’m here for the local flavor. That kind of interaction is so uplifting after hustling my kids off to school and fighting traffic all over town and it makes me appreciate what a generally kind city I live in.

Yesterday was the two year anniversary of the shooting that took place here in El Paso. Twenty-three people died when a guy from Allen drove here and shot shoppers looking for school supplies with their families. That guy targeted El Paso because he hated immigrants, but the people who live here are Americans. People do cross the border legally to shop, so Mexican nationals were also killed, but if you’re coming to this city to shoot immigrants at a Walmart, you’re just raging against an entire race of people who were mostly born in America and have lived here their whole lives. El Paso residents are 80% Hispanic, and there are plenty of immigrants in Allen, TX where the shooter lived, but he came here and murdered twenty-three people one highway exit from where I was visiting the gym with my kids in tow.

That day as I pulled into the gym parking lot, my kids started to protest. They didn’t want to go to the kid’s club again, they wanted to play at home. I was feeling pretty tired and cranky myself, and when two of the three started crying I knew I’d never get them settled down enough to leave them in the club and get through a workout. After futile attempts at bargaining and pleading, I gave up and started to drive home when my phone alarm went off. It was the sound the state uses for Amber Alerts, but the message said to avoid the mall and the Walmart one exit away and shelter in place if you were in the area. We went straight home as my phone rang constantly with people checking in on their friends and neighbors to make sure they had gotten the message to stay away from an “active shooting.”

I found out later that the gym staff had been recently trained in active shooter drills and we would have all been hiding in the kid’s club and back rooms if we’d actually made it inside. I’m glad they were prepared, but I hate that it was necessary to use their training. There are armed guards outside our big stores like Target, Walmart, and sometimes Costco still to this day, but especially around the anniversary. My son told me there were police officers with them at recess yesterday to keep them safe, but I still struggle to talk about what happened with my kids because I don’t want them to be afraid.

We aren’t Hispanic, but once the shooting started it became random and widespread to inflict as much damage as possible. It wasn’t a random act of violence the way some mass shootings are, because he chose El Paso specifically. He came here to murder people because he blamed immigrants for whatever troubles he had in his own life. He’d found an online community that encouraged his ideas and a platform on which to post a manifesto filled with complaints about his life and the world at large and placed the blame on people from Mexico.

Racism is older than President Trump, don’t get me wrong, and the shooter specifically says he had his beliefs before Trump arrived at the White House, but when you announce your presidency saying that Mexicans are invading (language used by the shooter in his manifesto and also by Trump) and they’re rapists and criminals who will kill us and/or steal our jobs, that perpetuates racism. When you read that garbage in the bowels of the internet, it’s illicit, but when the president says it, racism has entered the mainstream.

To mark the two year anniversary of the worst attack on Latinos in modern history, the governor of Texas has decided state troopers should be able to to pull over any vehicle they suspect has immigrants inside, because immigrants all have COVID-19 and are the reason Texas cases are escalating again. Giving troopers the power to pull over any car with a brown person inside is absolutely ludicrous, and claiming all immigrants have COVID plays off Trump’s language of “invasion” and “infestation.” The policy will put targets on all brown people for excessive policing, and the US government is already suing, because states are not permitted to interfere with border activity. The governor knows that Texas is not allowed to police the border, but he is trying to out-crazy everyone else running for president and snatch up some of those Trump voters.

Perhaps our cases are escalating because the governor made it illegal to install mask mandates, or because the effort to vaccinate people has been, for reasons inexplicable, political. The governor’s order is to limit the transportation of immigrants that have been released from ICE custody, but do you know what happens when they are in ICE custody? They are offered a vaccine! Unfortunately, ICE has delegated much of the vaccine rollout for detention facilities to the states, with Texas lagging behind the rest of the country, so perhaps that is one of the many reasons cases are on the rise.

The actions of the El Paso shooter didn’t have one specific cause, but hundreds of causes that built into misplaced rage over time. Every day we see the pain the massacre inflicted on this community, and every day the shooter remains in jail awaiting trial, two years after he opened fire. As traumatized as the city has been, I’m sure there are thousands of people here praying for him, and worrying about his family. El Paso is a big family full of big families, both biological and created, and they deserve justice for what happened, while others in power seek to damage the community and our special relationship with Juarez and chip away at what makes us unique. The trauma comes in the rapid-fire of a semi-automatic weapon, and death by a thousand cuts.

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