El Paso, 08.03.19

I have to confess that up until last night, I’ve been too inconveniently/conveniently embroiled in my own personal drama  to pay much attention to the details of the massacre in El Paso this Saturday. I use the language of confession because it feels sinful to so easily dismiss the loss of so many lives; to feel so overwhelmed by the sea of white folk’s social media posts boasting generic political statements like “melt the guns,” that I don’t let myself feel anything but empty. 

Listen, I’m all for gun reform: universal background checks, assault weapons bans, gun buy backs, and even straight up taking them away from civilians. I don’t think we need them. 

But don’t get it twisted, the massacre in El Paso was not about a lack of gun control; to focus on that is to put a bandaid on a gaping wound. It was about an ideology that has been allowed to grow and even thrive in our progressive, modern times. It was about race, it was about hatred, particularly of Latinx folks, and it was about fear. A fear that has gone largely unsubstantiated. This insidious combination absolutely will destroy our country if we allow it to continue.

In a Facebook post, Beto O’ Rourke shared details about the people murdered by Patrick Crusius in his hometown; a city once considered one of the safest in America. I read about the TWENTY-TWO lives lost: Jordan and Andre Anchando, the couple who used their bodies as shields to protect their baby, who will now have to grow up without them, the man and his son who sat in the parking lot waiting for Elsa Mendoza Márquez, a wife and mother who will never return to them. Couples who had been married for decades, who grocery shopped together on Saturdays and who will never do so again. I wept, and I thought to myself, “well, at least it wasn’t more,” and then I wept twice at the sentiment. 

While listening to a podcast about what’s next for our country, I heard a sound bite from a Fox News segment in which the Latin and Central American refugees detained at our border were referred to as “illegal invaders.” And remembered that that was what Crusius called us.  “Us” Latinx folks, “Us” Black and Asian and Native folks at other points in US History. Those of us who have been deemed threats to White Power and White Supremacy and objects to be feared, hated, oppressed, and eventually destroyed.

 I think that if I had been in that Walmart in El Paso, instead of celebrating my anniversary in a town a few miles away, I would probably be dead. To Crusius, I would simply be a faceless, nameless, meaningless member of his so called “Hispanic Invasion.”

Now, I shouldn’t have to tell ya’ll that this country was originally inhabited by a multitude of Indigenous peoples before it was literally invaded and stolen from them by Europeans. People who, at first, the Natives largely treated with hospitality and considered with curiousity. 

AND Texas, host to this “Hispanic Invasion,” used to be part of Mexico before it was populated by a majority of White immigrants, many of whom were slave owners with firmly held racist beliefs that they applied to the Tejanos indigenous to the land. Beliefs that have clearly outlived them.

I didn’t need for there to be a mass shooting targeting Latinx people to know that I will be hated because of my race. I’ve had enough experiences throughout my life to teach me that. Albeit, before it was systems and institutions that tried to kill my cultural identity. Now it seems evident, as New Mexican representatives fight for extra protections from domestic terrorism against our largely Latinx state, that there is a target on my brown-skinned, dark-haired body, too. 

I am natural born citizen of this country, and so are my parents, and my grandparents, and their parents before them and so on and so on and so on. I am indigenous to New Mexico. This is my country of origin, my homeland. I should be able to feel safe here. But even if I wasn’t a citizen, or I wasn’t born here, I should still have the right to leave my home. To go grocery shopping, or pick out a new backpack for my freshman year of high school, or supplies for my daughter’s birthday party without being murdered by someone who thinks he has more right to be alive than I do, simply because of the color of his skin.

Some have said that Crusius is a “madman”, but hatred is not a mental illness. It’s not isolated.  Hatred and racism are learned.  They are preached through the news and media. They are woven into the our systems and ideologies, into our history that we are too quick to forget. 

The lynching, enslavement,  torture & terrorizing of black folks, the internment of Japanese-Americans, the genocide of the Navajo people, the Apache people, the Cherokee people, the Seminole people….I could go on, this is our history. Not  just the history of the people groups I named, a paragraph in a fifth grade history book, a niche course in undergrad; this is American history. White folks, this is your legacy.   

I don’t share this because I’m trying to lay the blame on White folks, or stir up any sort of contempt against them. That’s the furthest outcome from my goal. I know that we don’t have any choice in our ancestral heritage, but we do have a choice in our future. And that choice has to lean toward ending this senseless hatred if any of us are to survive.

I often think of the family of Mollie Tibbetts, how when the Trump administration tried to co-opt the murder of their loved one for their own anti-immigrant agenda, they fought back. They made several public statements condemning the racism and fear-mongering of the propaganda campaign. They continued to defend the Latinx community. In fact, in a ceremony for Mollie, her own father shared how he had been embraced and comforted by the Latinx community around him. “As far as I’m concerned, they’re Iowans with better food,” he said. 

Mollie’s family could have chosen to grieve privately, to let propaganda go unchecked. They could have become bitter and hardened against the Latinx community and given hatred reign. But they didn’t. They did this beautiful, countercultural thing where they didn’t lump an entire race of people together and label them as evil. They acknowledged them as individual members with full humanity. I cried when I first read the articles about their response and I’m tearing up as I think about it even now. 

This is what it looks like to choose a different way; this is the way of Love.      

And Love is our only hope. But it requires soul work, it requires that we search within ourselves for the places where we have allowed White Supremacy to take root, for the places where we have given ourselves over to it for just a taste of the privilege it offers. This is necessary for everyone, but it will be admittedly most difficult for White folks. It might mean that your identity has to shift, or even be given up entirely. You will have to question your existence, your experiences and how they line up with the experiences of the BIPOC around you. You will have to realize that, no matter what messages the news or books or music or movies are sending you, you are not the most common or important denominator.  This is hard and painful work, and it will probably take a lifetime and then some. But it is honorable and good. It will teach you how to love. And in turn, Love will teach you empathy; it will teach you how to listen and see. Love will teach you to honor our shared humanity. And that is what will save us. 

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