Violence and racism against Latinxs is ingrained in the story of the U.S.
By Angely Mercado
On the first weekend of August, a white nationalist drove about 600 miles to the border town of El Paso, Texas, walked into a busy Walmart, and opened fire. He used a semiautomatic rifle to kill 22 people and wounded two dozen others in a city that is more than 80% Latinx and one of the safest cities in the United States. Less than an hour before the attack, the shooter allegedly posted a four-page anti-Latinx manifesto online where he expressed his fear that his “beloved Texas” was being invaded. Never mind the fact that Texas and many other Southwestern states were once Mexican territory. Less than 24 hours later, another shooter with a violent and disturbing past injured and killed several people in Dayton, Ohio.
On Twitter, there was an outpouring of love and support for the communities and families of lost loved ones. When I was scrolling through these messages, I saw a few here and there where people asked what the country was becoming. I also saw a few tweets that said things like, “We’re better than this!” As a Latina who was born and raised in the United States…that’s news to me. And from the posts I’ve seen all over social media, it’s also news to other marginalized communities and their allies. Are we better than this? If so, when was this country ever truly dedicated to treating minorities with equality?
I am angry, hurt, and frankly afraid that the conversation after a shooting doesn’t always get past politicians posting about their thoughts and prayers on social media, or holding press conferences reminding people not to “politicize the issue.”
The El Paso shooting was part of a pattern of violence against marginalized communities all over the country. Distrust and even hatred towards Latinxs is ingrained in the story of this country. On a recent episode of WNYC’s The Takeaway, host Tanzina Vega explained that the “shooting in El Paso was one of the deadliest attacks on Latinos in U.S. history.”
Looking at the last century is enough to show that hatred is dangerous and even deadly. In 1910, several migrant workers were tied to a tree in Texas and set on fire. In the decades to follow, there were other group murders and lynchings that drew crowds of people as if the whole thing was a sporting event. In the 1930s, the government sent about 2 million people to Mexico to “repatriate” them. According to a report in Time Magazine, about 60 percent of those people were actually American citizens of Mexican descent. The policy was justified by the bad economy and the notion that Mexicans were taking American jobs. But making those people go only hurt the economies of the places that they were forced to leave. The Takeaway episode about this bloody history explains how historians estimate that between 1910 and 1920, about 5,000 people of Mexican descent living in the West were “killed or vanished.” The episode is hard to listen to, but it’s important for us to understand that this hatred of Latinx communities has deep roots in the Southwest and beyond.
Though there are now better policies and more discussion about the nation’s racist past, that doesn’t mean racism still hasn’t claimed lives. In 2008, an Ecuadorian immigrant named Marcelo Lucero was murdered by a group of teens who were out “hunting” for “Mexicans” out in Long Island in 2008. They called themselves “The Caucasian Crew” according to an article in the New York Post during that time, and they called their so-called sport “beaner-hopping.” I remember being part of a discussion in my high school in Queens the month that Lucero was killed.
Our well-meaning teacher, at the time, was shocked to hear that racism was still “alive.” So many of my classmates came from somewhere else or were the children of people who came from somewhere else. We reminded her that it was still here and that we’d seen so many of our relatives, especially those with accents, complain about discrimination. She kept shaking her head in disbelief.
In 2015, two brothers from Boston assaulted and even urinated on a homeless Latino. They took away the man’s things and hit him with a metal pole. The brothers walked away from the man they had attacked laughing.
“Donald Trump was right,” one of the brothers told the police, according to Vox. “All these illegals need to be deported.”
Both incidents happened in the North East of the country, which so many people consider “progressive.” But both states have seen an overcriminalization of Black and Latinx residents. It may not be a full-blown lynch mob, but discriminatory policy still hurts people, and the message behind it is clear to many marginalized communities: there are people who don’t want us here.
I have a sibling who lives in New England. He’s been screamed at for speaking to friends in Spanish when they’re in public. He’s explained how supervisors at his job have tried to ban him and other Latinxs from listening to music in Spanish while they’re in the workshop, even though other workers are allowed to listen to music.
So many Latinx communities in the United States are spoken about in terms of an invasion or an infestation. Speakers at rallies and on social media use the kind of words that they would with an exterminator describing a bunch of bed bugs in their mattress. As if we were something to be removed indefinitely because we don’t belong. We’re not referred to as people or community members.
“But how do you stop these people [immigrants]?” the president asked during a recent rally in Florida.
“Shoot them,” someone in the crowd yelled.
The president laughed, and then the very homogenous crowd began to laugh too. Those words were apparently taken seriously by the El Paso shooter who drove for hours to a city that is over 70 percent Latinx and shot “them.”
At the end of July, a 19-year-old gunman killed three people and injured 15 others in a shooting at the Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California. The city has a population that is 60% Latinx. Days before the shooting, an Instagram account, under the shooter’s name, uploaded a post referencing a white supremacist text with the caption, “Why overcrowd towns and pave more open space to make room for hordes of mestizos and Silicon Valley white tw**s?" The FBI launched a domestic terrorism investigation into the shooting on Tuesday after discovering the shooter had been “exploring violent ideologies,” and had a target list including religious groups, both political parties, and government buildings.
Since the president’s election, a 2018 FBI report showed that hate crimes against Latinxs increased by more than 24% in 2017.
Video games are being blamed. So is social media. So is the internet as a whole. So is the apparent “downfall” of traditional marriage. An Ohio lawmaker even went out of her way to blame drag queens and marijuana for the recent shootings. Disenfranchisement and mental illness are being blamed. But if being frustrated and disenfranchised was a major cause, wouldn’t people in marginalized communities rise en masse to commit shootings as well? And if mental illness were something that leads to violence, wouldn’t marginalized communities that face constant stress and discrimination start shooting up public places?
Not discussing the racist history of attacks against Latinxs hurts our communities. Not calling out racism when it’s blatantly obvious to so many why someone or why a particular location was attacked is frustrating. The attack in El Paso wasn’t “racially motivated” or “racially tinged.” It was racism. The shooter set out to shoot Latinxs living along the Mexican-American border fueled by his hatred of those communities in his state.
We can’t stop future attacks on Latinxs and other marginalized groups of people if we don’t call out racism and actually strategize how to combat it in our culture and policies. We can’t stop more acts of domestic terrorism if we don’t look at the White Nationalist ideology that many of them hold. We aren’t better than racism. It’s who we are and who we have been for a very long time. Once again, Latinx communities were failed by this country’s racist underbelly. El Paso is just the latest reminder.