In El Paso, emotions are still raw after a mass shooting at a Walmart left 22 people dead — many of them Mexican and Mexican-American.
Now, the city is bracing for a spectacle only four days later. President Trump is visiting El Paso Wednesday despite protests from some local politicians and residents.
When the president first hinted he would visit El Paso, the response from some local leaders was swift.
Democratic Congresswoman Veronica Escobar told MSNBC that Trump has painted fearful pictures of Mexican people to the rest of the country.
“The President has made my community and my people the enemy. He has told the country that we are people to be feared, people to be hated,” she said. “From my perspective, he is not welcome here. He should not come here while we are in mourning.”
Many El Pasoans are more focused on helping each other than on President Trump.
At a memorial near the site of the shooting, Clarissa Hernandez and her son, Ezra Magaooanes, stand near a pile of teddy bears. One day this week, they handed out water. The next, they gave hugs.
“I’m just happy that people have been coming and people have been hugging each other — hugging us — to get some sadness or even all of it out of their hearts,” Magaooanes said.
His mom said she’s wonders how the president will handle his visit to their community.
“I know that El Paso has a lot of mixed emotions about him coming. All I can say, think and hope for is that he does something to move the country in a positive direction,” she said.
But many community members are pushing back. Fernando Garcia directs the Border Network for Human Rights. He’s helping organize a protest during Trump’s visit — and thousands are expected to attend. In fact, as of Tuesday night, 20,000 people signed onto an open letter asking the president to stay away from El Paso.
“On the one hand, that event will illustrate how proud we are and how strong is El Paso. ‘El Paso firme, El Paso strong,’” Garcia said. “But at the same time we’re gonna reject racism and anti-immigrant agendas.”
Garcia and others said while Trump isn’t fully responsible for the shooting, his rhetoric about immigrants and the border helped propel a white man to target this community — driving ten hours to attack a border city that’s more than 80% Latinx. In a manifesto, the shooter said he was responding to a “Hispanic invasion.” Trump himself has used similar language.
“Words matter. And with this hate and vitriol, it’s coming from the highest office: from the White House,” said Garcia. “He’s not welcome until he repents, until he asks forgiveness, until he changes his language and rhetoric toward immigrants.”
This isn’t the first time a community reeling from a mass shooting placed blame on the president and showed in no uncertain terms he was unwelcome.
After a white gunman killed 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue — claiming Jews were funding a migrant caravan and ‘bringing invaders to kill our people’ — Trump visited the city. Thousands took to the streets in protest, and in a highly symbolic move, turned their backs to the president.
Pam Goldman attends that Pittsburgh synagogue.
“Trump obviously didn’t pull the trigger himself, and he didn’t tell the shooter to pull the trigger at the Tree of Life building, but he incited him to do so by years of comments about immigrants from Mexico and Central America,” she said. “You could say he was and continues to be the contributor in chief to a climate of hate and bigotry and violence.”
Goldman says she's proud of the message the Pittsburgh community sent Trump back in October. And she has some advice for El Pasoans, in the days and months ahead:
“This might sound hokey but it’s true. Just love each other. You don’t know how much shock you’re in. Hugging helps.”
Goldman added that she’ll be thinking about El Paso today, and she supports the city as it embarks on a path of healing that has become all too common for communities in America.
Mallory Falk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.