One year ago this Monday, an El Paso Walmart became the scene of the deadliest attack on Latinos in modern U.S. history.
A now 22-year-old white man allegedly drove hundreds of miles from North Texas to carry out a mass shooting at the crowded store. Police say he was targeting Mexicans. Ultimately, 23 people died, including 8 Mexican citizens. Dozens more were injured.
A year later, the border community is still making sense of the attack.
Anahy Diaz, Victoria Almaguer and Claudia Hernández are journalism students at the University of Texas at El Paso. They recently got together on Zoom, to reflect on how they and their city have changed since August 3rd.
I think that day, it was just eye opening for all of El Paso. Knowing that we are a safe city but we’re not safe from the rest of the world. In a way this has made us more aware about the kind of target that we are — just who we are, that makes us a target.
We were mourning the victims. We were angry that our community was invaded. We were angry that something like this happened in our city. But I think most of all we were angry that this was an act of racism and it’s something that is so deeply rooted in our country and in our world that you just know this won’t be the last time that we as a minority will be the target.
When everything happened my mom told us if that were to ever happen to us inside a Walmart, inside a store, just know that I’m running for my life and know that you’re running for your life. No “I have to look for my mom or I have to look for my dad, where are they?” Just everyone run for themselves.
I hope it’s a talk that we don't have to tell our children but it wasn’t even 24 hours later that another shooting occurred [in Dayton, Ohio] after the El Paso one. It’s just really sad to know that we live in a world and a country that accepts that kind of behavior and just lets it happen.
Once, a professor asked who knew someone inside that Walmart and a big portion of the class raised their hand, just because El Paso is built that way. We somehow just know each other.
We need to create change that allows us, people that look like us and people who have been affected by situations like these and discrimination and racism, to have a seat at the table and ask for the changes that only we can ask for because only we have experienced them.
We don’t see ourselves as a minority. If anything, here in El Paso we’re a majority. It’s mostly Mexican. So if you don’t go out of El Paso you don’t really get that culture shock or realization that we’re actually a minority in the U.S.
Every time I go to the supermarket I make a list now. I didn't used to make a list. It was just like, I’m gonna go to a Walmart and see what I can buy. Now it’s like I need to buy this, this and this and that’s it. I’m outta there. I’m not going to waste time and risk my life.
I used to go a lot to the [Cielo Vista] Walmart. It was a very popular place. People who crossed from Juárez would go there and go shopping. The store reopened, but I’ve never been back. I can’t go back there and not think about the lives that were lost just because somebody decided one day “I’m gonna take their lives.”
I think this event really opened our eyes to the hate that we can receive. It’s broken down so many things, but it’s also unified so many people. I just hope that in the future people don’t forget about this event and we can continue to move not past this but maybe, in a way, toward it. Toward these conflicts and be able to resolve them as much as possible.
I always felt like there was discrimination against Latinos and Hispanics but I always thought it was [against] somebody else. I felt like okay, I’m a minority but I don’t really suffer. It really opened my eyes that I am a minority, and also my family.
I was born and raised in Juárez and moved to El Paso, slowly, ten years ago. So I was coming back and forth. [After the shooting] I started double guessing if I wanted my future to stay in the U.S. I’m never gonna have the perfect accent. I’m never gonna change my last name. I’m always gonna be Mexican. It was so uncertain for me, and it took me awhile to feel okay again.
Every time I’m in the U.S. — in a UTEP auditorium, in the movies — I’m always checking. The first thing I do when I go there is check “what would I do? Where would I hide? How would I get out of here?” I don’t deserve to feel that way, and I know none of us deserve to feel that way.
I never took a stand on if I was pro or against the Walmart reopening. I didn’t want to give importance to the shooter, as if he was gonna win — thanks to him, a whole Walmart shut down and people lost their jobs. So I’m very, very conflicted.
What I would hope is not to normalize these shootings. I also hope [August 3rd] doesn’t become a taboo and we can talk about it, because that’s the only way we can create change.
Anahy Diaz, Victoria Almaguer and Claudia Hernandez are students in the Audio Journalism and Podcasting research course at the University of Texas at El Paso.
This story was produced by KERA's Mallory Falk.
Music Credits: “Watermarks,” “Building the Sled,” “My Hamster” and “Collingwood” by Blue Dot Sessions.