As a Mexican immigrant, the El Paso shooting scared me, but I won’t be silent

Flags fly over crosses at a makeshift memorial near the scene of a mass shooting at a shopping complex Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Flags fly over crosses at a makeshift memorial near the scene of a mass shooting at a shopping complex Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

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Earlier this month, my worst nightmare became a reality when two mass shootings took place — one in in Gilroy, California and the other in El Paso, Texas — in which both of the shooters had the same objective: to murder Latinos.

The once metaphorical bullets transformed into real ones — escalating from aggressive looks and threats into real bullets from AK-47s that killed Mexicans and Mexican Americans for simply daring to live in a country in which it had been made clear by the government that they are not wanted here.

These acts have horrified me. I am an immigrant Mexican woman and my existence makes me a target.

But I won’t allow my fear to silence me. Instead, I will use it to bring us — immigrants, Latinos, and allies — together to resist and fight against white supremacy.

From fear to resistance

I first became conscious of the color of my skin in the summer of 2015, when Donald Trump’s presidential campaign launched and immediately began to accuse Mexicans of being criminals. Before then, I  didn’t consider the significance of being an immigrant from Mexico, because I thought since I was in the United States, I wouldn’t have to deal with the classism and racism I experienced in Mexico.

But now, my ethnicity and my accent have become a problem to many of the “nationalists” here.

I am a minority, but together with others I am also part of the minority, which adds up to actually being the majority. Our numbers are growing and that’s why some Americans, mainly white Americans, feel threatened and scared, of what they believe is an “invasion.”

In spite of being an immigrant who continues to deal with a broken immigration system that has only gotten further complicated during Trump’s presidency, I’ve still received more from the United States than the two countries from which I have citizenship.

The United States provided me with safety when Mexico failed to protect me as a journalist and when Italy refused to help me when I was fleeing domestic violence.

It has been a sanctuary for me in many ways. Until recently.

Somehow, I still feel called to stay in America and defend what actually makes this country great—the opportunities, even for people like me, who are up against many obstacles, to contribute to society.

Prosperity should be available to all, including my immigrant community.

They are why I resist, because we are what made this country and we are not destined to disappear.

Fighting ignorance with understanding

When Trump first won the primaries, my daughter who was 5 years old asked why they didn’t want us here. My son who was 12 years old at the time, said, “They don’t want us because they don’t know us. If they knew us, they’d love us.”

As a social psychologist who specializes in intercultural dialogue and criminology, I can perhaps understand a bit better where this hostility against my people has come from— ignorance, which feeds insecurity and fear, which turns into intolerance and later violence. That insight helps me to understand the people who despise me and see me as the enemy, I reject their ideas but I still have the capacity to be tolerant.

I also understand the surge in racial anxiety that has impacted everyday white Americans, that has caused them to believe they will lose their privileged ways. What I cannot tolerate is the violence that has emanated from this hate.

After these shootings, I have also experienced racial anxiety. The difference is that I’m the one who is at risk. I have been for a long time.

There have been far too many moments in my life, and that of my son’s, in which it has been made very clear to us that we do not belong here, that we are not welcomed. We’ve been told openly that we should go back to where we came from.

But we will stay and resist.

Indifference hurts

Many people avoid discussing topics like politics and religion because it’s considered impolite, but being killed or threatened to be killed because of your ethnicity and where you’re from isn’t a question of politics.

No change comes from going along as if nothing has happened.

Words carry weight, but silence carries even more. It doesn’t appear that what happened has activated any apathetic or passive people, but rather those who were already mobilized and taking action.

It seems that unless these acts of terrorism, these tragedies, have direct impact on people personally, they don’t seem to care.

We cannot afford to be indifferent or desensitized to these criminal and violents acts that are happening in our country. Our humanity is at stake and so are our lives.

Nourishing a culture of peace

My mourning didn’t begin with the shootings in California or Texas. As other communities mourned the loss of their loved ones, I mourned with them in solidarity.

The loss of all these lives break me: the Mexicans in El Paso to the young Latino children in Gilroy, the Jewish community practicing their faith in their synagogue in Pittsburgh, the LGBTQ community in Orlando, the young children in Sandy Hook, the students in Parkland.

I feel the same pain when it comes to the young lives in Philadelphia that have been lost to gun violence — I know some of these mothers and have seen how they’ve taken their pain and organized around it in the fight for social justice and gun reform.

My heart also aches for the families of the shooters.

I am a human-being first and foremost, regardless of where I came from and my fight is for life, for the right to exist in this multicultural mosaic of a country that is currently under attack.

As immigrants we are called to resistance, gratitude and solidarity

America, my America, has provided me with a new intercultural identity that goes beyond nationality or skin color. America has given the Hispanic immigrant community the opportunity to see our efforts pay off and continue to aspire to change the course of our destiny.

That is why during this time, although we have shared our pain and our fear, we also recognize that we cannot allow it to overcome us.

If we lose our ability to resist, we all lose.

We have to continue to resist the anti-immigrant policies even if they are escalating in violent ways.

We don’t need to wait until we are personally impacted in order to take action. Everyone can contribute to the fight. You can vote, call your representatives, protest, protect the people who need your solidarity and privilege, volunteer. I even believe that a smile can go a long way.

For us immigrants, an act of resistance can be to take the risk to claim our space, be visible and proud, and celebrate our families and beautiful community resilience.

If we don’t resist, we risk losing all that is most sacred to us: our basic right to freedom.

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