The worst massacre aimed at Latinos in American history happened in my hometown, to my people.
by Richard Parker
The older man next to me on the metal bench, dressed so dignified in his peach dress shirt, dark pants and dress shoes, touches me gently on the elbow.
It is Saturday late afternoon, and we are both in front of MacArthur Middle School, where the flags already droop in the desert heat, approaching 100 degrees, at half-mast. Police officers, Red Cross workers and firefighters of all kinds come and go. This little school is where the living come to look for the missing and the dead after a white male from the Dallas suburbs named Patrick Crusius, 21, allegedly came to my hometown to commit the largest massacre of Hispanics in American history. The handwritten sign over the schoolhouse door says it all: “Looking for Family and Friends.”
Behind his glasses, tears welled up in the eyes of my bench mate, Charles Almanzan, 70. Wordlessly, he shows me his phone: There is a picture of two small children, a girl of 2 and a boy of 5. The little boy is in the hospital. The little girl is still missing, the subject of a frantic search by Mr. Almanzan’s brother-in-law. Their mother, Jordan Kay Jamrowski Anchondo, at just 25, is dead, killed by Mr. Crusius, along with at least 19 others, at a Walmart not far from downtown El Paso.
If you want to know what a mass shooting is like in your hometown, it’s like this: text alerts on your phone, a frantic woman on local television begging people to bring water to waiting families, 200 people lining up to give blood in the blistering heat, helicopters thundering overhead, the dead left lying inside the crime scene called “horrific” by the police chief. Those waiting on word of dead and lost stand calm and dignified as strangers pull up with truckloads of that bottled water. It’s also like this: a stab in the heart not to your hometown, but to your people, in my case Latinos. Mr. Crusius specifically came here to my town, to kill my people.
“Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God,” my little sister, Janet, also the child of an American father and a Mexican mother, says to me. “Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God.”
I read the manifesto believed to be by Mr. Crusius, though not confirmed by the police, who traveled over 600 miles to kill and wound men, women, old people and children. Cell phone video posted online by victims betrays the dreaded elapse of time as they die: ten shots fired from an AK-47, not in rapid succession but in cunning staccato. First a shot. Then a long pause. Then one after another after another. And then there is the shout in Spanish: “Ay, no!”
“Oh, no!” the man screams.
“This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” the manifesto reads, before eerily and coolly describing the killer’s preferences of weapons and ammunition, politics, economics and racist philosophy. His idea is devastatingly simple: Killing Hispanics will stop immigrants from coming and drive citizens to leave. “I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by invasion.”
Of course, Latinos arrived in Texas from Mexico in 1690, when it was all New Spain. My people settled the harsh brush country of south Texas, fought Comanches and Apaches and brought Christianity to America. My mother’s uncle, a Mexican citizen, fought in the Navy in World War II and perished. My Mexican grandfather came to Texas as an orphan, lived in Laredo and returned to Mexico. My Arkansan father, a soldier, met my mother in Monterrey and we settled way out here in the deserts of West Texas in 1970. We invaded nothing; we were already here long before Mr. Crusius was even conceived.
But he is just another passing figure in the moment of modern American violence that we all are living through: the predictable weakness of Republican politicians in the face of the gun lobby amid the ready availability of weapons of war. The other day, I perused a pawnshop, bought a fine fly rod but noticed that the only guns in vast supply were AR-15s, the kissing cousin of our favored weapon of war, the M-16.
Most significantly though, the El Paso massacre — and that’s what it is, it is not a mass shooting but a premeditated massacre — was the inevitable byproduct of the Trump era’s anti-immigrant, and anti-Latino invective, which with its pervasive, vile racism has poisoned our nation.
El Paso-Juarez is a big, bustling desert city of over two million, straddling the United States and Mexico. My hometown has virtually zero modern history of ethnic strife; El Paso alone is over 80 percent Hispanic. We switch from English to Spanish without skipping a beat and we are fine with that. But the Trump era is not.
It has brought us walls, internment camps and children in cages. The massacre is the outcome I have feared for years now, and I can’t help but feel that its genesis lies with the president of the United States.
To put all of this into perspective, there have been other massacres of Latinos in American history. The worst was the notorious Porvenir massacre, 101 years ago, in what is now a vanished border town. Texas Rangers descended on the town in the early morning hours of Jan. 28, 1918, led off 15 Hispanic men and boys and executed them. The remaining inhabitants did exactly what Saturday’s shooter wanted: They fled to Chihuahua.
Back at MacArthur Middle School, Mr. Almanzan tucks away his phone. A Jehovah’s Witness, he had been out knocking on doors when the horror struck. Many asked him how God would allow this, and he gently responds by showing me Job 34:10, which in part reads: “Far be it from God, that he should do wickedness.” No, we both agreed, switching from English to Spanish. God did not do this.
We did. In allowing those weapons of war on our streets. In giving credence to sociopathic racists, only one of whom will be in jail tonight. In poisoning our body politic with the occupant of the White House. On the horizon, storm clouds build over the desert mesas to weep upon this desert city. And still the people keep coming, desperately bringing water to those here, quietly searching for the dead.
Richard Parker is the author of “Lone Star Nation: How Texas Will Transform America.”