By Miguel Juárez
“El Paso Strong,” a term borrowed from the “Boston Strong” campaign has various meanings and interpretations. The term has become a mantra for the city and its people. For this article, several people were asked to tell us what “El Paso Strong” means to them and this is what they said:
According to Dr. Heide Solbrig, a cartoonist & media scholar working on a comics project about immigration and the El Paso Lower Valley:
Boston was one of the first places which widely publicized the brand “Boston Strong” as a popular catch-phrase, though it was originally inspired by the recruiting slogan “Army Strong”—which is pretty ironic considering folks are being murdered by military assault rifles. Nowadays, every city that suffers a massacre, also gets to be part of the “(Your City Here) Strong” brand-family, like it or not. This saddens me some because I think that it ultimately numbs us to the monstrosity of these events. Additionally, rather than a show of strength (which won’t stop or heal a bullet hole) I’d rather we respond with kindness. In truth, I think El Paso has been a model to the world for kindness when you look at that gentleman who lost his wife in the shooting and for whom all of El Paso turned out—I just want solutions more than slogans.
Incidentally, Solbrig said she was teaching at Emerson when the Boston Marathon happened. She said it was a pretty interesting tool for teaching since the school was in downtown Boston and a number of her students were at or near the site of the explosion. She stated she doesn’t mean any disrespect to people who were starting a socially conscious t-shirt company, and who raised a lot of money—in Boston, Florida or El Paso—but to her, it’s a brand which assumes a future with more shootings and she believes that we can do better.
Sylvia Peregrino, a native El Pasoan and an associate professor of government at El Paso Community College, stated for her:
El Paso Strong is a phrase we are using, and even though it came about when hate came to our city and extinguished 22 lives our sense of safety we will survive and thrive!
Marcos Rey, a health worker, artist, and supreme art supporter stated:
El Paso Strong reflects the tragedy which happened in our city which will prompt a change. We are a unique city in West Texas and this event will not stop us or quiet us because it has only made us more United and Stronger.
He said that although we may be saddened we will come back stronger.
Others argue that the term is not inclusive given who was affected by the tragedy. Martín Paredes, a Mexican citizen living in the United States who blogs about border issues, stated the following regarding “El Paso Strong:”
Gun violence in the United States is a serious problem that requires the immediate attention of government officials and citizens alike. All indiscriminate killings of people for ideological and cultural differences impacts more than the targeted community. On August 3, 2019, El Paso, Texas suffered the mass killing of 22 fronterizos by one gunman. Unlike other mass shootings, those killed in El Paso were targeted because they were Mexican. Not Hispanics, not Latinos but simply Mexican. Thirty-six percent (8) of the victims were Mexican citizens. Most of the rest were of Mexican heritage. Today, those killed in El Paso have been rolled into the larger conversation about gun control. The fact that Mexicans were targeted has been lost in the debate about guns. The victims deserve more than being a footnote in the context of guns. They need to be remembered because, as Mexicans, they were targeted by the killer.
Selfa Chew, a professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, on her Facebook, page wrote:
I don’t understand when people write down that El Paso is strong enough to withstand a massacre and more. Every life is irreplaceable, and nothing will be the same without those members of our communities who are sacrificed to white supremacy.
She closed her comments by stating “standing out there pretending that nothing happened, that we are carrying on, doesn’t really help us, I think, I feel.”
Donna Snyder, a local poet and creator of Tumblewords Writing Workshop stated that for her “El Paso Strong” signified:
The strength and beauty of El Paso residents are reflected in its culture developed through millennia of attracting the most adventurous people: indigenous folks seeking a place with water and wild life, outlaws, artists and writers, small businesses that served travelers and local residents, farmers and ranchers.
James Peinado, a leader for Open Carry Texas in El Paso, feels that we are a “stronger more resilient and loving El Paso through means of sharing a love of liberty and respect for the rights of others.” He said he feels the decision to be more proactive about our own self-defense, and for the defense of their loved ones was essential which included several License To Carry Instructors who gave countless hours in instructional training at no charge to thousands of new gun owners, most of them Hispanic. Peinado states:
El Paso Strong, at our worst, was pointing fingers at persons other than the shooter and raising funds in order to make it more popular to take rights away from otherwise innocent people while the pain still burns hot, and the sadness weighs heavy in our hearts. Many of our worst selves are often manifested politically. I’m particular to the sort of response where Paseños chose to take up the burden of an important responsibility. The decision to be more proactive about their own self-defense, and for the defense of their loved ones. This empowering spirit was fostered by several License To Carry Instructors who gave countless hours in instructional training at no charge to thousands of new gun owners, most of them Hispanic. Tragedies be they natural like Hurricane Harvey or borne from man-made evil will always be a reality in life. Something we are either to rise up against or be torn asunder by. Choosing to respond to tragedy by being proactive and better prepared and stronger to me is #ElPasoStrong.
Peinado said he feels that choosing to respond to tragedy by being proactive and better prepared and stronger to him epitomizes #ElPasoStrong. He states that he feels that our best, El Paso Strong was expressed through the actions of countless individuals using their talents, resources and abilities, along with businesses and civic institutions doing the same to help put our community back together in the wake of the tragedy. He stated that we saw thousands donating blood, donating profits raised from restaurant and t-shirt sales. From charitable actions as grand as musical-superstar Khalid raising $500,000 to just as meaningful the artists who painted and made musicians who composed “corridos” and performed at the living memorial.
Saul Armendariz, otherwise known as “Cassandro El Exotico,” believes that El Paso Strong reflects our “diversity and duality which is also our strength.” He states:
We are a border city – ciudades gemelas with Cd. Juárez and connected by our Río Grande, by two countries, two states, two cities–we are one community. The Río Grande is a place where my familía celebrated our birthdays with cake, piñatas, candy bags, food and lots of swimming in what used to be our sacred Río Grande. The river mesmerized me in my childhood, but it was also dangerous – it swallowed my Tío Manuel and thirteen days later he was found dead at Las Compuertas de San Elizario. That is the duality of our sacred river, that it gives life and it takes it away. In 2019, we saw immigrant families and their children running to safety in the United States of America, only to be found dead on side of the river or caged in an unhuman manner or worse and dying in the hands of this President’s administration. We are El Paso Strong, a community of welcoming, inclusiveness and love comprised mostly of Hispanics in our Sun City of El Paso. We honor and welcome our military families from all walks and paths of life regardless of age, race, color, sexual identity or religion. We welcome you. We took a hit to our hearts and gut on August 3th 2019. It shook our city to its core while the entire world watched. What they saw was a cowardly white nationalism outsider who targeted our beloved community of Latinos killing 22 of us and who caused injuries to countless others clinging to their lives. I feel rage, anger, and fear in self and around our Sun City. As a Luchador (a wrestler) I would welcome to fight the anger, but we as a city and community cry and mourn together, and most importantly we will heal together as one. We must never forget the victims. We will continue to celebrate their lives because we are all EL PASO STRONG! We took a punch, but this tragic event, will not NOT define us. We will continue to be one of the safest cities in the United States. Our consciousness has been awakened and we are ready and alert for what comes to us. We MUST all do our part to be part of the solution and NOT part of the problem. We will continue to stand tall like our Franklin Mountains. We will continue to shine as our star shines up above us. We are community; we are warriors; we are light; we are peace, we are EL PASO STRONG… somos comunidad; somos guerreros; somos luz; somos paz; somos El Paso Strong!
Joseph Martínez, a veteran, wrote:
The phrase “El Paso Strong” is nothing new to the diverse community of El Paso/Cd. Juarez. Months have passed since the assault on our security and freedom. The spirit of the community is stronger and will not and cannot be broken. The heightened sense of terror has created a more aware and critical community. Because of this tragic event, we are closer , friendlier and more helpful in terms of spirituality and the basic treatment of our fellow human beings on a daily basis. Personally, I have moved forward and will not dwell on this tragedy and have decided to teach others to be more aware and vigilant in a great place like El Chuco. I smile, greet and wave more to strangers now, more than ever.
Celia Muñoz, a nationally-known artist who grew up in El Paso, and who lives in Arlington, Texas wrote:
El Paso has always been and will always be “The Pass!” What is it about the name that some do not understand! El Paso del Norte! No wall can alter that! It is primarily defined by its geography and state of mind! Has and will always be! It is strongly The Pass! Nothing can impede that.
Pamela De Angeles, a UTEP Graduate student summed it up by stating:
El Paso Strong is not an idea to be politicized it means different things to different people and it should be meant to blossom in an open and all-inclusive manner.
So, what does El Paso Strong mean to you?