By Claudia Florés
I first found out in a text message from my brother on Saturday, August 3, 2019 at 3:09 PM EDT – “The family has checked in. We’re all okay here. [Cousin and Aunt] were at Sam’s next door but they’re okay.” Despite being very close to my brother, he’s a man of few words and almost never texts me unless it’s an emergency. I stared at that text for a few moments, before deciding to Google to find out what he was talking about. I had a feeling of dread as I started to read what had happened. Then the next day, the victim’s names were being reported and their photos started to be shown. And I recognized one of the dead. He was a bus driver for Sun Metro, now retired. That’s when it hit me about the horror of that day. I knew someone who had died. I remember when that Wal-Mart opened. Why El Paso, and why now?
I met Arturo Benavides when I started attending UTEP back in the late 1990’s. At that time, I depended on Sun Metro to get me from the edge of town to my courses at the University. I still had about another 20-mile commute between the last stop on Route 50 at George Dieter to my parent’s house near Hueco Tanks. I rode the city buses long enough to catch the bus drivers rotate their shifts, change routes, cover other routes and get to know a few of them by their first names. Being a single young woman, taking the bus at all kinds of hours of the day, you learned you had to depend on some of the drivers to look out for you especially after dark. I probably wasn’t the most memorable rider, but then again, I used to wear a big brimmed straw hat in the summer to protect myself from the sun. It hurt me to know Benavides was one of the victims.
I haven’t lived in El Paso for well over a decade, but all my side of the family still live there. I have a family of my own now, here in Cape Cod, MA. I work here too. As far as I know I’m the only El Pasoan living here too. The thing about living so far away from the border is you end up having to dispel myths about the borderland. “No, El Paso is actually one of the safest cities in the nation… No, the border is not a distant thing, it’s like right there, you can throw a stone over it… Juárez is no small town, it’s huge… El Paso has about the same population as the Boston …” It goes on and on.
After that horrible day, for everybody else I live and work around with, it’s just another mass shooting but for me, now it’s personal. That was where I grew up, where I shopped, where I went to school. El Paso will always be my true home, no matter where I live. As I read the following days after and all the outpouring and community working together to help each other, nothing made me more proud to be from El Paso. We are all so interconnected in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. We are a huge town with a small town feel and it’s hard for outsiders to understand that. I have the El Paso Strong logo posted on the inside of my office door not just for everyone else to know, but to remind me of who I am.