By Dr. Sylvia Peregrino
My wife and I were watching television on the morning of August 3rd. We were going to take her mom and my aunt to watch a Spanish movie downtown at the annual Plaza Classic Film Festival. It was a black and white Mexican movie about el Santo, a famous Mexican wrestler. Little did I know, my city was also about to experience its own epic battle of good versus evil.
We learned about the shooting from Facebook where someone shared a post about a shooting at the Cielo Vista Wal-Mart. I did not want to believe it but many cities in Texas and in the US have experienced mass shootings. I looked through all the local and national news channels and found no reports. Eventually, MSNBC reported an active shooter situation at 9:49 AM. We called to cancel our movie plans since the main highway was closed. We wanted to be safe at home.
As the hours passed, we learned more about the victims and the shooter. The first reports were 20 dead, 26 injured. My cousin forwarded me a video from inside the Wal-Mart where you could see the person filming on their cell phone laying on the floor hiding under some pallets as multiple shots are fired. Bang…bang…bang…like firecrackers but faster and louder. There were other images in the video I wish I could unsee.
We learned the shooter, drove over eleven hours to El Paso to “kill Mexicans” since he had released an online manifesto minutes before the shooting. At a press conference all the men sat in the front including our police chief, the mayor, our governor and two other men who I did not recognize. The governor sat in the middle and called mass shootings “challenging mental health issues.” It was the typical narrative we hear on the news. The lone deranged individual with mental health issues when the shooter is Anglo. If the shooter is a darker shade, he characterized as a terrorist or gang member. It is almost always a male shooter.
Our congresswoman Veronica Escobar who was standing in the second row, along with most of the other Latina/o elected officials said “the manifesto narrative is fueled by hate, and its fueled by racism and bigotry and division.” She went on to say “the national media is watching El Paso has been a historically a very safe community. We have been safe for decades we will continue to be safe. This is someone who came from outside of our community to do us harm. A community that has shown nothing but generosity and kindness to the least among us, those people arriving at Americas front door.” I was thankful there was someone at that press conference who spoke truth to power.I also knew she was right. We have many local organizations like Annunciation House, Diocesan Migrant Refugee Services, Las Americas and Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee where many people in El Paso and across the US have volunteered, donated time, clothing, food and money to help asylum seekers and migrants.
Words matter, stories matter. I was in Washington, DC on 9/11. It was repeatedly called in the news the deadliest attack on Americans on US soil. This was El Paso’s own 9/11 it was the deadliest attack on Latinos/as in the US resulting in the deaths of 23 mothers, fathers, grandparents and a teenage son who was shopping for school supplies. The first judge who was assigned the case had to recuse herself because she knew one of the victims. Everyone in the city has been to that Wal-Mart at some point and was thankful they were not there the morning of August 3rd 2019.
The next evening my sister and I went to an interfaith service at Ponder Park which is located behind the Wal-Mart. We lit candles and heard from a rabbi, the bishop and other faith leaders. People brought flowers and cards to the Wal-Mart parking lot area. There was a gentleman who made crosses for all the victims of mass shootings who drove to El Paso to deliver them. Twenty-two crosses for 22 lives. It is now 23 after the coach and father recently died.
I visited the makeshift memorial about a month later after the crowds were gone. It was cloudy and gray, there was a man and woman cleaning the cross of one of the victims and replacing the flowers. I wanted to offer my condolences but did not want to intrude. As I walked up and down the area one of the victims reminded me of my mother. She was a guerita (blonde with light complexion). A middle-aged woman from Chihuahua who was picking up her daughter at the El Paso airport. She never made it.
It is one year later. I am sure sometimes the victims’ relatives want to call their loved ones but then realize they are gone. Or they might wake up in the morning and forget about their loss for a moment but then remember their loved ones are in a better place while the shooter, blue demon is still in jail awaiting trial. Blue demon’s lawyers say he is mentally insane like most shooters his shade.
In the movies, El Santo always wins, good defeats evil just like when the people of El Paso stood in line for hours to donate blood to help the victims. El Santo (the saint) was a “good” wrestler fighting the forces of evil.
Most of us have our El Paso Strong shirts and like El Santo we wear it as a mask so no one can see us crying. The families will cope but they will never forget because every birthday, holiday and every August 3rd will always remind them of what they have lost. The story is not over, the trial is not set.
Dr. Peregrino states: Blue demon is a Mexican wrestler who was El Santo’s opponent on the ring! There are many Mexican films featuring both masked characters! It’s an allusion to the movie we were planning to watch on 8/3!