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Analysis

A racist manifesto & a shooter terrorize Hispanics in El Paso & beyond

On Sunday night, as the sun dipped behind the blue-hued Franklin Mountains, this grieving border city telegraphed a message.

The community had been violently knocked down by an act of what federal law enforcement has catalogued as domestic terrorism. As El Pasoans gathered by the thousands a day later over the brown dirt of a baseball diamond and out onto the adjoining football field for a community vigil, they were distraught and shaken.

But they also spoke words of hope, of defiance in the face of hate and of a determination to write their own manifesto.

“One of love, of tenderness, of inclusivity, of generosity, of compassion, of hope, of justice — all that makes El Paso and the borderlands truly great,” Dylan Corbett, director of the Hope Border Institute, proclaimed in a combination of Spanish and English to cheers from the crowd at Ponder Park, just a few blocks from the site where 20 people were massacred and more than two dozen others were injured at the hands of a white gunman. Two of them died Monday at local hospitals.

The mostly Hispanic crowd in this mostly Hispanic city was visibly emotional, sharing tissue boxes and prayers as they tried to make sense of why a stranger from outside the community would target members of theirs based on the color of their skin.

By then, law enforcement officials had indicated they were investigating a racist manifesto possibly penned by the gunman that described the attack as a “response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas” and railed against the growing political clout of Hispanics in Texas who would “take control of the local and state government” and change “policy to better suit their needs.”

To reconcile that white supremacy-fueled motive with everyday life in El Paso proved insurmountable to locals living in a city where the culture is a unique blend of Mexican and American, where the boundary between it and Ciudad Juárez is practically indistinguishable from a distance. It’s a community that has persevered for years — but especially in the last few — to welcome immigrants coming to the country seeking safety, asylum and opportunity.

“The shooter came into our community because we are a Hispanic community and we have immigrants here,” U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, an El Paso Democrat, said at a Sunday vigil.

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After the shooting at the Walmart, fear washed over El Paso. A popular Mexican restaurant stood empty Saturday night, handwritten notes posted on the door in both Spanish and English: “For your security and ours, we are closed. Thank you for understanding.”

The next day, El Pasoans gathered at restaurants with their families and went to church, but the serenity of a Sunday morning had been shattered. At another local restaurant, as a Hispanic family got ready to leave, a waitress called out a “be careful” in Spanish.

At St. Patrick Cathedral, the Rev. Trini Fuentez asked to change the opening hymnal for the midmorning mass in light of the massacre the day before. When the choir sang the words of “Gather Your People” from a balcony over the nave, it was missing the voice of a choir member who had been at Walmart during the shooting. She was unharmed but too shaken to come to church.

“In El Paso, we love more than we hate,” said Ana Elena Allen, a churchgoer who initially waved a reporter off because she was overcome with emotion.

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Ivan Pierre Aguirre/Texas Tribune

Samantha Ordaz and César Antonio Pacheco walked in a silent march Sunday for the victims of the mass shooting in El Paso the day before.