Amid the flowing music at 24th and Mission streets, Francisco Aguirre—in spite of the pain he was feeling—preached a message of solidarity and love.
During an Aug. 7 vigil mourning the victims of the El Paso mass shooting, tears filled Aguirre’s eyes when he spoke of his son, Moises. Moises, who was threatened with incarceration by ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operation, returned to El Salvador and was killed.
“That’s what this administration is doing: killing our people,” said Aguirre, who founded the organization VIVA Inclusive Migrant Network to battle his own deportation. “My heart is heavy.”
The vigil was one of many that sprouted across the country in the wake of two back-to-back mass shootings in Texas and Ohio. The Aug. 3 shooting at a Walmart in El Paso killed 22 people and injured more than 20 at the hands of 21-year-old white supremacist Patrick Crusius. Before opening fire, Crusius (who was taken into custody unscathed by law enforcement) posted a four-page racist manifesto on the website 8chan.com detailing what he called the “Hispanic invasion of Texas,” and used immigration to justify his remorseless rampage.
He chose the border town, a 10-hour drive from his home near Dallas, because of the heavy Hispanic population. El Paso is about 80 percent Hispanic according to the United States census bureau.
In an already xenophobic climate, Latinos fear further violent attacks and cries for unity have grown. Musician Diana Gameros, originally from Ciudad Juarez, played a song she wrote at the gathering. Gameros, 37, used to live in the Mission when she moved to San Francisco at age 26. The past four years she’s been living in Berkeley. With strength, the local activist shared a story about Adolfo Cerros Hernandez, 68 and Sara Esther Regalado, 66, who were family friends and her neighbors in Mexico. Both died in the El Paso shooting.
“If it’s more of us who love with conviction and we follow that love with the right action to fight for justice for everyone, regardless of color or of immigration status,” Gameros said.
In his manifesto, Crusius tried to claim that “Hispanics” are turning the traditionally red state of Texas blue with the migration of more Latinos to the border. The assaults on marginalized groups has become a tragic trend in today’s political climate. The first sentence in Crusius’ manifesto praises the Christchurch gunman in New Zealand, who killed 51 people and injured 49 on March 15.
With the help of platforms like 8chan, radicalization is easier for people to plan and voice terrorist attacks. The Christchurch massacre targeted two mosques. Another attack that was inspired by Christchurch is the targeting of a Synagogue in Poway, California on April 27.
The connections between white nationalism and mass shootings are obvious, and President Trump has come under fire for his own racist rhetoric.
And these national tragedies are making their way to the 2020 presidential campaign. Beto O’Rourke, an El Paso native and former representative, blamed Trump’s rhetoric for the terrorization of his hometown.
Trump denounced white supremacy after the attacks, a first since becoming president, but was met with protests in both Dayton and El Paso. Attempting to deflect criticism, Trump blamed violent video games and hinted at possible gun reform.
But his empathy to most feels hollow, especially compared to past presidents. About 56 percent of Americans feel Trump has not distanced himself enough from white nationalists, according to the Pew Research Center.
“There’s a dark side to part of the population of this country that wants to victimize immigrants and it’s kind of absurd,” Russell Wood, 67, said. “But it’s powerful and I think that Trump’s the leader of this dark side.”
Wood, holding a “diversity makes us stronger” sign, has been a member of the National TPS Alliance Bay Area chapter. The Department of Homeland Security gives Temporary Protective Status (TPS) to people whose home country is facing civil unrest or other dangerous factors that have made it difficult to return. Wood, has been a member for two years after a friend revealed they were TPS recipients. The Trump administration plans to end TPS for several Central Americans countries. This will affect more than 300,000 people, according to American Friends Service Committee.
“El Paso is kind of a mind blowing. New escalation of this problem and I felt like it was important to make a showing of it,” Wood said. “Of the fact that we reject this whole white supremacy platform coming out of the White House.”
National TPS Alliance, faith and community leaders sponsored the vigil and news conference. Cristina Morales, 38, came to the U.S. from El Salvador when she was 12 years old. Currently, she, a special education teacher assistant, and her daughter filed a lawsuit to fight the action against her TPS revocation. As a member of National TPS Alliance, she came out in support of her community and described her struggle to maintain protection from deportation.
“I believe in unity,” Morales said. “If we unite we can change, we can prevent deaths, we can prevent a person from growing up with the power to harm communities.”