On Aug. 3, 2019, a white supremacist drove more than 600 miles to commit one of the deadliest attack against the Hispanic communiity in modern history.
Twenty-three victims lost their lives to racism and gun violence on that day in a Walmart in El Paso and their families and the community are asking for justice.
The Border Network for Human Rights and other organizations held a bilingual memorial service, El Paso Firme, to commemorate the victims, their families and also take a stand against racism and hate.
The service started with community members walking with crosses of each victim’s name and the horrific date written on the front. The crosses were also accompanied with white balloons and flowers in celebration of their lives.
Pastor Michael Grady, whose daughter was injured in the mass shooting, said a prayer for the city and the families.
“We pray for our city that we will use this as an opportunity to breach the gap and come together in unity,” Grady said. “We will stand together to fight the violence, the hatred, the systematic racism that exists not only in our city, but in our nation.”
Managing Director of Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance Adriana Cadena said it’s important to remember the victims from that tragic day while also addressing the hatred toward Hispanic communities in the attack.
“Today as we remember the victims and we remember the suffering of their families we also stand here to denounce racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy,” Cadena said. “It’s important today to denounce and call on all of us and our country to stop such hate and such acts of terriosm.”
Margarita Arviso, member of the Border Network of Human Rights called out the white supremacist who commited the act act of terrosim in Walmart that day.
“He came here to take away our peace, but he needs to respect us as equal,” Arviso said. “We are all humans. We are not more or less, we all have the same blood and deserve the same respect. I’m offended by this act of racism.”
Guillermo Glen, who was at Walmart at the time of the attack, said he saw dead bodies in front of the store, pools of blood, and people helping each other to the ambulances.
“Racism exists in many forms, but no action is taken,” Glen said. “We need to put a stop to what’s happening.”
Both Fernando Garcia, Executive Director of the Border Network for Human Rights and El Paso County Commissioner David Stout called out former President Donald Trump and Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott for spewing racist rhetoric that led to the tragedy on Aug. 3.
“We had a President who used his office to call immigrants rapists, criminals and an infestation,” Garcia said. “We were attacked because of what we represent as a community, a mostly Latino, mostly immigrant, and very vibrant border city.”
Garcia also called out Abbott for spewing similar language to Trump two years later and said the tragedy on Aug. 3 could happen again.
“I do believe that words and hate kill people so it wasn’t only that domestic terrorist that pulled the trigger,” Garcia said. “That narrative is well alive in Texas … because when you mix hate and you have weapons and firearms that anyone can carry, that is a very dangerous combination.”
Stout also called out Abbott for his inaction following the tragedy.
“He came to El Paso and said he was going to do something and then he went to Austin and did nothing,” Stout said. “We can’t sit with our arms crossed, we are equals.”
El Paso County Commissioner David Stout said racism in El Paso needs to be eradicated altogether.
“We need to always be united against the systematic racism in our communities and eliminate it at every level,” Stout said. “A person came from outside and caused this pain that we were all feeling, but we need to recognize we also have this problem within our own community.”
Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, who represents El Paso, said it’s important to commemorate the victims and pass legislation to combat gun violence and racism.
“In Congress it’s unbelievable to me that we can’t get the senate to act on very fundamental, very common sense, very widely supported legislation that would create safer communities by preventing gun violence,” Escobar said. “We can’t allow for what led to that day be obscured and we can’t allow it to deter our journey going forward. There is still so much work to do.”
Escobar also said people like Abbott and others in the Republican Party are our greatest threat to national security.
“We can’t get Republican leadership to condemn the racism rampant in their party,” Escobar said. “They give power and they fuel people who have hate in their hearts. Domestic terrorism fueled by white nationalism is America’s greatest national security threat.”
Texas Senator Cesar Blanco said he’s calling on elected officials to look at the El Paso community’s experience and grow as a nation.
“The sorrow, the fear, the loss we will never be made whole again,” Blanco said. “This type of tragedy should not continue in our country. We have the ability to make change and defeat the gun lobby and defeat the politics of this because people are dying.”
Border Agricultural Workers Center organizer Carlos Marentes said if we create a culture that respects all life then we can properly commemorate the victims who lost their lives.
“Two years ago the nation discovered El Paso, Texas after the massacre at Walmart. We have lived here for years, decades and centuries,” Marentes said. “That was 23, but we have lost 2,800 from the pandemic. We have to respect all human rights no matter where you come from or where you live.”
Additionally, El Paso resident Lorena Andrade said she wanted to honor women in the community and their fight against injustice.
“If we have hope it’s because of the work we’re doing together,” Andrade said. “We need to keep fighting for our community, democracy, peace, and justice.”
The Policy Director of the Border Network for Human Rights Betty Carmago ended the program by reading out the names and releasing balloons in honor of all 23 victims who lost their lives.