For a Hispanic journalist, the brutal shooting that has (so far) claimed 22 lives in El Paso, Texas, is devastating but hardly unexpected. In the most tragic way, Saturday’s homicidal violence inside a Walmart full of Hispanic men, women, and children in one of America’s most emblematic border cities is a fitting culmination to the long period of hate speech that began, at least in its current iteration, on July 2015, when Donald Trump first announced his presidential ambitions. Since then, Trump has repeatedly failed to denounce white supremacism while vilifying the immigrant community at every turn. He has legitimized conspiracy theories, emboldened extremists, and personally fanned the flames of racial discord in America. It was only a matter of time before someone wrote a violent screed, grabbed an assault rifle designed to hunt human beings, drove to a predominantly Hispanic area, and opened fire in the name of Trumpian rhetoric.
For four years, the president has besieged the Hispanic community. Undocumented men and women have been forced out of their routines, even forgoing medical care for fear of being caught and deported. Trump’s pursuit of immigrants has also managed to break down the trust between immigrants and local law enforcement. Studies suggest, for example, that immigrants have become much less likely to report domestic abuse for fear of coming in contact with the authorities. In California, hate crimes against Latinos have increased since 2016. According to a report by the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations, such offenses against the county’s Hispanic population have grown steadily over the past few years. The trend is similar in other large cities across the country. Many hate crimes go unreported. As reporter and news anchor for Univision’s KMEX in Los Angeles, I know this well. Hardly a week goes by without a story of racial persecution landing on the station’s news desk, like the savage beating of street vendor Pedro Daniel Reyes, left with a broken jaw on the street in South L.A., or the harassment of San Jose resident Grecya Moran for speaking Spanish at a gas station store.
In the age of Trump, this has become the norm. So how should our community react to the carnage?
First, it should come to terms with the severity of the threat. Trump’s fearmongering and verbal agitation have often been dismissed as just words—political strategy rather than dangerous racist demagoguery with real consequences. After El Paso, this argument is no longer acceptable. Trump’s hate speech has now shown the extent to which it can inspire concrete, vicious violence. Similar to the screed published to 8chan by the Christchurch killer in New Zealand, the El Paso gunman’s manifesto references Trump’s talking points and white supremacism in general. There is no denying that the president of the United States has emboldened radical actors in American society. It should come as no surprise that some have now decided to act on their racist beliefs or that they have chosen to specifically target Hispanics. The threat of violence Trump has been building toward for so long has now fully materialized in the most horrific way.
There will surely be a renewed temptation, from deep within the Hispanic community, to turn inward and retreat from public spaces. While understandable, this would be the wrong response to last week’s intimidation. The blatant attack perpetrated on Saturday should be the catalyst for decisive political participation in the community. Recent upticks notwithstanding, Hispanics have long underperformed at the ballot box. Some blame it on fear, others on apathy. After El Paso, neither excuse is acceptable.
Those who have threatened, bullied, and endangered the country’s biggest minority—and other minorities as well, it goes without saying—have a name: Donald Trump and his many enablers within the Republican Party, who have failed to rein in the president’s worst impulses and policies. With 32 million eligible voters, Hispanics will likely make up 13 percent of the electorate in 2020. Univision’s data suggests Hispanics could prove decisive in seven crucial states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and North Carolina, every one of which saw increased Hispanic turnout in the 2018 midterms. If the trend persists, the Hispanic immigrant community could help shut the door to the White House on the man who, from the very beginning of his political life, chose to slander and jeopardize them and question their right to belong in the United States. There could be no better answer to bigotry.