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Commentary: An El Paso Native Reflects On Her Community

The border town of El Paso, TX with Juarez, Mexico in the background south of the Rio Grande River.
Ron Reiring | Flickr
The border town of El Paso, TX with Juarez, Mexico in the background south of the Rio Grande River.

The death toll from the El Paso shooting rose to 22 on Monday. The tragedy has deeply resonated with people throughout the nation, including TPR Morning Edition host Norma Martinez. She is from El Paso, and she offers these personal reflections on her community.

By now, you’ve already heard what a special community El Paso is. I can vouch for that.

Here’s the thing about El Pasoans. We’re world-class complainers. We bitch and whine and moan about EVERYTHING – the endless traffic construction in West El Paso; high property taxes; the border fence.

You name it, we’ve complained about it. I know I have.

You’ve heard El Paso refer to itself and its Mexican neighbor Ciudad Juarez as a family.  That’s exactly what it’s like - the family member everyone complains about but ultimately loves because they’re family. We don’t kill each other over our differences.

 El Paso averaged 18 murders a year in the last four years.

Between 1960 and 2018 – a 58-year span?  An average of 23 murders a year.

As of Monday afternoon, 22 are dead after a day of gun violence. That’s shocking for a city considered one of the safest in the U.S. We don’t go around leaving our doors unlocked, or cars running in parking lots – there IS violent crime. But those are numbers we take for granted.

I moved to San Antonio about 2-and-a-half years ago. Imagine my shock watching the news and hearing about the latest shooting of the day. Just over 100 people were murdered in the Alamo City in 2018. It was a decrease from the year before.

It dawned on me – Damn. I’m in Texas. People have guns here.

I know… El Paso is a part of Texas, but it’s not. There’s no gun culture in El Paso. It’s politically quite blue. Geographically, topographically... we’re closer to Mexico and New Mexico. El Pasoans tend to identify more with Los Angeles than with Austin or Houston. Our remoteness almost makes us feel like we’re forgotten by the rest of the state.

I, and I’m sure many El Pasoans, were taken aback by the outpouring of support and love and attention from around the world following the massacre on Saturday. We’re not used to that.

El Paso has been vilified in the recent past. White nationalists see this as an invasion. A “Hispanic invasion of Texas,” according to the alleged manifesto by the El Paso shooter.

Um...we were here first, dude. You invaded us.

Ignorance of Texas history aside, your actions at that Wal-Mart only unified us. You’ve made us stronger.

I live in San Antonio, a city one person described to me as ‘El Paso, but with more things to do.’ I’ve been speaking as if I still live in El Paso...like I’m still an El Pasoan. I am. When news was breaking over the weekend, I subconsciously transported myself 500 miles away to my home. I felt like I was there.

I was at Cielo Vista Mall, where in my youth, my mom or dad dropped off me and my friend Laurie so she could check out the guys. That’s where my small group of high school friends would have lunch because there were no places to eat within walking distance.

I was at that Wal-Mart and nearby Sam’s Club, where as an adult, I’d grit my teeth as I crawled through traffic and parked about a quarter mile away from the store. That made me wonder how far the shooter had to walk, leaving broken, bloody bodies in his wake.

I’m still there. As are many El Pasoans who no longer live there. We stand El Paso Strong... and no amount of bloodshed will ever eclipse the spirit of the Sun City.

Norma Martinez can be reached at Norma@TPR.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1.

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1