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Rio Grande Communities Fear They Could Suffer A Similar Fate As El Paso

Reynaldo Leanos Jr. | Texas Public Radio
Tania Chavez is with La Union Del Pueblo Entero, a local immigrants rights group, who helped organize the vigil.

The massacre in El Paso sent shockwaves across the country, and especially throughout the Rio Grande Valley. People in McAllen held a vigil on Wednesday to honor their fellow border city hundreds of miles away. At the event they expressed defiance and sadness. But they also expressed fear — fear that what happened in El Paso could someday happen to them.

La Union Del Pueblo Entero held the vigil to stand in solidarity with their fellow border city hundreds of miles away.

Laura Gonzalez was in the crowd. She was born in Ciudad Juarez and grew up in El Paso.

“We used to take a streetcar back and forth, and you didn’t need to show your papers," she said. "You didn’t need to show anything because it was a friendly open border.”

She said her memories of El Paso have always been positive.

“One of sharing, one of community, one of bicultural experiences that you didn’t even need to think about,” she said.

She’s now lived in the Rio Grande Valley for more than a decade. Today she held a sign that read "El Paso Strong."

Gonzalez said she remembered being on a playground near the Walmart where the recent shooting took place. Despite the 700 miles between El Paso and McAllen, she felt the massacre could have happened in McAllen too.

Credit Reynaldo Leanos Jr | Texas Public Radio
People gathered at Archer Park in McAllen on Wednesday

“We all have a target on our backs. It’s unfortunately because I look like this. It makes me a target,” Gonzalez said. “And before when I was a child I never ever even thought about that.”

She said she and her family have had to change their routines, especially when they're shopping.

“The day after this horrible incident happened my sister got out of the hospital," she said. "And so we were going to Target, and I told her, 'You know what, if something happens meet me in the cosmetics.' I mean, now we’re even thinking about that.”

Olga Fernandez is also from the Rio Grande Valley. She’s a secretary at a local school district. Fernandez said the shooting still traumatizes her.

“Every single step that I walk [I'm] turning my back. Seeing who’s in front of me, who has a backpack, who’s walking strange, who’s looking at me differently,” she said. “I’m scared, I’m scared. It’s not who I am.”

Fernandez was at a respite center in the Valley helping asylum-seeking migrants when she learned about the El Paso incident.

“I said, 'Oh my God, maybe they’re going to come over here because if they're targeting Latinos, Hispanics, Mexicans, maybe they’re going to come over here.'” she said. “I was in a panic mode.”

Fernandez attended the vigil with her son. She said parents need to talk to their kids.

“We need to teach our kids to respect every single one, no matter what color, race, the way they talk, the way they have their accent. Everybody is the same,” she said. “We are here to live in harmony.”

Tania Chavez, a strategist with La Union Del Pubelo Entero, helped organize the vigil.

Chavez said she’s also still processing what happened in El Paso. She said the shooting hit close to home. Her parents live in Mexico. They visit her every weekend, and one of the things they do as a family is go to Walmart.

Credit Reynaldo Leanos Jr. | Texas Public Radio
A vigil to remember the lives lost in El Paso was held at Archer Park

“To know that it was a weekend that they would have been here, to know that it was a weekend at a place where we would have been at. It was just a little too real,” Chavez said. “I’ve lost a brother to gun violence, and to think I would love my parents in such a violent way -- it was painful and it was hurtful.”

She said it was important for her community to hold the vigil to stand in solidarity with El Paso and to create a space for them to grieve.

“We fight all the time and we march and we protest all the time,” she said. “We needed to take a moment to be in silence, to cry, to pray because tomorrow we’ll continue with the fight, but today we need to take a step back and reenergize.”

Chavez said they will encourage people in the community to take action.

“If the killing of these many people haven’t shaken you, what will?” she asked. “What will it take for people to go out and vote, to register to vote, to become U.S. citizens if they have the ability to do so?”

People at the vigil also remembered Leo Campos and his wife Maribel, who died in the El Paso shooting. Campos attended school in the Rio Grande Valley. Another vigil will be held this weekend in Brownsville.

Reynaldo Leaños Jr. can be reached at Reynaldo@TPR.org and on Twitter at @ReynaldoLeanos

Reynaldo Leaños Jr. can be reached at reynaldo@tpr.org and on Twitter at @ReynaldoLeanos