During a Sunday virtual press conference commemorating the one-year anniversary of the El Paso Shooting, Margarita Arvizu took a moment to share what she remembered on the day of August 3, 2019.
Margarita said she was was driving her daughter, Daisy, along with Daisy’s brother to her new job at Walmart. It was Daisy’s first day. Margarita dropped off Daisy and went to the hospital, a ten-minute ride from the store, to visit a family member.
At around 10:35 a.m., Daisy texted her mother, telling her to visit her at her job when they were done at the hospital. Margarita agreed and put her phone on silent. Five minutes later, Daisy texted her brother: “They are shooting.”
Margarita rushed to the Walmart. She thought that maybe all was fine and there was nothing too serious. But as she was approaching the exit to the store, she saw how several police patrols, border patrols, state troopers, and helicopter surrounded the area. Videos flooded social media showing bloody corpses on the floor and gunshots. Daisy did not answer her phone. Margarita thought of the worst.
The exit was blocked by police officers, but Margarita was able to park around the exit to the mall next door. There, she connected with Daisy, who had escaped as soon as the shooter entered the store, hearing a bullet pass by her and hitting a mannequin.
The shooter was later identified as Patrick Wood Crusius, a 21-year-old white supremacist who killed 23 people and injured 23 others. He now faces 23 counts of hate crimes resulting in death, 23 counts of use of a firearm to commit murder, 22 counts of hate crimes involving an attempt to kill, and 22 counts of use of a firearms.
The shooting has been described as the deadliest attack on Latinos in modern American history.
“Let us be very clear: this was not circumstantial or random aggression, but a well-planned action motivated by at least three systemic evils that have been permeating our society and our public lives for the past four years,” said Fernando García, Executive Director of the Border Network for Human Rights (BNHR) during the same virtual press conference, which was held in partnership with the Immigrant Alliance for Justice & Equity of Mississippi (IAJE), Working Together MS (WTM) and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON).
“First, the access to weapons of war in our streets, the ill-conceived and destructive ideology of white supremacism —which is not new, but has re-emerged in our fastly growing diverse and multiracial society— and the very intentional, racist and xenophobic discourse of the president that has distorted the image and contributions of immigrants,” García said.
The press conference was the kickoff to a solidarity week organized by the BNHR, IAJE, WTM, and NDLON. The purpose of the week is to commemorate the August 3 massacre and the one-year anniversary of the August 7 ICE raids in Mississippi.
“The white supremacy that inspired the domestic terrorist to take 23 lives in El Paso on August 3 last year is the same despicable hatred that inspired ICE to terrorize and raid our communities across Mississippi days later on August 7. It’s the worldview that justifies excluding millions of people from aid during a pandemic —leaving them to get sick and die— because they may be essential, but they are immigrant, Latino, indigenous, undocumented—so they are ‘non-persons’, unworthy of protections or dignity at work. A year later, we are still here, still standing, and fighting to unmask the hate that attacked us, to hold those responsible to account, and to demand protections so it can never happen again. From August 3 to 7, we ask that you join us in remembering those not with us, in reflecting on our shared histories of resistance, and in exercising our collective spirit in acts of solidarity and compassion,” BNHR, IAJE, WTM, and NDLON said in a joint statement.
Crusius’ manifesto was published in a white extremist online board moments before the shooting. It spoke about an “invasion” by immigrants and a political takeover in Texas. Many have said that Crusius was just using similar language to that of President Trump. For example, a USA Today analysis found in 64 rallies since 2017, Trump used words such as “invasion” 19 times, “animal” 34 times, and “killer” nearly three dozen times when discussing immigration. The same analysis noted that when combined, Trump used the words “predator,” “invasion,” “criminal,” and “animal” at his rallies while discussing immigration more than 500 times.
“There is a hate that must be unmasked and held to account. This attack was not perpetrated by a mentally disturbed individual as some are quick to say, but somebody that embraced the worse of an American ideology promoted by the highest office of the nation, the Presidency. Yes, Mr. Trump has a lot of responsibility and blame for what happened to our community, and he needs to know that we will not forget it and that we are holding him accountable,” García said.
Margarita’s life changed forever since that day. Daisy went to therapy and still has nightmares. Margarita said she is still living in fear a year later. And she doesn’t understand how someone can travel from far away, exclusively to kill Mexicans.
“Nunca pensé que esto iba a pasar a mi familia. I thought this will never happen to my family,” Margarita said during the virtual conference. “We need to stop this racism and xenophobia against Latinos. We cannot forget.”
Allies will commemorate the 23 lives lost during a procession with 23 monumental crosses to the original memorial enacted where the shootings happen. In addition, El Paso History Museum is featuring an exhibition commemorating the victims.
An anniversary of the August 7 raids is also scheduled in Mississippi.
Diego Jesús Bartesaghi Mena is a 2020 Latino Rebels summer correspondent. A recent graduate of Columbia Journalism School, he is based in Newark, NJ and tweets from @bartesaghi_mena.