On the morning of Aug. 3 Irene Silva took “roll call,” making countless calls to her family and friends in El Paso, Texas, as she prayed they were not of the 22 people murdered by a gunman who drove more than 10 hours to target and kill Mexican people.
Silva, a 52-year-old El Paso native has lived in Chula Vista for 18 years, said she knows the area where the mass shooting took place all too well.
The day of the shooting, Silva’s best friend was going to make a trip to Walmart, but decided she could just stop at the corner store instead. Two days prior to the shooting, Silva’s mother and aunts had been grocery shopping at the same Walmart, making routine purchases — much like those who were killed in the mass shooting, who were buying groceries and back-to-school shopping.
“I was sad for days after, I couldn’t believe this happened in my hometown, a city where I felt so safe growing up and even as an adult. I had just visited in June for a family wedding,” Silva said on Tuesday. “Such a senseless loss of life, elderly people, a 15-year old, four married couples. Just surreal, and for being Hispanic?”
Before committing the worst hate crime against Latinos in modern U.S. history, the domestic terrorist, a 21-year-old white man from Allen, Texas, posted a 2,300 word manifesto online, that cited a Hispanic invasion of Texas and blamed immigrants for taking American jobs.
In the manifesto the gunman said that his opinions predated Trump’s presidency, though his rhetoric reflected Trump’s in his claim that there is an “invasion” of undocumented immigrants who are trying to cross the southern border.
Governing Board Member at Southwestern College and Chicano Federation Senior Director Roberto Alcantar grew up in San Ysidro, and said he was shattered and heartbroken when he first learned about the shooting in another border city.
Like El Paso, Chula Vista is a border city with a predominantly Hispanic or Latino population. El Paso is 83 percent Hispanic or Latino and Chula Vista is 59.5 percent Hispanic or Latino, according to the U.S. census 2018 estimate.
Mayor of Chula Vista Mary Salas said she has signed onto a letter of the U.S. conference of mayors directed to Senator Mitch McConnell (R) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D) urging them to pass H.R. 8, which would require a background check for every firearm sale, and H.R. 1112, which would strengthen background checks before a federal firearms licensee may transfer a firearm to a person without a license.
Both bills have already been passed in the House of Representatives. During the city council meeting on Tuesday, Salas also introduced a resolution asking Congress to take up this legislation, and requesting the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban.
“I think a time has come where there is a public outcry that we have to do something. Every time there is a mass shooting, there’s this cry from the public, ‘do something, do something’ and it’s our responsibility as leaders to put the pressure on Congress to listen to the will of the people,” Salas said at the meeting.
The resolution passed with a 3 to 2 vote. Councilwoman Jill Galvez and Councilmen Mike Diaz voted against the resolution, while Mayor Salas, Councilman Stephen Padilla and Councilman John McCann voted for the resolution.
Salas said she received emails from parents who said they would no longer be taking their children due to the El Paso shooting, which happened the day before the 23rd annual Chula Vista Lemon Festival.
“It puts a chill on the whole community,” Salas said in an interview with The Star-News.
According to Alcantar, the El Paso shooting has heightened a sense of fear that was already present in the local Latino community because of ICE raids and the president’s rhetoric.
“This should be a wake up call to some people who think that hateful rhetoric is just words, these are real consequences of that rhetoric,” Alcantar said.
As a father of an 8-year-old girl, Alcantar said he is worried about his daughter’s safety going on field trips and being in public, but he doesn’t want fear to deprive her of opportunities. Through the Chicano Federation, Alcantar has worked to help members embrace their culture and heritage and said he will continue to do so while being proud of who he is.
“We have to take this as an opportunity to stand up and lead and let our community members know that we’ve been through these fights, and we’ve been through them together, and build coalitions with our African American brothers and sisters, our Muslim American brothers and sisters and the LGBT+ community. We have to all stand together.” Alcantar said.
Chula Vista resident and MANA Executive Director Sofia Salgado echoed Alcantar’s sentiments, and said there has been an increased sense of anxiety among the Latina women she mentors and works with.
MANA, short for hermana, the Spanish word for sister, is a national non-profit organization with the mission of giving a voice to Mexican-American women at the national, state and local level, according to their website.
Chula Vista resident and MANA President Venus Molina was with other local Latino leaders at the San Diego UnidosUS conference at the time of the El Paso shooting. UnidosUS is the largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organization in the nation that aims to empower and create opportunities for Latinos.
“You know the last time I felt that feeling was when I was in high school and we did a walkout against prop 187. That was such a blatant attack on us Latinos. A direct racist attack on us Latinos,” Molina said.
Proposition 187 was passed in 1994 and sought to require police, health care professionals and teachers to confirm and report the immigration status of all individuals. The proposition was ultimately deemed unconstitutional in 1998. Molina said accompanying the sadness she felt when she learned of the El Paso shooting, was disbelief.
“I think what’s worse is that people have become so desensitized because it happens so often, and people just kind of check out because they don’t know how to deal with it,” Molina said. “You can’t mourn when there’s just one thing after another after another.”
The El Paso shooting is one of 257 mass shootings that have happened in 2019, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as a shooting in which four or more people were shot or killed, not including the shooter.
Just 12 hours after the El Paso shooting, a 24-year-old white man opened fire on a crowded street in Dayton, Ohio, killing nine people and wounding 27 others in 32 seconds.
Less than a week before the El Paso shooting, a gunman killed three, wounded 13 and then killed himself at a garlic festival in Gilroy, California. Before doing so, he promoted a white supremacist manifesto online.
“Every time there is a shooting, everyone just says ‘thoughts and prayers.’ You can’t pray the racism away. You can’t pray the ignorance away. You have to act on it,” Molina said.
South Bay Community Services Director of Communications Patty Chavez said she’s been telling her kids to be aware of their surroundings for years now, as the news of mass shootings in the United States continue to pour in.
“We keep hearing these headlines — movie theatres, concerts, stores. But we can’t be afraid of life,” Chavez said.
Chavez has family in El Paso and was also at the UnidosUS conference at the time of the shooting, where she said there were feelings of disbelief, sadness, anger and fear.
Among her friends and peers, she said there is growing concern about the Trump administration’s rhetoric reaching a new extreme. She added that her father has been a U.S. citizen for decades, but in recent years he has been carrying around his passport in case he is profiled.
“My family stands firm in our belief that voting for leaders who bring people together in words and action is crucial. It’s also important to highlight the good in our world and most importantly to be part of the good,” Chavez said.
When asked about moving forward, Mayor Salas said she anticipates that there will be more public interest in active shooter training.
In the past, the Chula Vista Police Department has conducted active shooter trainings at malls in Chula Vista and for local business owners, according to Lt. Dan Peak. CVPD also hosted an active shooter training for houses of worship after the Poway Synagogue shooting left one dead and three injured in May.