“Are you okay? Do you need any help finding anything?” a voice asked me.
I found myself looking up at the face of a teenage, Target employee. He was asking me this question as I stared at a shelf of toys in an aisle at 8:30 p.m. on Sunday evening. I had gone to Target because our coffee machine broke and I knew, as a stay at home mom, I’d want coffee the next morning. I don’t even remember wandering over to the toy aisle. My mind was elsewhere in sad thought.
“Geez what must my face look like?” I thought to myself.
“I’m fine. Thanks,” I replied back while clutching the new coffee machine I had picked out moments ago.
The truth was, no, I was not okay. I’m still not really okay.
The day before, Saturday August 3, 2019, a white supremacist shooter walked into a Walmart in my family’s hometown of El Paso and shot at shoppers going about their regular Saturday business. Maybe one of them was going in just to buy a coffee machine like I was currently doing. Maybe one of them had a kind teenage worker asking if they needed help finding things.
Lucky for me, no one in my family was hurt. One of my dad’s cousins was in the Walmart when the shooting took place.
I’m one of them: the “Hispanic invasion” of Texas. Although, I’ll never know how we can be invaders when my people are indigenous to this land.
I’ve been struggling with feelings of identity since this shooting happened.
I am an easy target for any white supremacist. I look like what I am, and I am dark skinned. I’ve been conflicted about taking my husband’s very non-Hispanic “white” last name nine years ago. When I chose to take his name, it wasn’t because I didn’t like mine, it was just a tradition to me that I wanted to do. I wanted to fully embrace my new Mrs. title in all of its glory. Now it feels like I’ve been hiding away who I am. It feels like I’m somehow ashamed of my heritage. I’m starting to feel the same way about my son’s “white” name. I’ve been wondering if I’ve somehow robbed him of his Hispanic heritage by not giving him a more overtly Mexican name.
I had to have a talk with my husband making him promise me that if something ever happens to me, if I somehow got singled out in some kind of violent act because of my heritage, he has to work hard to show our son his Mexican heritage. He can not let my son grow up not knowing where he came from. He will have to work hard to make sure my son does not get any kind of white privilege in his head, because my son will not grow up with the inherit understanding of what it means to walk in this world with dark skin. He will never know how difficult it can really be unless he is told. He will never know the blatant racism I and other members of his family have faced, simply because of our dark skin and Mexican heritage.
The people of El Paso are beautiful and rich in culture. My heart ached for the city every day as a child when we moved away to Ohio. I missed my family, my friends, my home. Everything. It wasn’t just the people. I missed the folklorico dancers at bazaars, the piñatas at birthday parties, the tamales at Christmas, mariachi music at restaurants, and the star on the mountain.
I missed football games at the Sun Bowl Stadium, and basketball games at the Don Haskins Center watching my parents alma mater UTEP. I missed Sunday drives along the Scenic Drive along the mountains, watching Ballet El Paso perform The Nutcracker every year, and Viva! El Paso performed at McKelligon Canyon, the show in which my parents performed together and met each other back in the 70s. I missed shopping and seeing movies at Cielo Vista Mall. I saw the original Jurassic Park on Father’s Day weekend there. I remember the time my cousin got her head stuck in the railing in the upstairs balcony at that mall. I wasn’t supposed to laugh, but I did. And of course, I missed some amazing Mexican food, which my mom did her best to replicate at home growing up.
My heart aches with the city now.
Parents, we can not let our children grow up in this hate filled world. The only way to change it, is to denounce hate and anyone who spews it. It starts at home. We must teach our children to be better. They must be better than what we as a society have shown them.
We can not let them think any race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other kind of difference makes them better or worse than anyone else. We have to show them equality. We have to introduce them to other cultures and other opinions besides our own. We can not let them grow up fearing those who are different from them. We must teach them empathy. We must teach them compassion above all. We must teach them that yes, there will always be bad people in the world, but we can counter any hate filled or racist comment by speaking out against it. Call it out when you see it or hear it. We must teach our children to not turn a blind eye, because if we don’t, it will continue to fester and more tragedies will occur.