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With heavy heart, a column I never imagined

A man hangs up an ”El Paso Strong” sign at a makeshift memorial at the scene of a mass shooting at a shopping colmplex in El Paso. (John Locher/Associated Press)

My heart is heavy. This is a column that I never imagined that I would ever have to write. In the span of minutes on Aug. 3, a deranged gunman with white supremacist beliefs went into the Walmart at the Cielo Vista Mall in nearby El Paso and murdered 22 people with an AK-47-style assault rifle. Apparently, he traveled from the Dallas region to El Paso to murder Mexicans, whom he referred to in an online manifesto as “invading” the U.S. and impinging on white America. Several hours later, another deranged killer murdered nine people on a busy street in Dayton, Ohio.

According to a City of El Paso January 2019 news release, this city of nearly 700,000 has averaged 19.4 murders per year during the past five years. This violent act of murdering 22 innocent people in a day exceeds the entire annual murder average. Violent homicides, and especially hate crimes, are very uncommon in El Paso. As a comparison to other similarly-sized cities in the Southwest, in 2018 Albuquerque had 66 homicides, Tucson 53, and Colorado Springs 49 – note that each of these cities has a smaller population than El Paso.

I don’t know much about Dayton, Ohio, but I do know that El Paso is one of the most gentle, welcoming, and kind cities in our nation. I live in Santa Teresa, located in southern New Mexico, a western suburb of El Paso. I shop at Cielo Vista Mall with both Americans and Mexicans. If such a vile act can occur in this community, no community in the U.S. is safe.

People visit a makeshift memorial at the scene of a mass shooting at a shopping complex in El Paso.

I am tired of having ill-intentioned parties from other parts of the country trying to make the border be a piñata for all things evil ranging from xenophobia to fear mongering, and now to racist violence. The border is a place where we are not separated – rather it is a place where we come together to integrate the best aspects of our different cultures to form something truly unique. The El Paso border region is a melting pot of Mexican, Native American, Lebanese, White, Korean, African American, and other races/ethnicities. We are all accepting of each other. The border is truly a region where anybody who is different will have no problem fitting in. It is a place where people routinely cross the border to shop and visit families, and where Spanish and English are equally heard. It is this diversity that makes it strong, and makes people want to live here and raise their families.

How absurd it is that a twisted person can leave his community near Dallas and travel 600 miles to take hate-filled actions in a community he is not from, nor where his message of hatred would be accepted. A community in which people of Indian and Mexican heritage were here centuries before any Anglo-Saxons or any other majority ethnic groups stepped ground. An invasion of Mexicans? The Southwest was populated by Native Americans, Mexicans, and Hispanics when it was annexed by the U.S. In other words, the U.S. came to us, we did not invade the U.S.

And what about modern Mexican citizens? They are our friends and neighbors, with whom we laugh, cry, and jointly solve problems. Our U.S. border businesses rely heavily on Mexicans crossing into the U.S. to buy their goods and services, and to lay down vacation money in places such as Ruidoso, Santa Fe, and El Paso. Sadly, eight Mexican citizens paid with their lives for the routine act of shopping and spending their money at a border Walmart.

Thirty-one lives were lost within hours in different parts of the country, and where are we now? The issue of the Second Amendment and keeping deadly weapons out of the hands of dangerous minds is a complicated one, but it needs to be addressed now, instead of being constantly kicked like a can down a road.

If our leaders remain stuck in neutral, we need to put new ones in office. Polls show that a majority of Americans want stronger background checks and gun control laws. I am not an anti-gun activist. I was raised to hunt in the forests of northern New Mexico with my family. Although I haven’t hunted for several years, I still own several guns. However, how do we prevent hateful and insane people from having access to weapons that can quickly kill so many people? Should assault rifles like the ones used by the killers really be protected under the Second Amendment?

And politics be damned. Divisiveness, especially based on race or religion, should not be used as a political tool to push political agendas to keep people in office. In this country, in which so many immigrants have bought into the American dream of freedom and pride of country, this type of behavior is the most anti-American, and anti-patriotic imaginable. America is great because we absorb the best of cultures from around the world, resulting in our unique music, foods, and customs. It is our diversity that has made us such a great nation, and we have traditionally been respected throughout the world. And yes, words and hateful rhetoric by our leaders fuel the fire, and empower racists who live in the shadows, and who would commit such atrocities.

Thirty-one innocent lives lost within hours. This is unacceptable.

Each one of us needs to strongly speak out against xenophobia, white supremacy, and discrimination. Each one of us makes a difference, and together our collective voice will be heard. At the border, we will continue to live and work together to show the world that we are a place where the border doesn’t divide us, but brings us together to share our best qualities. To support the victims of the El Paso murders, donate blood or make donations to the official lead donation agency that can be accessed by this link: https://payments.epcf.org/victims. Please make it a point today and every day to make a case for unity not divisiveness.

Jerry Pacheco is the executive director of the International Business Accelerator, a nonprofit trade counseling program of the New Mexico Small Business Development Centers Network. He can be reached at 575-589-2200 or at jerry@nmiba.com.

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