On Sunday, July 28, 2019, a white male cut through a back fence of the famous Gilroy Garlic Festival, shooting festival goers and killing three people in the process, including a 6-year-old child named Stephen Romero. The following weekend, on Saturday, Aug. 3, another white male entered a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, shooting and killing 22 people.
In May of this year, President Donald Trump spoke at a rally with his supporters and asked the crowd, “How do we stop these people?”, referring to undocumented Mexicans/Latin Americans. Within moments, a fan answered the president: “Shoot them!” President Trump smiled, quipped back, and paused for the crowd’s laughter and applause. This interaction was neither an isolated incident nor a gaffe. It was one of this president’s countless statements that condone, and even encourage, violence against what he and his supporters deem to be the invading Other.
We, the authors of this op-ed, along with our extended community, are among those he and his supporters see and treat as the invading Other. We are those people that the Gilroy shooter referred to when he asked on his media post, “Why overcrowd towns and pave more open space to make room for hordes of mestizos?” and those that the murderer in El Paso warned against when he wrote in his manifesto, “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas. They are the instigators, not me. I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion.” He later confessed to police that he was targeting Mexicans during his massacre.
When we read these statements after they were released, we were outraged and saddened, but we were not surprised, for our communities have been targeted before. Beyond the historical inaccuracy of this so-called “Hispanic invasion,” these words expose a desire, reinforced by Trump’s ongoing rhetoric, to “return” to a version of the United States that is white, straight, male and Christian. This racist, xenophobic violence did not begin with Trump, but his rhetoric (along with his administration’s policies) have no doubt augmented the fear that our communities live with on a daily basis. We live in a constant state of fear. Fear that we will be harassed for no good reason; fear that we will not be hired or rented to because of our names, skin color or the language we speak; fear that we will lose family members to immigration raids and/or gun violence; fear that one day our lifeless bodies, our pain, our suffering will be used as the leading story for the evening news.
While we recognize that some news outlets may show these images to evoke empathy, we also contend that these images contribute to the long history of normalizing the dead, brown Other. Let us not forget that at the turn of the 20th century in California, lynchings of Mexicans were professionally photographed and sold as postcards. Now, the images are shared without consent across multiple media platforms and channels that earn revenue by clicks and views.
If this country is to engage in a meaningful debate about gun control, we must address the role that firearms play in white supremacist nationalism. With the most recent wave of mass acts of violence against minoritized communities, including people of color, seldom has the media or nation at large been willing to confront what has undergirded this violence, which by no means is recent history, but an indelible part of this nation’s very foundation: the real threat of white supremacy and white nationalism. We fundamentally believe an active solution to gun violence is long overdue. However, a discussion on gun laws and safety is fruitless unless we expose the rhetoric and violent consequences our communities have experienced firsthand for centuries at the hands of white supremacist nationalism.
But while we continue to live in fear, we will also continue doing what we do best. We teach our children, advocate for and protect our communities, we uplift one another. We continue to proclaim, assert, y honramos nuestra humanidad. Or as Cherríe Moraga puts it, ““I am what I am and you can't take it away with all the words and sneers at your command.”
Dr. Cristina Herrera is professor and chair of Chicano and Latin American studies at Fresno State. Dr. Luis Fernando Macías is assistant professor of Chicano and Latin American studies at Fresno State.