Local Latino community living in fear after mass shooting in El Paso

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For Windsor parent Erika Garcia, the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas on Saturday that killed 22 people wasn’t just an act of domestic terrorism — it was an act of genocide she said is traumatizing the Latino community.

“It was directed at an ethnic group,” said Garcia, a community volunteer in the Windsor Unified School District.

“I’ve heard some mothers in the community afraid of putting their kids in kindergarten because of school shootings,” Garcia said Tuesday, speaking in Spanish. “Now, with these ethnic attacks, that terror is multiplied and that’s exactly what the terrorists want.”

The brutal attack in El Paso, where 21-year-old Patrick Crusius reportedly had driven 10 hours to a Walmart near the Mexico border with the intent to “kill as many Mexicans as possible,” has shaken and horrified many local Latinos. Some here who have feared being taken into custody this summer by federal agents and deported as part of the Trump administration’s threats of an immigration crackdown in several U.S. cities, now fear for their lives, Garcia said.

“These shootings, all these killings and the persecution of immigrants is endangering the physical and emotional health of many families,” she said.

Latinos comprise roughly 26% of the population in Sonoma County, or roughly 130,000 residents. Across the country, Latinos account for a smaller share of the population — 18%, or 56.5 million people.

According to the Pew Research Center, the number of Latinos in the nation has increased 6.5% since 1980, when there were 14.8 million. Nearly two-thirds of Latinos nationwide were born in America.

Andrea Naranjo, the mental health manager at Santa Rosa Community Health’s campus in the city’s southwest section, said Tuesday she discussed the El Paso shooting with a patient she’s treating for post-traumatic stress disorder because of gun violence.

“We serve some people that are already coming from other countries, that have fled violence,” she said, “Obviously, there’s going to be heightened awareness, and anxiety that’s related to their past experience.”

Naranjo said she’s also heard a growing number of people express concern about being at a public event or gathering, feeling uneasy and anxious. She said some Latinos likely are experiencing the sensation of being targeted.

“It’s the feeling that your brain is on guard, you’re scanning for anything that could be a potential danger,” Naranjo said. “Often times, being around a crowd of people or a lot of strangers is really anxiety provoking. It causes jumpiness and you’re not sure who you can trust.”

For many area Latinos, the gun violence in El Paso and in Gilroy, where three people were killed July 28 at the annual garlic festival in the Northern California town, marked a deadly new chapter in America’s white supremacist movement.

But Ron Lopez, head of Sonoma State University’s department of Chicano and Latino Studies, said the recent violence and anti-immigrant sentiments follow a familiar pattern of animosity in the United States toward immigrants and outsiders.

Past targets, he said, have included Irish Catholics and Germans immigrants, American Indians, African Americans, Jews, Eastern Europeans, Armenians and Arab Americans.

Today, the shift to a global economy, the decline of labor unions and other economic forces have stripped many of the American dream they felt entitled to and has led to growing anti-immigrant sentiments, he said.

“Politicians who are skilled at the art of manipulating people’s minds can easily say, ‘Those are the people that are causing your problems,’ ” Lopez said.

Lopez said President Donald Trump “and other people with similar views have really stoked these ideas that white people are disappearing.”

Meanwhile, Garcia, of Windsor, said she’s deeply saddened by the horrible shooting in El Paso, a tragedy she thinks was fomented by nasty political rhetoric.

“What happened in El Paso is rooted in ignorance,” she said. “It stems from a racism that’s been fed by political parties and politicians who only seek to enrich themselves and maintain their privilege.”

Christy Lubin, director of the Graton Day Labor Center, agreed.

“Their objective is fear,” Lubin said of such politicians. “They want white people to fear immigrants, for immigrants to fear government.”

But Lubin said “courage will always be greater than fear.” She encouraged Sonoma County residents to get to know their immigrant neighbors.

“We have more in common than we have differences,” she said.

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