In the dark hours after the attack, fear swept over my hometown. Lightning flashed on the horizon, illuminating empty streets and parking lots. Bars and restaurants shuttered their doors. Wherever I went, as I departed I heard this: “Take care out there.” That was a phrase I’d never heard in this city in more than 50 years.
Even at a public library, near the site of the attack, people openly advised each other to be careful, even exiting to the parking lot. “You gotta look both ways when you head out there,” said one man, loud enough for all to hear. “Be safe out there in all aspects.”
But in the human cycle of grief, the fear, disbelief and anxiety has transformed into a seething anger. El Paso is not a volatile, rioting city where the president could expect trouble. But he inevitably saw how alone he was in his toxic, racist politics, some throwback to a receding time in America.
When Air Force One touched down, the temperature was soaring toward 104 degrees and just one single local official, Mayor Dee Margo, was there to greet him (Gov. Greg Abbott was there as well).
Along the president’s route from the airport to a hospital, people lined the roads to greet him — largely with rejection. “What’s more important?” Asked one man’s sign. “Lives or re-election?” American and Mexican flags sprouted together in the August heat. Signs with quotes bearing his name came back to haunt him: “We cannot allow these people to invade our country.” “Not Welcome” covered a stage at a park where people protested the president. The El Paso Times ran a black front page with this headline: “Mr. President, We Are Hurting.”
How people actually live here stands in stark contrast to Mr. Trump’s white nationalism, consistently separating Americans into old-fashioned, racist categories. (Among other instances: He has told American Jews that Israel’s prime minister is their leader and proudly boasted of his few black supporters by calling them “my African Americans.”) Six in 10 Americans here have family on the other side of the trickling Rio Grande, according to a study by the El Paso Community Foundation, while six in 10 Mexicans just across the border have family on the American side. Thirty percent of Latinos here marry outside their ethnicity, usually an Anglo. Nationwide, one in six marriages are interracial, according to the Pew Research Center.
And what is usually forgotten is that racial violence in America has almost never been a two-way street. Instead, it has been visited, unfortunately, by the majority — whites. What whites have historically called “race riots” have actually been one-sided assaults by whites: Anglo-on-Latino in Texas, white-on-Chinese further West, white-on-blacks in Oklahoma and the Deep South. And so it continues, in 2019.