This article originally appeared in the Friday Aug. 9, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.
When Mission resident Laura Gonzalez first heard of the deadly mass shooting in El Paso that killed more than 20 people last weekend, her heart felt heavy.
“I had to pull over the side of the road to compose myself before calling family and friends who still live in the area,” Gonzalez, a native of El Paso said. “Even though they were safe, on the drive home I was crying anyway. My heart felt heavy at what happened.
Last Saturday, more than 30 people were killed in two different shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio over a 24 hour period. In response to the shooting Gonzalez-who runs the Lorretto at Mission bistro-attended a vigil in McAllen alongside her husband, employees and nearly 50 other people from around the Valley.
“I was born in Juarez and raised in El Paso and have always identified as an El Pasoan my whole life,” Gonzalez said. “When I heard about the tragedies, it was surreal. I thought it could never happen to my community. This senseless massacre could’ve happened here, we are the same demographic as El Paso.”
The interfaith vigil, which was hosted by La Union del Pueblo Entero, had several religious leaders speaking to the community while counselors from Hope Family Center and Mariposa Wellness were on standby for any family members who needed counseling.
“It’s an important moment for us to connect what we feel around these tragedies that continue to happen and find ways to take action to make our country a more inclusive, loving and welcoming society,” LUPE spokesperson John Michael Torres explained.
Gonzalez, who carried a sign with the hashtag “#ElPasoStrong,” said the vigil served as a call to action for the community to ensure another tragedy doesn’t take place.
“I completely believe prayers and thoughts are appreciated, but we need to put that into action,” Gonzalez said. “Otherwise it’s just a bandaid on the wound. We need to think about how we want our local leaders, senators and even the president, to act following something like this. We can do that. Everyone plays a part in how our communities are run.”
The El Paso shooting is being investigated as a hate crime after the shooter published a manifesto against immigrants before the attack, according to the nonpartisan political newspaper The Hill.
The attack against immigrants is one that LUPE officials say makes the community feel like they have a target on their backs.
“The vile ideology of white supremacy is behind these tragic deaths and we must recognize the moment we are in and cannot allow hate to spread,” Torres said. “We know love is stronger than hate. We have to put that love into action to spread love, inclusion and acceptance to our society in large or small ways.”
To get attendees more involved in the community, LUPE had a signing booth at the vigil to register residents to vote. The Valley, according to LUPE Coordinator Tania Chavez, has historically low voter turnout.
“We need to take action for the community and voting is the best way to do that,” Chavez said. “Only four out of ten people vote in a general election and only half of that vote in a regular election. So when only 20 to 40 percent of people registered to vote turnout, not everyone’s voice is being heard.”
According to Paulette Gindler, a Lay Leader at the Edinburg Temple Emanuel, many people turn to religion following a tragedy. The vigil provided the community an outlet to find spiritual comfort, she said.
“It’s hard to understand why horrible things happen and I don’t know if it’s for us to understand,” Gindler said. “But in times like this, many people do turn to their faith. It brings comfort. It reminds them why unity is so important. It’s like Noah’s Ark. We’re all in the same boat together and we might as well get along to work toward peace.”