Checking In On El Paso After Walmart Shooting
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
It's been more than four months since a gunman opened fire at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killing 22 people and injuring two dozen more. The shooter confessed he deliberately targeted Latinos. Since the August attack, residents have had to cope with the trauma of that tragedy. And as the year winds up, we thought we would check in and see how the community is doing. Joining us now is El Paso historian, writer and musician David Dorado Romo. Welcome to the program.
DAVID DORADO ROMO: Thank you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: This must be a very difficult holiday season.
ROMO: All the events that happened this year, including the massacre at Cielo Vista - it just kept the community in a state of confusion, shock, I think. It's something that - there is also resiliency. But it never goes away, something like what happened.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What has El Paso been doing to help people come to grips with the terrible tragedy?
ROMO: Yeah. I think there were a lot of different initiatives. Some of them had to do with trying to pinpoint why things like this happen and what are the - not only the superficial causes - but the root causes? I believe that what has been going on in the border has been going on for a long time. And it's just recently, especially this year - things have become so accelerated in terms of we feel like we're under siege. And I think the El Paso massacre just brought it all to the forefront.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, I'm told you're putting together some spoken-word pieces about the massacre. And one of them...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Is about your childhood friend who you actually lost in the shooting. His name's Art Benavides.
ROMO: That's right.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can you tell us about him and about the performance piece?
ROMO: This is a piece that we call "Bringing The War Home." And it talks about when you're living in a war zone, you kind of just get used to the violence. It becomes normalized. And it's an autobiographical piece of how, as a kid - and Art and I would hang out. We were both in the Jefferson High School swimming team. And we would hang out at Cielo Vista Mall. And that's where we would, you know, go watch "Star Wars" movies as kids and play the video games where you get to shoot down alien invaders for a quarter. And this is a place where, you know, we'd just hang out, talk about everything and nothing under the sun. And I did have two friends that were there and survived it. And then Art Benavides, who didn't - he was a Army veteran and a member of the Texas reserve for 23 years. And like I said, he was a childhood friend. And that brought the war home in a way that you can't ever forget, really.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's listen to just a bit of it. And I know this is just a rough mix so - not polished yet. But let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPOKEN-WORD PERFORMANCE, "BRINGING THE WAR HOME")
ROMO: Concrete barricades of the Santa Fe Street Bridge, the barbed wire, the Border Patrol checkpoints, the surveillance cameras and sensors above the river levee.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I suppose art at a time like this helps in dealing with a loss as big as what happened.
ROMO: We think that music is part of not only bringing us together, but it's this (speaking Spanish), the fight against erasure because this is part of what's going on. It's the erasure of our communities. And there's nothing like music and spoken-word performances and art to recover that silence, you know?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What would you like people to know about El Paso four months on?
ROMO: You know, I have a lot of mixed feelings about the attention that we get. I think it's very important to promote solidarity, to promote an understanding. But sometimes, it's almost better not to know anything rather than to know things very superficially. There's an element of almost exploitation. I think some of us are just kind of fatigued about this sudden attention that we've gotten. But it's always within the same kind of - like there's only one story that can come out. And that's the story of violence and the story of poverty and these cliches, you know? So I get really frustrated by - I mean, I'm appreciative that people have turned their attention to a part of the world that seems to be in the middle of nowhere but really is in the midst of everything.
But at the same time, I wish the stories that would come up were more about - just our humanity, our vision. You know, it's really, really complicated. And I wish that that complication would come up more and more. I think we've taken this step. And I do think that finally more border voices are coming out. And I think that's an important step.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is there anything that you're doing this holiday season to remember your friend Art?
ROMO: Well, I mean, it's like something you really can't forget. While I'm talking about other things, you know, I would choke up or something. And I'm almost surprised by how hard it is to - yeah. I'm surprised by just how hard it is to get rid of it.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Historian David Dorado Romo in El Paso, Texas, thank you very much.
ROMO: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "GAMBREL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.