Dear White People,
I have been fluctuating between sorrow and rage since the Mexican Massacre in El Paso because of what the shooter did, but also because of how many of you reacted to it.
As a Mexican-American, I love this country—even in the dark times when she doesn’t love me back.
Now that 22 people have died and 24 more were injured because of their ethnicity, it feels like a promise was broken.
My allegiance is to this side of the border. Every Fourth of July, I pen a column declaring myself a “Hispanic Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
Yet, these days, I’m feeling “othered” like never before. Apparently, not all of you who look at me see red, white and blue. Some of you see brown (or in my case, perhaps, a pleasant shade of beige).
The reaction to the El Paso shooting from many of you, my fellow Americans—hell, even close friends whom I grew up with—has really pissed me off. Some of you have been awful. A lot of you have been tone-deaf and thickheaded, insensitive and insulting, defensive and dishonest.
Many of you have been spoiling for a fight—while also afraid of getting punched.
Some of you have been publicly reluctant to label the incident an anti-Mexican hate-crime. A few of you even floated what now seems to have been a false rumor about how the assailant is really Spanish himself.
And what if he is? Pick up a history book. Mexican and Spanish are not synonymous. And the Spanish think they’re white.
When a shooter targets Jews at a synagogue in Poway, California, we call it "anti-Semitic" violence. When a shooter targets African-Americans in a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, it’s "anti-black" violence. When a shooter targets the patrons at a gay club in Orlando, Florida, it’s “anti-gay” violence.
But when someone targets Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in a city that is 80 percent Hispanic—after warning, in a crude manifesto, of a "Hispanic invasion”—the rules change. We don’t know what to call it.
It was clear early on that what happened in El Paso was an act of domestic terrorism aimed at Mexicans and Mexican-Americans.
Conservatives and liberals who talked about it without acknowledging this fact wound up glossing over the racial and ethnic aspect of this tragedy, and made the story a generic one to advance their existing policy agendas.
Incredibly, as National Public Radio’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro noted in a column for The Atlantic, Latinos were erased from their own story.
How did Latinos go from being in the crosshairs to being an afterthought? Maybe folks were uneasy with the grotesque idea that someone would drive 10 hours across Texas to hunt brown people. But if thinking about that ghoulish reality makes you uncomfortable, imagine how uncomfortable it makes us to live it.
White people, would it be so difficult to express your condolences, acknowledge what happened, and give us a little space? I’m talking to those of you who got in our faces and glibly expressed your opinions about what went wrong in El Paso. What good is it to ace Social Studies if you flunk social skills?
Some of my Facebook followers accused me of being "racist" for even mentioning white people.
Under the new rules, if you decry white nationalism, you’re playing “the race card.” If you point out racism, you’re the racist. If you accuse of anyone of being a racist, you’re dividing people by race.
Another good way to divide America, or so I’m told, is to write columns. After I wrote about the massacre—and about how a 21-year-old racial avenger from Allen, Texas preyed on Mexicans to Make America White Again—a dozen or so white readers took the time to scold me.
Become the solution, they said, not the problem.
So someone targets Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, and you want me to turn the other cheek, and never mention the incident—because that’s "divisive.” You want a pass. But it’s not up to me to fix what you break, or absolve you of your sins.
Saying so really got the readers fired up.
One wrote: “Your insinuation that people that live in all-white neighborhoods are all racist? Sounds like you are racist as (the shooter) is.”
Another reader said: “This seems very racist. Just because I can’t tan and have beautiful skin, I’m offended at being called ‘white.’ I’m American!!!”
Another exited with this: “I'm outta here. Yes, guns shouldn't be owned by racists. Neither should syndicated columns!”
Finally, a Facebook follower said: “I loved when Ruben’s rhetoric was so on point you couldn’t tell if he was a lefty or righty. No longer like this anymore. We get it, he hates White people. I’m out!”
I don’t hate white people. I am trying to hold them accountable for turning a blind eye and letting things get to this point. But many of them appear to be in no mood to take responsibility.
For Mexican-Americans, El Paso is everything. This is our Ellis Island. It’s where my family’s story in this nation begins. Well, half my family anyway.
My mom’s people are Tejanos. They were in their kitchens north of the Rio Grande making chile verde in the 1820’s when misfits like Sam Houston and Stephen Austin waltzed uninvited into the territory that would become Texas.
My dad’s family is made up of Californios. But it has roots in New Mexico which it put down after my grandfather from Chihuahua crossed into the United States through El Paso—legally, with his family, as a child.
Today, I’m not trying to displace whites, shut them up, or dish out payback for the injustices suffered by those who came before me.
Me and America, we’re good. It’s just that, as a journalist, I’m in the business of telling truth—especially the uncomfortable kind.
Here’s the truth: When it comes to racism, ethnocentrism, nativism – basically, a lot of the “-isms,” this place is whacked.
Only in America could you have someone grow up in the 1970s, in a largely white neighborhood of an overwhelmingly Mexican and Mexican-American farm town, with white friends and light skin and parents who didn’t teach him Spanish; someone whose first crushes were on pretty white girls, who went to a predominantly white Ivy League college and graduate school; someone who has always lived in almost entirely white neighborhoods, and then entered the overwhelmingly white profession of journalism—only in America, could someone like that, one day, be accused of hating white people.
To quote Beto O’Rourke, “What the fuck??!!”
Ask the Mexican-Americans I went to elementary school with—the ones I grew apart from when we entered high school and I drifted into courses like AP Calculus—and I bet some will tell you with a chuckle that I am white people!
Enough about me. Let’s talk about you.
If you’re a liberal, then be a true liberal. Don’t you dare try to tell us what’s racist, and what isn’t. Don’t let your eagerness to restrict guns get in the way of acknowledging anti-Latino bigotry, and stop you from proposing real and workable measures to combat it.
If you’re a conservative, then be a true conservative. Your camp is always lecturing people of color and poor people to take responsibility for their actions. So now it’s your turn to take responsibility for ignoring anti-Latino hatred and allowing it to fester to a dangerous level.
Whatever you call yourself, you have a duty to condemn the radical elements in our society—the folks who want to “kill as many Mexicans as possible.” Otherwise, reasonable people will think you condone the slaughter.
That’s it. Thanks for listening. See you around the neighborhood.