Community comes together to honor mass shooting victims

McALLEN — U.S. and Texas flags waved at half-mast behind a crowd of about 100 gathered Wednesday at Archer Park in McAllen to memorialize the victims of mass shootings last weekend in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio.

White paper bags bearing the identity of each victim sat on the steps of the gazebo. Later in the program, they’d be honored by reading their names and lighting candles. Organizers also provided counseling services for anyone in attendance.

The event celebrated the lives taken by the weekend’s violence, but speakers also railed against divisive and dehumanizing rhetoric they said was a factor in the El Paso shooting.

The red, white and blue fabric whipped in the wind causing clicks as ropes hit the metal poles, which was audible between speakers at the vigil.

“We cannot be silent … in the face of such hatred like we’re facing today,” said Juanita Valdez-Cox, executive director of La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE).

It’s encouraging for community groups who organize events like this, she said, to see the people and groups within the Rio Grande Valley want to stand united, particularly a diverse group of faith leaders.

Representatives from various religious denominations were among those who spoke, like Paulette Gindler-Bishop of Temple Emanuel in McAllen.

“It’s important for all of us to be here because white supremacists cannot become the norm in our land,” she said of the alleged motives of the El Paso shooter who drove across the state to target Hispanics in a Walmart, killing 22. “We all have to band together for the common good.

Antonia Gonzalez along with others gathered for a candle light vigil to honor the victims of the El Paso and Ohio shootings at Archer Park on Wednesday Aug. 07, 2019 in McAllen. Photo by Delcia Lopez/The Monitor

“Good will triumph over evil every time, but good people have to come together for that to happen.”

She said that while it can be productive to engage and express things on social media, it’s extremely important to show up when you can and work in solidarity,” which is what brought Pastor Paul Ziese of First Lutheran Church in Edinburg.

He gave his condolences for the lives lost, but he always used the platform to express concern about attitudes and practices within current immigration policy. Just today, he said, hundreds of Lutherans gathered at a national conference marched to the Wisconsin Center to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Milwaukee.

Some might think that Lutherans would be the least concerned about racism, he told the crowd, because of their congregation being 94% Anglo.

“But I want you to know that we’re very much concerned with violence and racism,” he said. “And we’re very much concerned about what’s happening here on the border.

“I want you to know that there are Anglos who are not supporting white nationalism or any kind of Christian nationalism in this country. We also see how fallacious that is — how dangerous that is.”

Carolina Monsivais, co-founder of Poets Against Walls, is an El Paso native who spoke. She wore a T-shirt with the word “HOME,” which uses a star in place of the “O” that’s inspired by the famous lit star on the side of Mt. Franklin in her hometown.

“I know a lot of people will say their town is peaceful and quiet, but (El Paso) really is,” she said. “It’s one of the safest places in the country.”

She said that even in the Valley there is a sense of safety and comfort. Reflecting on her reaction since the shooting, she said she’s gone through a range of emotions: shock to hurt to anger.

“To think that we are really no longer safe was probably the most painful part,” Monsivais said.

Gindler-Bishop said she couldn’t help but think about the Oct. 27 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the country.

After that shooting, she said they had to reassess their own security.

She admitted she sometimes keeps an eye on the front door when she leads services at the temple.

“I often think how sad it is that we can’t concentrate on praying and being together because there’s always that little kernel of anxiety in the back of our minds,” she said. “Unfortunately, it’s a reality of life in the 21st century.”

Flags flown at half mast near a candle light vigil held for the El Paso and Ohio victims at Archer Park on Wednesday Aug. 07, 2019 in McAllen. Photo by Delcia Lopez/The Monitor