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Opinion

El Paso is the frontline in the battle for America’s soul

El Paso represents the changing face of a more diverse America. But in the debate over culture and immigration, demographic anxieties are being replaced by bullets.
7 Ago 2019 – 6:40 PM EDT

In 1995, the acclaimed Mexican author Carlos Fuentes published 'The Crystal Frontier', a novel about the complex realities shaping the U.S.-Mexico border following the creation of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which promised to usher in a new era in the historically thorny relation between both countries.

In his book Fuentes portrayed the border as an exciting opportunity where we could either foster cultural understanding or condemn each other to suspicion, violence, xenophobia, and genocide.

On Saturday, El Paso, Texas considered one of the safest cities in America, came face to face with Fuente´s worst fears as a gunman inspired by white nationalist groups walked into a local Wal-Mart intending to kill as many Mexicans as possible.

What ensued can only be described as an act of terrorism aimed at the heart of Hispanic America and the ideals of mutual appreciation millions of people on both sides of the border work for every day.

The southern border has always been a focal point in our national politics, but since Donald Trump launched his presidential bid by criminalizing Mexican immigrants and promising a wall, it has become the frontline in the battle for America’s soul.

This is not a battle of ideas so much as one fueled by inflammatory claims, conspiracy theories and the constant conflating of crime and immigration. To that end, President Trump has unjustly smeared border communities like El Paso time and time again.

A city of roughly 650,000 people, of which 80 percent are Hispanic, El Paso represents the changing face of an America that embraces diversity as a strength. 'La linea', as locals refer to the border, and more specifically the Wal-Mart store where the attack took place, are part of a daily social experiment in which immigration defines national identity, instead of threatening it. Immigration in America does not threaten national identity, it defines it.

But as border towns like this one become the epicenter of the nation’s divisive parley over culture and immigration, demographic anxieties are being replaced by bullets. On Saturday, 22 people were killed and 27 were left injured. Almost all of them of Mexican descent.

President Trump may not have pulled the trigger, but he was pointing at the target. The wrong target.

Violence in Juarez never spilled over into El Paso, like Trump said it would. It was the violence in El Paso that touched the lives of people in Juarez who lost their lives shopping for school supplies on the other side.

It's now Mexicans who fear Americans and Latinos buying guns at a stunning rate in the aftermath of the shooting, according to local media reports.

El Pasoans never believed in Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric and fear mongering, this democratic bastion deep in red Texas voted instead for democratic politicians like Beto O’Rourke and Veronica Escobar. They looked through the crystal frontier and saw themselves on the other side. “Two countries, one heartbeat.”

Maybe it's time we all start listening to the border instead of talking about it from afar.

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