EL PASO, Texas (AP) — El Paso, Texas is a gateway to the United States and Mexico, founded before the U.S. Declaration of Independence.
“In many ways, all roads lead to El Paso,” said Daniel Chacón, a California native, Texas transplant and a novelist in El Paso.
He says El Paso is a cultural crossroads for Mexican-Americans.
“I was in my office, and a young woman knocked on the door and says ‘Daniel Chacon?’ I say yes, thinking she wants me to sign a book and she says she’s my cousin. That following weekend, I met 50 of my cousins in El Paso. That’s just what it’s like. It’s everyone’s hometown.”
A hometown grief-stricken after a gunman murdered 22 people — both American and Mexican — a total alone nearly equaling those killed in the city last year.
“Despite saying we’re a big city, Top 20, we’re a small-town mentality. We all get together, we’re friends, we know each other,” said Dr. Alan Tyroch, chief of surgery at University Medical Center, where half of those wounded were treated.
Authorities say racial hatred and political rhetoric motivated the suspect. A reported online screed written by the 21-year-old man said he’d target Latinos and immigrants.
“It pains. I haven’t felt this amount of distress in my life.” said Richard Pineda, a communication professor at the University of Texas at El Paso.
He said the shooter picked the border city for a reason.
“El Paso has been under a microscope for immigration issues here and I don’t think people have made the connection that the president essentially kicked off his re-election campaign in El Paso,” Pineda said.
President Trump repeatedly zeroed in on El Paso in the last year claiming the border city had a crime problem due to immigration, a claim proven false.
El Paso has also been one of the testing grounds of hardline Trump immigration policy. More than 700,000 people live here, coexist with their Mexican neighbor Juarez to the south, and both cities are built on trade and immigration. El Paso is almost 80 percent Hispanic.
“It’s always been a Mexican city,” Chacon said.
The Sun City has also been known as a Mexican-American cultural capital where the zoot suit became a fashion icon.
“The pachuco is pictured baggy pants, the watch chain, the zoot suiter. El Paso for us is called El Chuco. You say I live in Chuco,” Chacon said.
It’s also a community of political activists, writers, poets, professionals and merchants.
“We would have shown (the shooter) what a great place this is,” El Pasoan Anthony Medrano said. “Where you can walk out at night and not get mugged.”
At a growing makeshift memorial near the crime scene, El Pasoans lament and reflect.
“I’m Irish-Mexican, my last name is german. So, it’s very diverse,” El Pasoan Irene Grunden said. “That’s the beauty of America.”
For Chacon, diversity and migration are why the city nicknamed El Chuco is a success.
“Most of us are bilingual. Even white people here speak Spanish,” he said.
A binational city … and a culture … and a history spanning two countries for centuries.