El Pasoans Remain Politically Divided One Year After Mass Shooting

Residents of the border city are split over whether President Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric inspired the shooter.

By Andrew SchneiderAugust 3, 2020 9:30 am, , , ,

From Houston Public Media:

Monday marks one year since a mass shooter targeting Latinos attacked an El Paso Walmart. Twenty-three people died.

And interviews with residents of the West Texas city show a distinct political divide as the anniversary approaches.

Tito Anchondo manages his family’s auto body shop in El Paso, and said that the closer it gets to the date, “the more of like a sinking feeling that I get, you know, in my chest.”

A year ago, Tito’s brother Andre and sister-in-law Jordan were at the Walmart Supercenter. They died protecting their baby son, Paul, from the shooter. President Trump came to El Paso a few days later, leading to massive protests from people who blamed Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric for inspiring the shooter.

But Tito Anchondo was grateful his family, and baby Paul, got to meet the president.

“You know, he has a stigma behind him,” Anchondo said. “If he were to come, if he were not to have come, he would have still gotten, you know, like backlash.”

El Paso’s population is more than 80% Latino. But Anchondo’s comments are a reminder the Latino population is not politically monolithic. El Paso County has a Democratic judge, but the city has a Republican mayor. In an interview he gave to NPR last year, Anchondo said his family was conservative Republican.

So is El Pasoan Gloria Seelig Peña.

“I know my president. I know him very well, and I know he’s a little bit crazy sometimes,” Peña said.

Peña taught high school math in El Paso for close to 40 years. After the shooting, she was furious when Democrats like Congresswoman Veronica Escobar blamed Trump.

“This was an act of horror,” Peña said. “A demonic act. You don’t point fingers. And these people were still lying on the ground. And my representatives were talking about how Donald Trump was the reason that this happened. And that’s just a lie.”

The attack did, though, provoke some discussion in El Paso’s Republican community.

“It caused conversation about how things like this shooting, and since he was a Trump supporter, how it might affect the way the city will vote,” said Efren Ortega, an Air Force staff sergeant at Fort Bliss.

People like Angel Ulloa certainly hope so.

Ulloa coordinates the local chapter of Jolt, a Latino progressive organization. She said the shooting changed the minds of her older, more conservative relatives. Afterwards, she said they “kind of became aware that what [Trump] was putting into media…could be traced, the shooting could be traced back to what Trump was saying about us.”

El Paso is less divisive in its politics than other parts of Texas, according to José Villalobos, who teaches political science at the University of Texas at El Paso.

“This is not a city where you had, you know, people who were in an incredibly ugly way attacking each other over an issue like gun rights. And after the attack, there were very respectful debates and very, I think, meaningful conversations that were being had, even among those who were on very far sides of the political spectrum,” Villalobos said.

As for Tito Anchondo, whose family is conservative, he said now, he’d call himself politically neutral.

More than the shooting, he points to the deaths of George Floyd and Vanessa Guillen as influencing his views.

He has yet to choose how he’ll vote in the 2020 election.

“Our nation is divided, I would say 50-50, and it’s half conservatism, half liberalism,” Anchondo said. “There seems to be no solutions to problems, it’s just bickering back and forth.”

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