Walking into the Palestine Walmart earlier this week on a routine shopping trip, a local Latino woman had a panic attack and had to be escorted out by friends and family members.
The woman, who chose to remain anonymous, said she didn't realize until then how deeply the Aug. 3 mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart had affected her.
In killing 22 people and wounding two dozen more, the gunman, Patrick Wood Crusius, 21, later admitted to police he targeted shoppers he believed were Mexican.
Few of the roughly 5,000 Latinos who live in Palestine have experienced outright panic as a result of the El Paso shootings. Many, however, even long-time residents, regardless of citizenship status, have felt more vulnerable to harassment or even violence.
In fact, two of the three Latinos scheduled to be interviewed by the Herald-Press Tuesday cancelled at the last-minute, fearing they could be singled out.
Laura Posada, a 40-year-old homemaker who came to Palestine from Mexico 20 years ago, said life wasn't always this way. When she arrived, she said, her only anxiety stemmed from living in an entirely different culture where almost everything was new.
Today, she said, a real fear has replaced the vague anxiety she felt as a new arrival – a fear that she will be judged, or even attacked, because of the color of her skin. Other Latinos, she said, have isolated themselves from the rest of the community.
In the wake of the El Paso tragedy, Posada said, the nation is less safe – for everyone.
“He (the shooter) was ignorant about everyone's nationality, and was targeting the color of their skin,” Posada told the Herald-Press Tuesday. “In the end, it didn't matter if they were black, white or Latino; he shot everyone.”
In recent years, Posada said, politicians and others have portrayed Latinos as people who steal jobs or commit crimes.
“I have nothing against ridding the community of criminals,” Posada said. “But it seems they are deporting people whose only crime is going from work to home, trying to feed their families.”
Palestine Police Chief Andy Harvey said some of the harsh rhetoric coming from Washington has made community policing more difficult, because it fosters a fear of authorities among Spanish-speaking residents.
Harvey, whose mother was an undocumented Mexican immigrant, founded UNIDOS Palestine, a Latino outreach group, and the Chief's Clergy Coalition, an inter-faith community support group.
“Those who choose hatred and bigotry have to understand this issue is beyond politics; it's a sanctity of life issue,” Harvey said. “We can either work together to build our community up, or we can keep trying to tear it down.”
A mother of two teen-agers, Posada said the country's best hope rests with parents teaching their children respect for others.
“I believe that's why things have gotten out of hand,” she said. “We have to teach our children respect for others, regardless of their skin color, nationality, religion, or anything else. “If people want to be part of something nice – something great – then everyone has to do their part.”