The border community mends its wounds: El Paso heals through artistic expression

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The border community mends its wounds: El Paso heals through artistic expression

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Claudia Hernandez

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Claudia Hernandez

Claudia Hernandez

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Anahy Diaz, Contributor

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Four months since the deadliest attack against Latinos took place at the City of El Paso on Aug. 3, the community continues to find solace, strength and recovery through creativity and expression.  

Time and time again, El Pasoans have selflessly shown support for the victims and their families in countless ways, proving to the rest of the world that “El Paso Strong” is not just a hashtag, but rather a sense of love toward the city and its people.  

That fateful day when the news broke and the world stood still, it was only a matter of hours until hundreds of people began to line up to donate blood while others gathered around the Cielo Vista Walmart bringing along flowers, candles, stuffed animals, signs and prayers. By the end of the night, the hashtag #ElPasoStrong had been spread all around the world.   

R&B singer Khalid began to heal with the community through a benefit concert. All proceeds went to the victims and their families.   

“I have been rocked to the core by the horrific act of gun violence that came to El Paso and by the continued acts of senseless violence that our country faces daily,” Khalid tweeted back in August. “I want to give back to my community of El Paso, the city of the 915, who has given so much to me. Please come out and let’s heal together through music while raising money to help those who need it.”    

The sold-out concert, which included special guests like Beto O’Rourke, Matthew McConaughey and SZA, raised half a million dollars.   

Some businesses offered safe spaces for people to come together and enjoy a day away from the tragedy, like Wet N’ Wild, which offered a free wellness day at its water park for families and their loved ones looking to “decompress.”  

Even Turkish Mediterranean restaurants hosted an El Paso Strong Turkish Food & Crafts Festival, which featured samples of Mediterranean cuisine, with all profits supporting the shooting victims.   

Others showed support through performing arts. An evening of El Paso Strong Short Play Readings was presented by the Dramatists Guild and the UTEP Department of Theatre and Dance. The event consisted of plays aimed to interpret the day of the shooting in El Paso.   

“These words. These pages. This is so powerful,” wrote Georgina Escobar on Facebook, one of the featured playwrights of the event. “I don’t know what else to say. ‘Thank you’ falls short…but I think it’s all in this name, this ‘tagline’ this identity that is running through our veins right now: El PaSO Strong. So, so, so, so strong.”  

More recently, Walmart unveiled a memorial to honor the victims and their families  Nov. 23. Walmart officials and El Paso Mayor Dee Margo presented a 30-foot tall structure to the community dubbed the “Great Candela,” made up of 22 individually perforated aluminum arcs that emit light into the sky, each arc representing a victim of the attack.   

“Our community, our region, has experienced much pain this year,” Margo said. “But we’ve also seen how remarkably resilient we are. The El Paso-Juárez region is special and unique. Those who perished and their families, will not be forgotten. With this candela memorial, we will always honor your memory.”  

Among the audience at the unveiling of the memorial were Irma Gallegos and her elderly mother, who were inside the store the day of the attack. Gallegos and her mother had to climb the hill on the side of the store in order to search for shelter, an experience Gallegos described as traumatic. Since then, she has received counseling.   

“It brought us closure,” said Irma Gallegos about the memorial. “I actually feel peace today because we’ve been feeling a lot of anxiety and emotions, but being here today, I think it helped. It’s a beautiful memorial. I know for us it brought peace to our hearts.”   

The structure is located just feet away from the Cielo Vista Walmart, where a sign with the hashtag “#ElPasoStrong,” hangs at the top of the store’s building, visible to everyone passing by.  

“I think that’s the message the whole world needed to see,” Gallegos said. “The support, I think, has helped the healing process, everyone coming together. It’s just been amazing, and I think it’s just what we all needed. To help with the pain and continue to move on.”  

Anahy Diaz may be reached at [email protected]