As Victor Garcia set up tables on Wednesday outside his coffee and ice cream shop in Little Village, Azucar, a young woman walking to work remarked on the carnival rides and tents being set up nearby for a weekend festival.
She mentioned the El Paso, Texas, mass shooting that took 22 lives and told Garcia she wasn’t sure about attending the festival this year. She also was shaky about shopping at Walmart.
The shooter in El Paso was hunting Hispanics at a busy Walmart right on the border. He wrote in an online manifesto about a Hispanic “invasion,” echoing President Donald Trump.
The shooting was a devastating psychological hit for some Latinx people.
“It’s the president’s fault,” Rosamaria Garcia, who lives in Little Village, told me. Trump, she said, stirs up racism. “It stays in the heads of young men, all that anger.”
“What can we do?” she said of the plight of Mexicans who know they’re not wanted in the U.S. by Trump and other white nationalists. “We need to be here.”
Veronica Perez, who runs Jesse’s Flower Shop in Little Village, said she can no longer bear to watch the news. She knew of the El Paso shooting, of course, but hadn’t heard about the online manifesto until I told her.
“Everything is against Mexicans,” she said.
Anxiety is running high in Little Village, which is predominantly Mexican American. Trump’s contempt for people with brown or black skin has residents in a constant state of high alert. And the president’s warning last month of immigration raids, which didn’t play out, scared people.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot spoke at St. Agnes of Bohemia Church on Central Park Avenue on the weekend the immigration raids were supposed to take place. Her presence was meant to be reassuring, but her security team, Chicago cops, initially created alarm in the community. They were mistaken for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“People weren’t thinking, ‘these are Chicago police,’” the Rev. Don Nevins told me. “People were afraid until word got out, ‘It’s the police. It’s OK.’”
For some, the El Paso shooting brought a new wave of fear.
“It’s one thing to be sent back to your country,” Rosamaria Garcia said. “It’s another thing to be killed.”
Parts of Little Village, the popular shops and restaurants, are a success story. The community also struggles with violent crime. Alcira Gil described becoming numb to shootings, including mass shootings like the one in El Paso, because she often hears gunshots in her community.
“On 26th Street, there could be a drive-by,” she said. “It’s a risk. Nowhere’s safe, but you have to live your life.”
Kids in her neighborhood can tell the difference between fireworks and gun shots, she said. “It’s sad.”
Three or four years ago, Rev. Nevins told me, problems in the neighborhood led to increased security for the festival taking place near the church and Azucar, the coffee shop.
He said the church, which sponsors the fest, has since hired more off-duty Chicago police officers and state troopers to help secure the event.
The security measures should be a relief to Victor Garcia, the owner of the coffee shop, who said the frequency of mass shootings is frightening.
He already had concerns about the Little Village fest after a shooter killed three people at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Northern California on July 28. The shootings last weekend in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, amped up his worries.
“You hear the talk,” Garcia said of conversations he’s heard in his shop. “We all feel like we’re in some danger. We’re not going to stop with activities. At times you don’t know whether to go out or not. Time passes and it becomes stable again.”
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