Ruben Navarrette Jr.

SAN DIEGO - In the small towns that dot the U.S.-Mexico border, there's a saying: "Americans never remember, Mexicans never forget."

One thing that won't be forgotten is the date Aug. 3, 2019. It's hard to believe that it's been a whole year since this country broke the hearts of millions of Mexicans and Mexican Americans.

In some respects, it feels like a decade. In other ways, it seems like only a matter of hours.

It was on that ghastly day that a White supremacist named Patrick Crusius - who was then a 21-year-old living in Allen, Texas, a mostly white suburb 30 miles north of Dallas - allegedly tried to singlehandedly fend off a "Hispanic invasion." In a manifesto declaring an intent to make America white again, Crusius allegedly vowed "to save our country from the brink (of) destruction."

According to the manifesto, this land of immigrants is being destroyed by immigration - especially that of brown-skinned, Spanish-speaking people from Mexico. The manifesto called immigration "detrimental to the future of America."

It's not. It's merely unsettling to White people who are used to running everything and feel displaced. Apparently determined to keep his place, Crusius is accused of grabbing a high-powered rifle and driving at least eight hours to a mid-sized city on the U.S.-Mexico border.

El Paso is our Ellis Island, and thus it is sacred ground. Tragically, the city is now also the location of perhaps the worst mass murder of Mexicans and Mexican Americans in U.S. history. The exact crime scene was the Walmart Supercenter in the Cielo Vista Mall. Not far from the U.S.-Mexico border, the shopping center is a destination spot for Mexican nationals who think everything is better in the United States -- if you can survive the trip.

Police officers would later say that - as they were taking Crusius into custody, "without incident" (ah, we see you, White privilege), the suspect blurted out that he wanted to "kill as many Mexicans as possible."

Crusius allegedly slaughtered 22 people that day. One of the two dozen people wounded later died of his injuries, raising the death toll to 23. He faces both federal and state charges.

In El Paso, funeral parlors were overrun. It took several weeks to bury the dead. Juan Gabriel's haunting ballad, "Amor Eterno" (Eternal Love) was played at so many gravesites that mourners memorized the words.

The pain, sorrow, and rage extended far beyond the city limits. All across the country, millions of Mexican-Americans doubled over from this body blow. Many of us hoped the silver lining to this tragedy would be that our fellow Americans would finally see us, even if the image was covered in blood.

Caught between black and white, Latinos are often left out of TV news reports, newspaper stories, Hollywood movies, television shows, textbooks, etc. Stuck between the United States and Mexico, nearly 30 million Mexican-Americans are left out of both countries' narratives.

This was America's homework assignment after the El Paso massacre, to finally try to understand this population and show it the respect it deserves. But the country flaked, and nothing got turned in. Lady Liberty got an "F."

Then came the year of the apocalypse. Americans can be forgiven for wanting to forget 2020 ever happened. If the year were an order in a restaurant, you'd send it back -- with a profane note to the chef.

The year plays favorites. If you're White, chances are, you'll be all right. If you're Latino, you better have your affairs in order.

You say you're worried about police violence. We feel you. The Texas Rangers have been accused of lynching several hundred Mexicans from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s while doing the bidding of wealthy White landowners.

Coronavirus on your mind? In some places, Latinos are three or four times more likely to get infected and die. Now immigration restrictionists are blaming the victims, insisting that Mexican immigrants are transporting the virus.

In too many ways to count, for America's largest, and most overlooked minority, 2020 has been horrid.

But, for us, this horror movie actually began last August in El Paso.

What stings most is the broken promise. America's bargain was simple: If you work hard, play by the rules, blend into the mainstream, start businesses, raise good kids who enlist in the military, protest but refrain from rioting or looting, then this nation would pull you close and acknowledge you as one of her own.

Now we're hurting, and bleeding, and dying. And we're still waiting.

Navarrette's email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com. His daily podcast, "Navarrette Nation," is available through every podcast app.

(c) 2020, The Washington Post Writers Group

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