What the Uvalde shooting meant for the Latino community

Just over a week has passed since the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 students and two teachers were killed at Robb Elementary School. While the whole nation is in shock, the tragedy hits Latinos especially hard, as they see the names and photos of the victims that look and sound like them.

It added a complicated layer of grief and trauma to the community, says Maria Maldonado Morales, clinical social worker at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. The shooting in Uvalde is not the first to target Latinos across the country, or even Texas. The 2019 shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, in which 23 people died, was also racially motivated.

“It’s not just the loss of life, the loss of security, but I think the community that we feel like some kind of Latinos in the United States adds a layer of frustration, sadness, even anger,” Morales said. “Clients I see – I work mostly with Latino students in school settings – and a lot of them have said…these kids look like me. It could have been me, or it could have been my family, or it could have been us.”

Morales spoke with NPR All things Considered about the weight that racially motivated attacks have on these communities, how to deal with the consequences and the need for a sense of security.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

On whether the Uvalde shooting contributes to feelings that the Latino community is under attack

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I think so. I particularly think of your point in this case because the motive for the attack was not clear. I think that maybe adds an extra layer of uncertainty or fear because the shooter was also Latino, and so I think that adds this kind of quasi-distrust of “We’re supposed to be a community, we’re supposed to look out for each other, and how can we hurt each other like this?”

What advice would she give to people dealing with the tragedy

Something I’ve often told people is to have really honest, open conversations. In many communities, but I think especially in Latin American communities, maybe there’s this fear of having difficult emotional conversations because often parents don’t want to appear weak or vulnerable in front of their children. Children do not want to appear weak or vulnerable in front of their parents. Everyone tries to be strong and brave, but sometimes that brings shame and guilt, and it can also create feelings of isolation. So I encourage people to be open about their feelings, to share how they feel with each other, and to have these open conversations because it’s uncomfortable. It is not easy to talk about what we all think about it. We all feel it.

On what she would say to people across the country who are looking for a sense of security

I think something I recommend to people, which is obviously easier said than done, is to try to create as much sense of normalcy in this very uncertain world. So if you have family routines, for example, having dinner together, or reading a book before bed, and maybe also doing things that might seem fun, which also seems strange because often when we feel so sad, we feel good “I shouldn’t enjoy things. I shouldn’t have fun. I shouldn’t experience joy”, but we can hold these two feelings together. We can feel scared and sad and also to feel joy and hope. And I think it allows a sense of normalcy back into our day-to-day lives. It’s not going to take it away. It’s not going to make it all go away. But during for a second, we can feel a sense of normalcy.

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