After El Paso, Latinos across America voice a new kind of fear
Arizona Republic reporter Dianna Náñez posted this to Facebook, summarizing an interview she did with Reyna Montoya, founder and CEO of Aliento. It was one part of a story for the Arizona Republic and USA Today Network about how Latinos are feeling after El Paso.
A CEO, Dreamer
She’s sitting at a table surrounded by art, posters and colorful sticky notes, trying to keep her mind on work.
That’s been harder since the shooting. But it’s always been hard for her and the undocumented families she works with. She sees the mass shooting, targeting Latinos and migrants like her, as a sign. She needs to do more to protect her community, she says.
Three years ago, Montoya founded Aliento. In English it means “breath.” Her organization uses art to help heal undocumented youth and families who have been criminalized in America.
When she talks about the shooting, she feels it in her body.
“Even just thinking about it right now increased my heart and I just feel my pulse,” she says, moving her hand to her heart. “This is just a constant reminder that the way you look, where you are from, it’s never good enough.”
Montoya was born in Tijuana, Mexico. She was a child when she fled violence and crossed the border for Arizona. She knows what it’s like to grow up being different. She had to learn English and live in the U.S. without legal immigration status until she qualified for DACA.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, launched under the Obama-administration, has protected hundreds of thousands of migrants from deportation.
Her work through Aliento and her voice on how U.S. policies and politics affect Latinos has earned her accolades and opportunities, including a Forbes: 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneur, an executive education at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and a Muhammad Ali Center award for humanitarianism.
It sounds fancy, but most days Montoya’s dancing, painting and doing anything she can to keep undocumented children feeling safe and happy. She tries to think about how a child feels when they’re scared or worrying about themselves or their parents being deported. But she never imagined a white man walking into a neighborhood Walmart and killing 22 people because he thought Hispanics were invading America. Now, it’s hard not to think about it.
“I feel that threat has become more immediate, more like I can just turn and think that someone's watching,” she says, “And I think of the fear for being someone that has an accent, that doesn't look like my neighbors. I've learned to cope enough. But I think right after El Paso it has … definitely put me more on edge.”
She’s thinks about what was inside the shooter’s mind: “So much pain in their own suffering that they would feel that they have the right to inflict suffering to others. It's like it gives me the chills.”
The shooter was so young, she says. That’s made her more certain about wanting more people to talk about the mass shooting, racism and hate with their own children.
“I personally feel really strongly that we have to talk to our children … to make sure that we’re breaking barriers and we’re breaking patterns that are unhealthy and violent,” she says. “You have to acknowledge what happened. You have to. You just can lie to children.”
In Montoya’s small Aliento office space there’s a piece of art that covers an entire wall. A large red heart is surrounded, inside and out, with handprints of all sizes and messages written by young people.
Familia. I miss my cousin Jose. We are strong. SOMOS HUMANOS. WE ARE HUMANS.
In black ink there’s a longer message in Spanish: Nadie corta las alas cuando tengo sed de volar. In English: No one can cut your wings, when I have a thirst to fly.