It's been a little over a week since the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 students and two teachers were killed at Robb Elementary School. While the entire nation is reeling, the tragedy is hitting Latinos particularly hard, as they see the names and the photos of victims who look and sound like them.
That's added a complicated layer of grief and trauma onto the community, says Maria Maldonado Morales, a clinical social worker at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston. The shooting in Uvalde isn't the first to target Latinos in the country — or even in Texas. The 2019 shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, in which 23 people died, was also racially motivated.
"It's not only the loss of life, the loss of safety, but I think the community that we feel as sort of Latinos in the United States adds a layer of frustration, of sadness, of anger even," Morales says. "The clients that I see – I work with primarily Latino students in school settings – and many of them have said ... these kids look like me. This could have been me, or this could have been my family, or this could have been us."
Morales spoke with NPR's All Things Considered about the weight that racially motivated attacks have on those communities, coping in the aftermath and the craving for a sense of safety.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
On whether the shooting in Uvalde contributes to the feeling of the Latino community being under attack
I think it does. I think especially to your point in this instance because the motive of the attack wasn't clear. I think that adds an additional layer of maybe uncertainty or fear because the shooter was also Latino, and so I think it adds this sort of almost level of mistrust of "We're supposed to be a community, we're supposed to watch out for each other, and how can we hurt each other like this?"
On what advice she would give to people grappling with the tragedy
Something that I've been telling people a lot is to have really honest open conversations. In many communities, but I think particularly in Latino communities there is this maybe fear of having difficult emotional conversations because often parents don't want to seem weak or vulnerable in front of their children. Children don't want to seem weak or vulnerable in front of their parents. Everyone is trying to be strong and brave, but that sometimes brings in shame and guilt, and it can also create feelings of isolation. So I'm encouraging people to speak openly about their feelings, to share what they're feeling with each other and have these open conversations because it is uncomfortable. It isn't easy to talk about what we're all thinking about it. We're all feeling it.
On what she would say to people across the country who are craving a sense of safety
I think something that I recommend to people, which obviously is easier said than done, is to try and create as much of a sense of normalcy in this very uncertain world. So, if you have family routines, for example, of having dinner together, or reading a book before bedtime, and maybe also doing things that maybe seem fun, which also sounds odd because often when we feel so sad we feel like well "I shouldn't be enjoying things. I shouldn't have fun. I shouldn't experience joy," but we can hold both of those feelings together. We can feel scared and sad and also feel joy and hope. And I think that again allows a sense of normalcy in our day-to-day life. It's not going to take it away. It's not going to make it all disappear. But for a second we can feel a sense of normalcy.