Deborah Anchondo likes when her nephew plays with his carts at the family’s auto shop in El Paso, Texas.
“He is innocent, very handsome, a happy child — a miracle that he was saved,” she said in an interview with Noticias Telemundo.
What she doesn’t like is when, in children’s games, the little boy takes a toy gun and wants to shoot the bad guys.
The 43-year-old woman’s voice still quivers when she talks about Aug. 3, 2019, the day Andre and Jordan Anchondo, her brother and sister-in-law, were shot to death while protecting their son, who was then only 2 months old, in a racist rampage against Latinos in a Walmart shopping center in El Paso that left 23 people dead and over two dozen injured.
“Before that, the only thing that had happened to me was that my car stereo was stolen in 1998. Now we are also victims of that resentment, that hatred that completely changed El Paso,” said Anchondo, who helps raise Paul Gilbert, his brother’s son.
As a family reels from the profound repercussions of the 2019 racist mass shooting, an investigation by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University found that in 2022 the 10 largest cities in the United States registered an average increase of 22% in hate crimes reported, totaling 1,889 cases.
“2021 was also a record year. In 2022, hate crimes stabilized, but not everywhere. It did not happen in cities like New York, Los Angeles or Chicago,” Brian Levin, the center's founding director, said in an interview with Noticias Telemundo.
Los Angeles, the U.S.'s second-largest city, recorded in 2022 the highest number of hate crimes in the country, 609, of which 195 were against Blacks, 98 against the LGBTQI community, 91 against Jews and 88 against Latinos, according to Levin. Chicago, the third-largest city in the U.S., had the biggest increase, with 85% more hate crimes than the year before, followed by Austin, Texas, with a 59% rise.
According to the upcoming report, which was first provided to Noticias Telemundo ahead of publication, anti-Latino hate crime edged 2.8% higher in 2022 after a 41% increase in the 2021 major city survey.
“In 2021 there was a significant increase in hate crimes against the Latino community. They increased in Phoenix, Chicago, New York, Boston, Houston, Austin and Fort Worth,” Levin said.
“We’re seeing different groups of people in the United States getting involved in conspiracy theories, sometimes anti-Muslim, sometimes anti-African American, and sometimes anti-Latino,” Levin said.
Patrick Crusius, the man who shot and killed 23 people, most of them Latino, in the El Paso attack, was sentenced in July to 90 life sentences after pleading guilty to federal hate crime charges for one of the worst mass shootings in the country’s recent history. He could still receive the death penalty at a state trial for the murders committed during the massacre.
“That shooting not only killed my brother and sister-in-law, it also took away my father, Gilberto Anchondo, who died in 2021. He couldn’t stand the pain, he couldn’t sleep, he was always thinking about Andre. He missed him a lot. I say he left to join him,” Anchondo said.
Nationally, FBI statistics released Oct. 16 show that hate crimes increased 47% from 2019 to 2022. Just over 60% of those crimes are racially motivated, and about 15% are religiously motivated.
“We have seen a real increase in hate crimes directed against Jews, Black people, and people who identify as Hispanic or Latino. And this impact is being felt directly by people,” explains Rachel Carroll Rivas, deputy director of research at Southern Poverty Law Center.
In 2022, the FBI recorded 11,643 hate crimes, the highest number ever recorded, which broke the record of the previous year (10,840 incidents).
“Hate crimes have increased fairly steadily over the last eight years. But there are certain groups that have suffered this increase disproportionately, and the Hispanic community is an example,” said Carlos Cuevas, an academic at Northeastern University who has collaborated with investigations with the Department of Justice.
“People don’t feel safe even going out to the store, doing everyday things like taking the kids to school, going to buy food, just walking on the street, you feel like you’re in danger all the time,” said Ivette Xochiyotl Boyzo, activist and researcher at La Raza Database Research Project.
According to the center’s experts, increases in crimes against Latinos were more frequent in cities in the Midwest or East, with drops in the Southwest.
“Some of the main things we see are threats, and simple attacks. Those are the most common types of hate crimes against Latinos. But other types of more serious attacks are happening, and we are concerned about this increase,” said Levin, who has investigated these types of crimes for more than 30 years.
Media reports reflect this rise in attacks against the Hispanic community. On Aug. 10, Alan Dale Covington, 55, was convicted of a hate crime for attacking three members of a Latino family who ran a tire store in Salt Lake City.
In July, Maryland prosecutors filed hate crime charges against a man accused of killing three Hispanic people and injuring three others in a dispute over a parking spot. A man from the Bronx, New York, was charged with hate crimes in February over allegations that he attacked a 72-year-old Hispanic woman and yelled racial insults at her, according to prosecutors.
“It’s strange because it seems like things are the same as always, but in reality everything changes. One lives in fear after the shootings, people are tense and a change in one’s habits is noticeable. People are not the same after those crimes,” said Anchondo in El Paso.
The dangers of anti-immigrant rhetoric
In the last decade, one of the patterns that researchers at the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism have detected is that hate crimes against Latinos increase when there is national news involving Hispanic people. It happened, for example, when there was extensive media coverage of the migrant caravans traveling north from Central America.
Politicians’ use of bigoted rhetoric around increased border crossings plays a role in these incidents, said Levin.
Another element that researchers highlight is the proliferation of conspiracy theories that stigmatize minorities and promote hatred of ethnically diverse communities, such as Hispanics.
“There are active anti-immigrant groups that have taken power in many political spheres, and they also repeat false and racist conspiracies that create a culture where hate crimes thrive and happen,” Rivas, from the Southern Poverty Law Center, said.
The number of hate crimes against Latinos may be higher than what official records show, she said, because police departments do not consistently record people’s racial and ethnic information.
“Many people may not report these crimes, which is why police and local governments should conduct outreach in different languages, such as Spanish, to inform about resources for victims of hate crimes,” Levin said.
According to Rivas, “many communities in the United States do not report the numbers of these crimes ... We have entire counties that do not report anything."
Cuevas, the Northeastern University researcher, said they've found people are afraid to call the police if they lack legal immigration documentation, "and that is terrible because these are crimes that go unpunished. We have also noticed that in communities where Hispanic people are more integrated, crime figures are a little lower, and that may be positive in the future."
The power of forgiveness
More than four years have passed since the El Paso shooting, and hate crimes in Texas continue to increase, according to data from the state's Department of Public Safety, which in 2022 recorded 549 incidents, an increase of 6.4% from the previous year.
"Latino history is absent in public schools and in American discourse, all of which creates a dangerous situation for our community," said Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-Texas. "In Texas, my home state, hate crimes against Latinos have tripled in the last decade, That’s why I believe that stereotypes and erasing our history have real consequences on people’s lives,” said Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-Texas.
Last July, victims of the El Paso shooting were able to confront their killer in court. There was Deborah Anchondo, shaking with emotion and flooded with memories of her brother and her sister-in-law. Instead of showering Crusius with insults, she decided to read a letter from her nephew addressed to his dad, her murdered brother.
“I know that you look at me from heaven, and one day I will see you and my mother again," the letter her nephew wrote said. "I love you very much and thank you for wanting to have me,” she read in court, which made Crusius burst into tears, according to Anchondo.
Despite the emotional devastation that her brother’s death has meant for her family, Anchondo said they're fighting to move forward and, above all, to make little Paul happy.
“I forgave that man, my brother’s murderer. I don’t believe in the death penalty, I feel that it is worse to know that you are going to spend the rest of your life in a cell,” she said. “It is worse to live every day thinking of what he did, in the lives he ended, in the dreams he ended."
Estephany Cano contributed to this report.