“Silence and fear are the worse enemies,” Ubaldo Hernandez said in a vigil Wednesday that sought to give grace to recent victims of violence in El Paso and Dayton.
To those who, acting out of hate, would cause other people harm, Hernandez said, “This is a time where we need to stand up and stand together and raise our voices.”
About 50 people gathered at noon in the sanctuary of Riverside Community United Church of Christ for prayer and remembrance. More such vigils are planned in the weeks ahead.
Riverside pastor Rev. Vicky Stifter said Gorge Ecumenical Ministries had been talking of holding weekly vigils “in response to what has been happening, with the immigrant community in mind,” around the country, starting in September.
Then came the mass killings in El Paso and Dayton.
“We said, ‘We can’t wait until September to gather,’” Stifter said. “The time is now, even if only a small number of people get together, the time is now to act, to really leap into one another.
“In these times there are only two ways to go: To bury our heads in deep sand or find a way to numb ourselves — or there is the power of connection and empowerment and action. Our hope is that in this time together, this might be a place of welcome and safety, and allow you to bring whatever it is to this day and this time.”
Centerpiece of the vigil was the reading of the names of all who were killed in El Paso and Dayton. Individuals came to a microphone and read the names, sometimes two or three, and lit candles of remembrance.
Stephanie Tama-Sweet of Hood River performed her original song, “Song from the Border,” with its lines, “I don’t know your name/You don’t know my name/But under this big starry sky/Don’t our hearts beat the same?”
Tama-Sweet wrote the song in July, before the mass shootings, and was asked by Stifter to perform it after Tama-Sweet came to Riverside to ask to play on the grand piano in the sanctuary.
Buddhist monk Thay Kozen Sampson called for “letting go of the darkness and embracing the light” in each person’s heart, even in the face of hatred and division in our society.
“I encourage you not to get caught up in the darkness, but rather know we are all children of God.
“Some of us get caught up in desire, anger and ignorance, and those people bring out the nasty things happening in our society,” Sampson said, “The only way we can change that is one heart at a time, starting with our own.”
For those who speak or act in hateful ways, “We should have compassion and mercy and well-wishing,” Sampson said. He led the congregates in the reiterative prayer, “May you be well/may you have peace”: For themselves, for loved ones, for those we don’t know, and for someone who is difficult to love.
“That’s the hard one: Maybe it’s a politician; think of that person with an open heart.”
‘This is harm to our whole country’
Hernandez spoke on behalf of the Latino community, “We gather here because there is a lot of pain in our community and our culture,” said Hernandez, the son of immigrants who works for Columbia Riverkeeper.
“What happened in El Paso was an act of hatred, and unfortunately at this time, the hatred was directed toward the Mexican community in this county. Those actions are the result of the rhetoric of a person and groups who do harm to our community. This is not just a harm to these names (of the dead), but this is harm to our whole country, our communities and families.”
Hernandez said he has experienced, and heard many cases, of local residents being told to “go back to where you came from.”
“Today is the time we need to bring them out and stand up for them, show them we are together on this, and our future belongs together,” he said.
“We have families that came here as immigrants and they have kids and their kids have grandkids. We have roots, and it is important for us to stand together and fight this situation, these people or these groups who promote hate. It is time to raise our voices and not promote fear and silence anymore.”
Rev. Andy Wade and Rev. Laura Robinson of Bethel United Church of Christ in White Salmon said words of prayer and gave the sending forth.