Last week, we witnessed 11-year-old Miah Cerillo’s courageous testimony before Congress, an incredibly brave survivor of the horrific mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, which killed 19 children and two teachers. Miah vividly demonstrated that, while there is no making sense of such events, we must abandon the fiction that we are powerless to intervene.
We are deeply concerned — and determined — as the nation’s largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organization and the leading integrated safety net provider of mental health services for the Uvalde, Texas community.
We are concerned about the short and long-term trauma that the Robb Elementary School tragedy has caused Miah, other children, and the entire community, which has suffered the tragic and senseless loss of so many people they care about. We are determined to construct what is required for healing and change.
Future incident and trauma prevention in schools and communities should be a top priority. The killings in Uvalde occurred only ten days after the murders of elderly Black shoppers in Buffalo, New York. We must enact long-overdue, common-sense gun safety legislation, including universal background checks, assault weapon restrictions, and red flag laws, all of which are widely supported by Latino voters.
Recognizing gun violence as a defining public health issue is critical for change. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, firearms were the leading cause of death in 2020 for children and adolescents aged 1 to 18, and 1 to 19.
Investing in the best, most appropriate tools is also critical in dealing with the rising mental health consequences of gun violence on our children. We understand that providing immediate and ongoing support — both within the school system and throughout the community — is critical and can have a positive impact on the ability to heal. As a result, we must prioritize an equally strong effort to provide mental health support to individuals and communities in need.
However, our experience has shown that there is a severe lack of linguistically and culturally appropriate mental health coverage and care, such as in El Paso, Texas following a mass shooting in 2019. Latino children and adults face significant barriers to mental health care, including cost and language differences. Other barriers to appropriate mental health care include a severe underrepresentation of diverse health care professionals, an inability to benefit from telehealth due to a lack of broadband access, and the Latino community’s continued high level of uninsured.
To that end, our organizations advocate for a greater emphasis on both short-term and long-term mental and public health investments, such as financial and practical support for trauma-trained provider placements and community-based organizations, which are critical to ensuring that those who regularly serve families can identify those in crisis and provide ongoing assistance.
Because they have the trust of families and the ability to identify and reach families in crisis, culturally and linguistically appropriate social service providers and health care providers must be adequately resourced and staffed. Furthermore, efforts should be made to provide funding to meet the ongoing needs for additional staffing and trauma-informed training for community-based organizations in order to assist families and combat stigmas that can limit access to affordable and timely mental health care.
After such horror and trauma, we must — and can — act to heal the present and change the future. Each of these moments calls on all of us to do everything we can to embrace every suffering community. We can start with at least two things we need most: providing the health resources and specific forms of care that will be required for healing, and decisive action by lawmakers to enact a host of sensible gun safety measures that protect our children and offer them and us a safer tomorrow.