On Saturday, July 27, I had a truly American experience: the 41st annual Gilroy Garlic Festival. My best friend from childhood, her boyfriend, my husband and I wandered the festival grounds for hours, roving from shady spot to shady spot, trying to evade the heat. We even debated buying a silly garlic-shaped hat. There are other garlic festivals in the world, but Gilroy is a uniquely American take where one can try garlic ice cream and gorge on five types of garlic-infused fried carbs while chugging a beer in 90-degree weather, surrounded by a California crowd of stinking rose aficionados, all of whom come from different walks of life.
Gilroy, California is the Garlic Capital of the World and, boy, does it smell like it! The Gilroy Garlic Festival was founded in 1979 and, since then, it’s raised over $11.7 million for local nonprofits and schools. It’s primarily staffed by volunteers, most of whom are gangly teenagers; it’s easy to imagine that the entire town comes together to run this event each year. The Gilroy Garlic Festival, like the garlic Gilroy is known for, is a product of a community’s joy and unity. Both would be impossible without strong bonds between neighbors.
On the final day of this year’s Gilroy Garlic Festival, a 19-year-old man opened fire on families, friends, and garlic-lovers. He killed at least three people, including a six-year-old in a bounce house, and injured more than a dozen others. We don’t know why he decided to attack festival-goers, but we do know what he was thinking about shortly beforehand. In addition to referencing a white supremacist book, the shooter posted: “Why overcrowd towns and pave more open space to make room for hordes of mestizos and Silicon Valley white twats?”
His line of hateful thinking is what happens when politicians, media and other influencers spout messages about “invading” groups of migrants, about fear of people who may look or sound different, about resistance to new ideas. They become “hordes of mestizos” who are taking up too much space and resources—and they become targets at a food festival. This hateful ideology hurts us all, including white people, who also move for work and to be near family and friends and to pursue new opportunities… and who love garlic as well.
America, we have a white supremacy problem, and this is another moment of reckoning.
White supremacy is a threat to America—to our values of hope, joy, love, community and over-the-top food festivals. When we decide that it’s fine for children to be locked up in cages, for parents to be deported after decades of building up their communities here, for black Americans to be over-policed and over-incarcerated and for hate to trump love, then we lose ourselves and our country to white supremacy.
This is not a question of policy or laws. It is a battle for our soul, our future and the very essence of who we are as Americans
I am a mestiza, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend, and an immigrant. But most of all, I am an American who will not let hate define us. Join me in defining American as Gilroy has for 41 years — with love, unity, community, joy, and, most of all, hope.