By Hannah Schoenbaum
BU News Service
BOSTON — Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke highlighted attacks against the Latinx community at a collegiate forum in a Roxbury brewery Thursday evening, saying he hopes to amplify their voices in the political conversation.
“The very thing that makes America great, makes America so special, is what drew that gunman to us,” O’Rourke told the crowd, referencing the mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso, Texas last month. “If immigration is a problem, it’s the best possible problem the U.S. could have.”
Fresh off his appearance on the CNN climate town hall Wednesday night, the Texas Democrat electrified an audience of just over 100 college students at Boston’s Backlash Beer Company, a warehouse near Dudley Square.
O’Rourke silenced the crowd with a chilling reminder of the 22 deaths and more than two dozen injuries from the Walmart mass shooting. The candidate said he believes the largely Latinx community was targeted because President Donald Trump refers to them as “rapists and drug dealers.”
O’Rourke said after the meetup that he wants to show the Latinx community consistent support.
“At a time in this country where hate crimes have been on the rise every one of the last three years, where so many Hispanics…feel like they are being hunted or marginalized or vilified or demonized, I really wanted to make sure that they’re first in the conversation,” O’Rourke said.
The Beto for America team organized the forum with the help of Boston University’s Latinx student group, Alianza Latina. Alianza Latina President Mercedes Muñoz said O’Rourke’s campaign team had contacted her organization hoping to connect the candidate with young Latinx leaders in the area. She said she was excited that O’Rourke was making a clear effort to show the Latinx community that they are valued.
“Seeing him be able to come out with such a strong message to the rest of the country, things I wish I could say but I don’t have a platform big enough, it means a lot to all of our members,” Muñoz said. “We’re seeing someone that cares about the Latino community enough to reach out to us to attend an event like this.”
Throughout the evening, O’Rourke pinpointed guns, a lack of affordable healthcare and immigrant detention centers as some of the primary safety threats he planned to combat if elected president.
The Democrat also said he wants to halt the commercial sale of semi-automatic weapons and raise the age to purchase other guns.
“Let’s buy back every AK-47 that’s on the streets,” he added.
O’Rourke fielded several audience questions about voter disenfranchisement, climate change and LGBTQ protections. He said while transgender youths are one of the country’s most vulnerable populations, they are often mislabeled as the antagonists.
“Trans kids are so often the victims, not the perpetrators of these attacks,” he said as students cheered.
O’Rourke reaffirmed his support for the Equality Act, which would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity, sex or sexual orientation, and said it must be passed immediately to prevent hate crimes against the LGBTQ community.
UMass Lowell doctoral candidate Tyler Harrington, who said he has been following O’Rourke’s campaigns for several years, described the forum as “a heaven experience.”
Harrington, who is originally from Dallas, said he plans to vote for O’Rourke in the primary election because he appreciates that the candidate’s viewpoints are grounded in personal experiences.
“His experience relates to mine,” Harrington said. “We’re both from Texas, we’re both near the border, we both kind of know what it’s like to live down there and I think I just connect with that better.”