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The San Ysidro Massacre: A Community Response to Tragedy

Richard Griswold del Castillo

Abstract


On the afternoon of July 18, 1984, James Oliver Huberty, a forty-one year old unemployed welder, walked into a McDonald's fast food restaurant in San Ysidro, California. He was armed with a twelve gauge shotgun, a semi-automatic pistol, a nine millimeter Uzi semi-automatic rifle and a load of ammunition. Soon after entering the restaurant he pulled out the shotgun and killed one of the employees. Then he shouted "Everybody down!" and began spraying bullets throughout the store. After more than forty minutes of terror a police sharp shooter killed Huberty. Twenty-one people lay dead, fifteen were injured. Most of the victims were Mexican-American residents of the border town of San Ysidro or Mexicans from nearby Tijuana, Mexico. This tragic event was the largest mass murder in American history.

This is a survey of the social and political impact of the San Ysidro massacre on the local Mexican and Mexican-American communities. The psychological and public health dimensions of this event have been part of a larger study being concluded by a research team headed by Professors Ramon Valle, Bill Vega, and Richard Hough. Here I want to focus mainly on the public community responses to the tragedy from the point of view of social history. San Ysidro's community response to the tragedy reflected the particular dynamics of its status as a marginal ethnic enclave within the City of San Diego. For many years one of the main themes in the history of this U.S. border town had been its neglect by the city administration. Until July 1984, San Ysidro was a forgotten village. In one day the massacre brought unprecedented public attention to San Ysidro and politicized large segments of the local population. The tragedy insured that San Diego would not soon forget its ethnic border town.


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Print ISSN: 0886-5655
Online ISSN: 2159-1229

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