As a child, Ramona Chavira of Fresno worked in the fields picking grapes and cotton alongside her parents. As an adult, she became a police officer in a migrant-heavy town, arresting people for crimes ranging from drunken driving to murder.
Most of those people were farm laborers, just like she had been. But there was a key difference: Many were in this country illegally.
For Chavira, who considers herself a Chicana with American-born parents of Mexican heritage, illegal immigration was the most important issue of the presidential campaign. That is why she voted for Donald Trump.
“We have immigration laws that people just completely ignore,” she said. “There’s never a quick fix, and I understand that. But the fact that he will do something is enticing to me.”
Chavira, 65, isn’t alone. While Latinos nationwide voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton, Trump’s share of the vote was not insignificant, although exactly how much support is up for debate.
We voted for Trump not because we like what he said, but because we like what he stands for.
Marcelino Valdez, Central Valley regional vice chairman for the California Republican Party
Many people were stunned when exit polls from the National Election Pool showed that among Latino voters, Trump lost to Clinton by a margin of just 65 percent to 29 percent, which is slightly better than Mitt Romney did in 2012. The polling firm Latino Decisions surveyed a much larger and socioeconomically diverse sampling of Latinos and reported that Clinton won by a margin of 79 percent to 18 percent. (Note: The co-founders of Latino Decisions did polling for Clinton, but said they separated themselves from the firm’s polling during her campaign.)
In the conservative and Latino-heavy San Joaquin Valley, Fresno stands out as a blue county amid the surrounding red. Even so, it was a close race. Fresno County residents voted 49 percent to 44 percent in favor of Clinton over Trump – a much narrower margin than, say, in San Francisco, where Clinton won 84 percent of the vote.
Some people were surprised that any Latino would vote for Trump, a man whose presidential announcement speech included this quote: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. … They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems to us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” He went on to say that the problem isn’t limited to Mexico, that such people are coming from all over Latin America.
‘But you’re Mexican’
Chavira said some people who found out she voted for Trump looked at her in shock and said, “But you’re Mexican.”
“That really irritates me,” she said. “They’re not speaking for me or my family or anyone else I know. It’s insulting when they categorize all Latinos.”
Mindy Romero, director of the California Civic Engagement Project at UC Davis, whose work focuses on the intersection of political behavior, race and ethnicity, said it shouldn’t be that big of a surprise that some Latinos support Trump, because Latinos are not a monolithic group. Indeed, the ethnicity encompasses people with roots anywhere in Latin America.
Romero said it’s important to recognize that Latinos have different migration stories and varying generations of history in this country. Some might feel some discomfort about undocumented immigrants if their family arrived legally, she said.
“Even at this time of such strong rhetoric and such vocal push-back among Latino leadership, it’s not a surprise that there’s a segment of the population that supported Trump. The question is how much.
“What was surprising this year was the rhetoric seemed to be so anti-Latino, so threatening. But you’re always going to find people, even within the same group, that have concerns about immigrants or immigration.”
For Chavira and other members of the working class, Trump offered relief. He promises jobs, a strengthened economy, and priority to Americans.
Anti-abortion a key
For Mary Macias of Sanger, the biggest draw was Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s stances on abortion. Macias, a third-generation Mexican American, was raised Catholic and considers herself very anti-abortion.
Macias coordinated local outreach to Latinos, African Americans and Asians as a volunteer for the Trump campaign. She often wore a “Make America Great Again” T-shirt or a Trump pin in public.
She said many people would come up to her and whisper to her that they were also Trump supporters. “A lot of them didn’t want to come out because of the way the media was portraying it,” she said. “God, they were scared.”
Macias is also tired of “political correctness.” She brushed off lewd comments about women that Trump made in a 2005 conversation caught on a hot microphone and obtained by The Washington Post. Trump bragged about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women. In the aftermath, numerous women have come forward with allegations of harassment and sexual assault.
“I don’t know if they’re lying, because I wasn’t there,” Macias said. “But if that had happened to me, I would have brought it to someone’s attention at that given moment.”
There are a number of reasons women don’t report incidents of sexual assault, from embarrassment to fear of retribution. For instance, the People magazine writer who came forward during the campaign with allegations of a 2005 sexual assault said she didn’t speak earlier because she blamed herself and considered the incident a risk of her occupation.
Benefit of the doubt
The biggest commonality among Latino Trump supporters seems to be a willingness to give him the benefit of the doubt because he isn’t a polished, career politician.
Chavira took his announcement speech statement to be specific to immigrants who commit crimes. “There are people that want a better future, but there’s also the cartels and there’s also murderers,” she said. “Not all of the people are the best people. That’s how I took his statement, and I have to agree with him.”
Macias said she didn’t take it personally because she knows Trump has a good heart. “I’m Hispanic and let me tell you, there’s a lot of wonderful Mexican people that are good Catholics, good Christians and want to just work and make a good life for them and their kids,” she said. “I knew what Mr. Trump meant. He didn’t mean the ordinary people like me.”
Marcelino Valdez, 37, is the Central Valley regional vice chairman for the California Republican Party. When Trump first rose to popularity, Valdez was concerned.
He asked for an emergency meeting with the party’s board to denounce Trump’s statements about immigrants. “I was afraid that all the work I was doing to try to get Hispanics on board with the party was going to be just thrown out the window with Trump’s rhetoric,” he said.
The other board members didn’t go for it. So instead, he persuaded party leaders to soften the party’s stance on immigration. The revised version strikes polarizing language like “illegal alien” and eliminates the party’s stance that election ballots and other government documents be printed only in English.
We have immigration laws that people just completely ignore. There’s never a quick fix, and I understand that. But the fact that he will do something is enticing to me.
Ramona Chavira, on why she voted for Donald Trump
Valdez said he realized the party’s underlying platform has much in common with Trump’s latest platform. The difference is in how they state it.
Valdez is the son of Mexican immigrant farmworkers. His father came in illegally and became one of 3 million people to gain legal status through the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. The act was supposed to include strict enforcement of a law that banned employers from hiring undocumented workers, but that never fully materialized.
He said times have changed since then. Some immigrants, albeit a small minority, feel entitled to jobs and public assistance and give everyone else a bad reputation, he said.
Trump tapped into the resentment U.S. citizens have felt since the ’80s by promising enforcement first, Valdez said. He said some Republicans took Trump’s statements out of context to vilify immigrants.
But among Latinos who voted for Trump, Valdez said, they voted for hope – the same hope Democrats had for President Barack Obama.
“The people that voted for Trump, especially those that are Hispanic, put America first,” he said. “We voted for Trump not because we like what he said, but because we like what he stands for.”