Latinos raise their voice: ‘Everything that Trump represents is wrong’
Mireya De la Pena looks longingly towards the polling station.
With all her heart, she’d like to step inside and vote. For Hillary Clinton, that goes almost without saying. But just to vote, as a legal American, most of all. “That would be my dream.” She’s been living here, in Spanish Harlem, for nearly three decades. Her children are U.S. born — a teenager in college and a five-year-old in kindergarten. “Believe it or not, I’m waiting for my 18-year-old daughter to turn 21 so she can sponsor me.”
De la Pena is a minority within a minority in her shadowy status: Among the 11 million illegals who are in the U.S. undocumented or underdocumented. This metropolis alone, as per official estimates, is home to 375,000 illegal immigrants, comprising 10 per cent of the resident workforce.
But 27.3 million Latinos were entirely eligible to cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential election, according to Pew Research Center figures. Twelve per cent of all eligible voters. A huge constituency that, if they actually flocked to the polls on Tuesday, had the might to potentially tip the White House to Hillary Clinton. What sweet comeuppance that would be.
It was a strong theme of advance polling and projections — Hispanics engaged in the political process and embracing a Democratic Party that had long courted them.
Hispanics who, the Clinton faction was hoping, could blunt the Republican Party’s historical hammer with the white and male and disaffected working class. Hillary Hispanics, who might have shifted the dynamics in such key a state as Florida, where Cuban-Americans have typically marched to a GOP tune. As tracked by a research foundation at the University of Florida, 36 per cent of Hispanics who marked their ballots in advance polling had not voted in 2012.
Donald Trump galvanized them, in Florida and Nevada and elsewhere — to his detriment, the soothsayers predicted. The same soothsayers were stunned by how Clinton was underperforming in a slew of states that had been carried by Barack Obama in the last two elections.
Trump scarcely bothered with any Latino outreach; too busy casting them as crooks and rapists and drug lords, vowing to deport millions if elected, although never quite explaining how this could be done. Instead, he rendered the legal Latinos formidable.
For De la Pena, who was carried across the Rio Grande on her mother’s back in 1988, it’s been almost a lifetime of trying and failing to acquire citizenship. Yes, her family jumped the queue. But it’s such a damn long queue, sluggish and dispiriting.
“We were on a list, that’s all I remember from when I was little. We tried again — there were five of us and we paid $1,000 per person just to apply for immigration papers. That was the fee if you’d crossed illegally.
“After 9/11, everything was set back because of the security fears. But we were registered. So I pay taxes, I can apply for social services, which we needed when I was young. We were poor, didn’t even have enough food to eat. I’m registered, I pay my share, but there’s not much else I’m allowed to do. I can’t travel. I can’t visit my family back in Mexico.”
De la Pena, who works at a travel agency that caters primarily to Mexican-Americans — or Mexicans who aren’t Americans — is precisely the type of illegal immigrant Trump would keep behind a wall.
Despite the boost to the economy that illegals provide and the jobs they fill, blue-collar and service employment that many Americans want no part of anymore.
It has always been the immigrant road map: Get your foot in the door so that your kids can do better.
As De la Pena was speaking up in Spanish Harlem — more commonly known these days as El Barrio, historically — Trump was punching his own ballot at a mid-Manhattan school. “Tough decision,” he joked with reporters.
More extensive comments were provided to Trump’s personal shilling cable TV platform, Fox News. Sounding not so boldly self-confident. Sounding almost wistful.
“Let me tell you, if I don’t win I will consider it a tremendous waste of time, energy and money.”
And though it had been reported that Trump’s tweeting device had all but been wrestled out of his hands by close aides, the billionaire native New Yorker was back on the social media podium Tuesday, exhorting citizens to get out there. A 6 p.m. yip: “Don’t let up, keep getting out to vote — this election is FAR FROM OVER. We are doing well but there is much time left.”
Trump, the most unlikely and certainly most divisive presidential aspirant ever, was watching the returns unfolding from his triplex penthouse at Trump Tower, waiting to see whether it would be an early night or a late night, whether he’d take the stage first as loser or second as winner.
The Trump and Clinton victory parties were booked a mile apart in mid-Manhattan hotels.
“I’m very offended by what Mr. Trump has said about Mexicans,” continued De la Pena. “My home is here. I don’t have a home in Mexico. I don’t have a job in Mexico. But not only about Mexicans and immigrants, just in general. For me, he’s a very disturbed person. Donald Trump cannot be president of the United States because he is mentally ill, obviously. Clinton is also not an attractive candidate. But you have to work with what you have and this is what we have.”
Trump’s psychological profile has actually been an issue of serious discussion during this campaign, since few rational explanations for his conduct come easily to hand. He is palpably needy, a Type-A personality with skin as thin as onion paper. He pushed and chipped and boot-kicked through the acceptable out-margins of civil debate. Nobody had ever seen the likes of it. Which is, doubtless, exactly what made Trump so attractive to a chunky core constituency of angry white working-class males.
Most women hate him, the polls had shown. Most college-educated people hate him. Most minorities hate him.
It really has been a take-a-number stack of the aggrieved that Trump has not only offended but outright repelled. Yet Trump appeared unwary of the country’s demographics changing around him, as if a presidency could be snatched on the backs of a bitter and snarling illeducated white male hegemony. And maybe he was right.
Janet Mendez, a 30-year-old retail manager, is the New York-born daughter of Ecuadoran parents. She had just cast her vote early for Clinton.
“Everything that Trump represents is wrong. Even though I was born here, my parents suffered to get to America. He’s saying all the people that come here are rapists and drug parents. My parents are none of that. They came here so I could have a better future. That’s the story of America.
“Even Trump, his ancestors came from somewhere else. We all migrated here. The only ones born here were native Americans. So he can’t judge people according to where they came from.”
Mendez added, gesturing around the neighbourhood: “Most of the people that work here are immigrants. Who’d going to do all this work? Immigrants do the jobs most people don’t want. They’re here because they want to work, not because they want to take away anybody’s job. What’s scary is that a lot of people still believe what he believes about minorities. We just don’t see it as much here because New York is such a diverse city.”
Clinton supporters watch the results at the Javits Center in New York.