On the El Paso border, Trump’s appeal with Latinos defies expectations
EL PASO, Texas — Ramon De La Rosa predicts it’ll take President-elect Donald Trump just six months to make America great again.
The 73-year-old is eager to see Trump bring back jobs from places such as China and stop taxing hard-working Americans to pay for food stamps and other entitlement programs.
When Trump launched his presidential campaign and labeled Mexicans who enter the country illegally as rapists, criminals and drug dealers, De La Rosa, who was born in Mexico and crossed the border at 17 to become a U.S. resident, was not offended. It also didn’t faze him that Trump pledged to build a massive wall along the border here in an effort to keep people just like him out.
“I know he didn’t mean that about all Mexicans,” De La Rosa said, noting that Trump just talks like a “tontito,” a Spanish term meaning “fool.” “He knows nothing about politics and nothing about speaking politically correct.”
Counter to what many polls and pundits expected, De La Rosa — who for decades was not a U.S. citizen and earned the right to vote just 10 years ago — was among the 29 percent of Hispanic voters across the country who chose Trump on Election Day, according to exit polls.
Here, he is one of thousands of El Pasoans celebrating Trump’s victory and looking forward to his inauguration. Trump received 26 percent of the vote in El Paso County, which includes El Paso and five small rural cities in the far west corner of Texas.
Many thought Trump would fare far worse among Latinos than he did, largely because of his anti-Mexican and anti-immigrant comments. While many in El Paso say they don’t agree with all of Trump’s approaches — he still performed worse among Latinos than did previous Republican presidential nominees — many who voted for him had single issues in mind: Some chose Trump because they want to see restrictions on abortion; others said he will bring more jobs back to the United States; still others hope he will limit entitlement programs. Some, many not born in the United States, oppose illegal immigration and hope Trump will be successful in immigration reform, something they say Democrats failed to do in the past eight years.
Trump’s anti-Mexican insults apparently weren’t enough to turn off many voters in this border town, including Cecilia Kazhe.
Kazhe, 45 and a native of Chihuahua, Mexico, was shocked by her first encounter with racism in America, when decades ago a co-worker used a racial slur against her.
“ ‘You are nothing but a *******,’ ” Kazhe recalled the colleague saying, using a derogatory term for Mexicans who cross the nearby Rio Grande from Mexico to the United States. “She would say ‘wetback’ like it was a dirty name, but I never saw myself that way.”
Did Trump’s attack on Mexicans echo those insults? Kazhe said they weren’t a major problem for her.
“At the end of the day, they are just words,” said Kazhe, who became a U.S. citizen when she was 17. “I know I am a productive citizen. Those words don’t represent me, so it didn’t bother me at all.”