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The Field: A Divided Latino Vote in Arizona

Could a strong Hispanic turnout flip the traditionally Republican state for the Democrats?


Hosted by Times Reporter Jennifer Medina with Guest Tomas Robles


Austin Mitchell

Hello, hello?

[Car Door Closing]


[Traffic Noise]


Austin Mitchell

What do you think about this heat, Jenny?

Jenny Medina

Dry heat. Dry heat. Let’s see. It’s 103.

Austin Mitchell

Oh.

Jenny Medina

I sort of under appreciate how it is nearly October and it is still 100 degrees every single day.

Jenny Medina

From The New York Times, this is “The Field.” I’m Jenny Medina in Phoenix, Arizona.

[Footsteps]

So we are in Esteban Park, predominantly Latino, predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood, pretty working class. So we are seeing canvassers with LUCHA. LUCHA is a progressive social justice organization in Arizona that really, in the last few years, helped get many local Democrats elected to office.

Jenny Medina

Hey, guys.

Speaker

Hi.

Jenny Medina

Hey. How are you?

Speaker

Hi.

Jenny Medina

So we walk up to a group of about half a dozen young Latino canvassers standing under the shade of a tree.

Austin Mitchell

Can I ask how old you are?

Canvasser 1

Me? I’m 15.

Jenny Medina

Like, really young canvassers.

Canvasser 2

I’m 22.

Canvasser 3

I’m 17.

Canvasser 4

I’m also 17.

Jenny Medina

Most of them can’t even vote. But they’re preparing to go door-knocking in support of Joe Biden.

Canvasser

LUCHA on 3. 1, 2, 3 —

Group

LUCHA!

Speaker

Hi, Nancy.

Nancy

Hi!

Jenny Medina

Do you mind if we tag along with you?

Nancy

Yeah, yeah.

Jenny Medina

We just —

Jenny Medina

We shadowed a 17-year-old named Nancy Roldan. Nancy, are your parents immigrants?

Nancy

Yeah.

Jenny Medina

Where are they from?

Nancy

Mexico.

Jenny Medina

OK.

Jenny Medina

She heads off into the neighborhood with a clipboard and a stack of flyers. An app on her phone tells her which houses to go to.

Nancy

That’s where they give us our list and our people. So then —

Jenny Medina

LUCHA has already identified what they call occasional voters.

Nancy

They try to get the people that haven’t voted in a really long time. Those voters are the target.

[Dogs Barking]


[Knocking On Door]


Archived Recording

Hello?

Nancy

Hi. Does Renee live here? Hi. Does Evita live here? Hi. Does Daisy live here?

Jenny Medina

Nancy has her script memorized.

Nancy

Hi. My name’s Nancy. And I’m part of LUCHA. And we’re just going around the community asking what has been you guys’ biggest concern of 2020 and what you guys are planning to vote on.

Jenny Medina

We canvassed with Nancy for two hours. And the most common concern —

Resident 1

Right now? Probably why you’re all wearing the masks.

Resident 2

Like, overall health of the community.

Resident 3

My main concern was the virus.

Jenny Medina

And as you might expect —

Nancy

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Jenny Medina

— the majority of people —

Nancy

Do you know who you’re voting for this year?

Resident

Probably Biden.

Nancy

Probably Biden?

Resident

So basically, you already know who I’m voting for, Biden.

Jenny Medina

— already support Biden. Progressive groups like LUCHA know that Latino communities and other communities of color in the Phoenix area lean Democratic. Their goal is not really to convince undecided voters or Trump supporters to go for Biden. For them, sending these teenagers out in 100 degree heat for hours every day, it’s part of a years’ long effort to fully energize the Latino vote in Arizona.

[Music]

Over the last decade, national races have been tightening in the traditionally Republican stronghold of Arizona. Obama lost by about nine points there, both in 2008 and 2012. But Clinton lost only by 3 and 1/2 points in 2016. And in the 2018 midterms, Democrats want a Senate seat for the first time in three decades and also flipped a House seat.

Archived Recording (Donald Trump)

[CROWD CHEERING] Thank you very much, Phoenix.

Jenny Medina

This year, President Trump has visited the state five times.

Archived Recording (Donald Trump)

— Democrats and we are going to win Arizona in a landslide.

Archived Recording (Joe Biden)

We’ve paid too high a price already for Donald Trump’s chaotic, divisive leadership.

Jenny Medina

Biden has only visited once, and that was just a few weeks ago.

Archived Recording (Joe Biden)

We’re going to get this virus under control. We’re going to reopen —

Jenny Medina

Yet polls show Biden with the lead. Part of that is the trend that we’re seeing nationally of white suburban women moving away from Trump. And part of it is this activation of the Latino vote. But will it be enough? And do enough Latino voters actually want Biden as their president?

Austin Mitchell

So where are we right now?

Jenny Medina

So we’re in sort of central Phoenix on a kind of main drag. And we’re about to meet Tomàs Robles, who is the co-executive director of LUCHA.

Jenny Medina

In late September, I went with producers Austin Mitchell and Robert Jimison to LUCHA’s headquarters in Phoenix.

Jenny Medina

It’s Tomàs.

Jenny Medina

The 38-year-old co-executive director of the group, Tomàs Robles, Jr., pulls in.

Jenny Medina

Hey, Tomàs.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

Hey. How’s it going?

Jenny Medina

Good. How are you?

Jenny Medina

He’s decked out in LUCHA swag: blue LUCHA t-shirt, blue LUCHA hat on backwards, even thick-rimmed glasses in a matching shade of blue.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

Right now, we’re in the Alhambra neighborhood, densely Latino, Latinx populated.

Jenny Medina

Tomàs often uses the gender neutral term, Latinx.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

One: one of the highest concentrations of Latinx voters. Two: one of the highest infection rates of Covid-19.

Jenny Medina

In the state?

Tomàs Robles Jr.

Yeah. In the state. This is one of those districts where it’s a Democratic district. But if people don’t participate in this district, we can lose the state or the presidency as a whole.

Jenny Medina

Do you want to take us inside?

Tomàs Robles Jr.

Yeah. We’ll go inside.

Jenny Medina

Tomàs takes us inside the office which no one is working out of these days because of Covid.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

We have markers here for social distancing.

Jenny Medina

And we sit down in an empty meeting room on socially distanced chairs.

Jenny Medina

And tell us a little bit about —

Jenny Medina

And he starts to tell us the story of how he got into activism.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

So I’m the oldest of four kids. I was born in Tucson, Arizona, the second largest city. And then immediately moved back to a small town called Naco, Arizona. It’s on the border of Arizona and Mexico. And my family, for generations, went back and forth. Some were miners. Some were construction workers. Other was were farmers.

Jenny Medina

So Tomàs’s parents were born in Mexico. But growing up, first in rural Arizona —

Tomàs Robles Jr.

Those schools were predominantly white. So I wore Wrangler jeans and a tucked in polo. I looked like a cowboy. And then you move to Phoenix and so —

Jenny Medina

And then in Phoenix —

Tomàs Robles Jr.

— so I changed my name to Tommy in high school, so I could avoid the Spanish part of it.

Jenny Medina

Tomàs did not see himself as Mexican.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

Because I didn’t know what to identify as. I just knew I did not identify as a Mexican or even a Mexican-American in some people’s eyes. And obviously, I still had to figure out who I was going to be. Ironically, it was the Marines, when I joined the Marines.

Jenny Medina

It wasn’t until 2001, when Tomàs joined the Marines, that he started to feel connected to some kind of larger identity.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

I was stationed with a ton of Latinx Marines from different backgrounds — Puerto Rican, Cuban, Venezuelan, Ecuadorian. And they immersed me in Latinx culture, not necessarily Mexican culture, but Latinx culture. And so I started listening to the music. I started to read about the history. I started to read about U.S. relations with Latin American countries. And I started to learn how many bad, horrific things the U.S. has done to countries of color. There has been so much colonialism that you start to see just what exactly it is. And so I started really getting acquainted about the political structures, the systemic racism, and understanding even in the military how that seeps through.

Jenny Medina

And then —

Tomàs Robles Jr.

Senate Bill 1070 happens.

Jenny Medina

— comes this moment that was huge for Tomàs’s political awakening. It was also probably the single most important catalyst for the political shift that we’ve seen in Arizona: the passage of Senate Bill 1070.

Archived Recording

This is one of the toughest immigration reform bills on the books in U.S. history, though it’s hard —

Tomàs Robles Jr.

Senate Bill 1070 is a bill that was passed in the 2010 Arizona state legislature.

Archived Recording

The new law allows police to question a person’s immigration status if they have —

Tomàs Robles Jr.

So the original law basically stated that if you see somebody that could be undocumented, any person living in the state had an obligation to question that individual’s citizenship. And that police officers would be forced to do that any time they came in contact with anybody, whether it be a victim of a crime or a perpetrator of a crime. Teachers would be encouraged to ask their kids of their documentation status.

Archived Recording (Crowd)

[CHANTING] Joe! Joe! Joe! Joe! Joe! Joe! Joe! [CHEERING]

Jenny Medina

Some of the most fervent backers of the bill were politicians in Maricopa County, where Phoenix sits, including the county sheriff —

Archived Recording (Joe Arpaio)

I’m not going to turn ‘em over to ICE.

Jenny Medina

— Joe Arpaio.

Archived Recording (Joe Arpaio)

I’m going to turn them over to me. [CHEERING] And they’re going to jail. [CHEERING]

Jenny Medina

Arpaio had been the sheriff since 1992.

Archived Recording (Joe Arpaio)

In 1993, I put up Korean War tents.

Jenny Medina

And he is probably most famous for setting up an outdoor tent city, a sort of extension of the county jail, where inmates were given pink underwear and forced to work on chain gangs.

Archived Recording (Joe Arpaio)

We now have room for 2,500.

Archived Recording

All right!

Archived Recording (Joe Arpaio)

And we’ll put tents up from here to Mexico. [CHEERING]

Jenny Medina

Arpaio and other supporters of 1070 claim that it was simply meant to support existing federal immigration laws. But to Tomàs and many others —

Tomàs Robles Jr.

Clearly that was a racial profiling law.

Jenny Medina

— it was nothing more than a legal mandate for racial profiling.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

And that passage of that policy brought me right back to childhood.

Jenny Medina

And it felt personal.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

For me, it resonated so much. And although it had moved to the back of my memory bank —

Jenny Medina

Tomàs says he was reminded about an experience he had had as a kid, when his family was in the car together.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

Summer vacation, it was June. And we were driving back from Naco to Phoenix. My parents in the front, there’s me, my brother and my sister — my sister is four, my brother’s eight. I’m 12.

Jenny Medina

And they get a couple flat tires.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

So it was 1994. As you can imagine, there’s no cell phones. There’s no way for us to contact anybody. And so we’re literally stuck, waiting for about an hour and a half. All of a sudden, a cop pulls up behind us. And to this day, like, I remember, he was a redhead. He had those aviator Ray-Ban on, the copper ones with the black. As soon as he comes out, my dad says, I’m glad you’re here. We’re stuck. And the second he starts to try and talk, the officer says, I’m going to need you to back up.

Puts his hand on his holster and the gun, and says, I need to know if you have drugs or weapons in the car. My dad is, like, no, we’re a family of four. Like, no, we’re stuck. We’ve been stuck here for an hour and a half. And then the guy then pulls out his gun. He doesn’t point at him. But he says, I need you to put your hands on the hood. And my dad doesn’t want to. It’s 106 degrees out. He finally says, if you don’t put the hands on the hood, I’m going to have to arrest you. So he puts his hands on the hood. It’s hot as hell. He searches my dad. And then he opens the trunk of our car without permission and starts to search through our whole stuff. So I’m witnessing this whole thing, right? And I’m a 12-year-old. And this guy’s looking, he’s throwing shit on the ground. He’s throwing clothes, toys, diapers, everything is moving. Finally, my dad is yelling. He’s, like, why the hell are you doing this? Would you be doing this if I was white? And the cop ignored him. He glances at me once, looks back down. He’s, like, all right. You guys are good. Gets back in his car and drives off.

He didn’t ask if we needed help. He didn’t ask if we needed water. He made my dad feel like a criminal, threatened to arrest him, threatened to shoot him, basically. All because we were stuck on the road. And so SB 1070 made those racial profiling moments a necessity under the eyes of the law because my dark ass might be undocumented.

Jenny Medina

And so the same day the governor signed the bill into law, Tomàs went to the Capitol and signed up to do voter registration.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

I felt like I’d finally found the type of service that I wanted to do.

Jenny Medina

And a couple years later, Sheriff Arpaio was up for re-election.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

And so I took a job as organizing director of LUCHA. At the time, the organization had three total employees, including myself. And I was charged to build up an organizing program to vote out Sheriff Joe Arpaio. So I joined the —

Jenny Medina

It didn’t work. Arpaio won re-election. But his margin of victory was the lowest it had ever been. And Tomàs saw other encouraging signs.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

We won a couple of campaigns that year, some very small, local campaigns. But we were expected to lose, and we won. And so —

Jenny Medina

In 2015, Tomàs was promoted to help lead LUCHA. And the next year, in the midst of a presidential election, they went after Arpaio again.

Archived Recording

The most talked about race back here in the valley —

Jenny Medina

And this time, on November 8 —

Archived Recording

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio loses his seat to Democrat Paul Penzone.

Jenny Medina

It worked.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

For about 10 minutes on election night, we were on cloud nine.

Archived Recording

Chris, people here are elated.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

Arpaio had just been voted out. We had just won more seats in the state legislature. And we had an outside chance of winning the presidency for the state.

Archived Recording

New Hampshire and Arizona are still too close to call.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

And then I remember when I saw Virginia’s numbers come out.

Archived Recording

A relatively large, rather lead for Donald Trump —

Tomàs Robles Jr.

I knew we were going to lose the presidency. And it was the weirdest feeling of joy coupled with fear, anxiety. It was this weird cocktail of mixed emotions that you just ended up numb by the end of the night.

Archived Recording

Donald Trump wins the presidency. The business tycoon and TV personality —

Jenny Medina

For Tomàs and LUCHA, the only thing to do was to keep working.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

The elections aren’t the finish line. The elections are simply a marker. And we need to keep going and keep organizing. And that’s why we created LUCHA lobby —

Jenny Medina

In the 2018 midterms, Democrats saw big gains in Arizona, including the first senator elected in the state since 1988.

Austin Mitchell

And so the strategy then was voter registration, get these people out. And then we can change the laws.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

Yeah. We had to build a foundation of voters. We had a build —

Jenny Medina

For Tomàs, the frustrating series of losses from 2010 to 2016, it was a time of crucial foundation building that has led to this moment.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

In those six years, we added around 600,000 people to the early voting list. So people got to go out and vote. In those same six years, we registered about 350,000 people. Since that year, since 2016, we put a total of 800,000 people on the permanent early vote list and registered almost 600,000 people. So without that, you don’t have the makeup we have in the state right now.

Austin Mitchell

That’s an enormous amount of people. I didn’t realize it was that much.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

Yeah. Amazing what you can do in 16 hours with no sleep.

[Laughter]


Jenny Medina

And now it looks like Arizona has the kind of mobilized registered Latino vote that could make a real difference. 10 years ago, Latinos made up 18 percent of eligible voters in this state. And now that number has grown to 25 percent.

Jenny Medina

How do you feel now, today, in this moment that we’re in?

Tomàs Robles Jr.

Nervous. I feel a sense of urgency. I feel a sense of worry.

Jenny Medina

Tomàs is worried about how effective all this work will have been in getting people to turn out in the middle of a pandemic.

Jenny Medina

Is there excitement about Biden?

Tomàs Robles Jr.

I think in the beginning of the year there was not. I definitely think in terms of exciting candidates that would have been Bernie Sanders. That’s who we endorsed. And for us, it’s talking about why Biden, from his ties to military, to his ties to family, health care being a major issue — him coming from a working class background, we hope resonates well.

Jenny Medina

But he’s also got another concern.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

But Biden needs to get better at talking up an economic message with Latinx voters, especially Latinx men. I’m worried that Latino men and men of color generally are starting to be peeled off. Men of color will majority support Biden, much higher ratio than white males. But any peeling off of any constituencies that could vote for Biden could spell a victory for Trump, especially in states like ours.

Jenny Medina

He’s worried about Latino men voting for Trump.

Austin Mitchell

Are you able to kind of articulate how you’re seeing that happening?

Tomàs Robles Jr.

The way that my personal relationships — I’ve seen them get peeled off is through conspiracy theories through social media. So like that QAnon?

Austin Mitchell

Yep.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

QAnon’s theories, especially around pedophilia, has been major. Most of my friends are parents. All of them come to me concerned that there is literal pedophilia happening around liberal circles.

Jenny Medina

He’s talking about QAnon’s central conspiracy that a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles is running a global child sex trafficking ring, and that Trump is trying to stop them. Misinformation and conspiracy theories have been spreading beyond fringe groups and into the Latino community this year.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

So that’s one major way that’s peeled them off. Second is Trump almost comes off as the last person to be proud of masculinity to some of these men. He’s loud. He’s obnoxious. He quote, unquote takes what he wants. He doesn’t succumb to political correctness. And in a way, it’s almost like being in high school and liking the cool kid again. If you really unpack the layers, there’s still this belief that there is a economic and color caste system. That if you keep moving up in terms of socioeconomic, you will be able to classify yourself as white. And they do believe that, as an American, as long as you pull yourself up by the bootstraps, that you can be successful in this country.

Jenny Medina

This is a phenomenon that I started hearing about more than a year ago. And honestly, at first I was skeptical of how meaningful a number of Latino men were feeling this way. Latinos had turned out for Trump in a surprisingly high number in 2016, about one in four voters. But the thinking had been that after all the rhetoric and policies of the past four years, and with Biden rather than Clinton as the nominee, that the Latino vote would solidify into a solid Democratic voting bloc, more like the Black vote. But this view of Trump, that he is a symbol of economic success, I’ve now heard it again and again from Latino men I’ve spoken to covering the election this year. I’ve heard it in Texas, Florida, New Mexico, Nevada and in Arizona.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

Biden has not been able to put out a message that makes Latinx men who are feeling insecure about their economic realities — his message is not resonating with them to the point where they can believe that he can lead them into economic prosperity at a level higher than Trump could. And for a lot of male Latinx voters who aren’t directly impacted by his policies, the economics is what matters most.

Jenny Medina

The latest polling suggests that something like 30 percent of Latino voters plan to support Trump this year. And that same polling suggests that their primary motivation is this economic promise.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

I remember just last night I got into a Facebook debate with my friend who’s Latinx. He’s a real estate guy here. And when it came to Trump’s taxes, he laughed and said, man, I need to get his accountant. So, like, he saw it as a — they see themselves as future billionaires. They’re just stuck in a non-billionaire situation right now.

Austin Mitchell

Would you be willing to read a couple of those exchanges with your friend? You don’t have to say who it is or anything.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

I want to preface that this is a Facebook debate. And so these aren’t going to have like deep, dire stuff. But I can read a couple.

Jenny Medina

Tomàs pulls out his phone and starts scrolling.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

Oh, my goodness.

Jenny Medina

He picks out another exchange with a friend named Jesse.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

And I think his dad was an immigrant. But they’re business people. And so he posted this. “Wearing this tonight during the debate. LOL. Trump 2020.” And so you can see —

Jenny Medina

It’s a shirt that has Biden and Trump’s faces photoshopped onto the bodies of two wrestlers.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

Trump is basically behind a kneeling Joe Biden in which he has him in a headlock. On top of that image, it says, “Night night, sleepy Joe.” And at the bottom, it says, “four more years, Trump 2020.” His cousin then responds: “Funny, cousin, what about all the women who were violated?” Then Jesse responds by saying, “Cousing Joe likes touching kids, I’ll pass on the pedo Biden.” So then I responded. I said, “You just stay believing lies. How about you show a reference that this is actually true, a reference of Biden and pedophilia. But you’re in a cult. So I can see why you can’t. Clearly, he sees you as sheep.” So as you can tell, I’m not nice to some of these people.

And then Jesse responds by, “Tomàs, keep drinking the communist lies of free stuff and social justice B.S. Be American. Be proud. Get paid and get rich. It’s the only way.”

Austin Mitchell

So that was kind of the economic message that you’re talking about.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

Exactly.

Austin Mitchell

It’s like, get rich, get paid, and forget everybody else.

[Music]


Austin Mitchell

Thank you.

Tomàs Robles Jr.

No, thank you all for taking the time and all. Two hours is long for anybody.

Jenny Medina

With Tomàs’s friends in mind, we set off to find these voters.

Jenny Medina

Can you either text me or messenger me if him or anybody else is willing to talk?

Tomàs Robles Jr.

I’m going to reach out to him today and see if I can connect you over Facebook. And then I’ll let you all figure it out. I’ll walk you all out and then I can close up shop.

Jenny Medina

So before we left Tomàs, he agreed to reach out to two of his Trump supporting Facebook friends and ask if they’d be willing to talk with me for this story. Just a few hours later, he texted me their responses. One friend said, I would love to talk, but not in this environment and with the way things are. A simple comment mistaken or written out of context would not be good for me or my family. The other simply wrote, L.M.A.O. Nah, bro.

But that’s OK. [LIGHT APPLAUSE]

Archived Recording (Eric Trump)

Are you guys ready? [CHEERING]

Jenny Medina

I had gone to an event in Phoenix hosted by a campaign group called Latinos for Trump.

Archived Recording (Eric Trump)

And where’s Hunter? That’s the question I ask every single day. Where the hell is Hunter?

Jenny Medina

— featuring an appearance by Eric Trump.

Archived Recording (Eric Trump)

The media is so fake, they don’t even ask about it.

Jenny Medina

And there I met a charming guy —

Paul

So I’m a Marine veteran.

Jenny Medina

— named Paul.

Paul

I am a Mexican, my grandmother is an immigrant —

Jenny Medina

— who agreed to meet up with me again. [PHONE RINGING] But when I reached out, reached out many, many times, I might add —

Automated Message

You have reached the voicemail box of 6028 —

Jenny Medina

He totally ghosted.

So —

Jenny Medina

All right, shall we go in?

Jenny Medina

— Austin, Robert and I decided to just go to the Latinos for Trump office and ask them directly if they had anyone in mind who they thought would be great for us to talk with.

Jenny Medina

Hi. How are you?

Speaker

I’m sorry. If you’re not invited, you cannot come in.

Jenny Medina

Oh. We’re reporters. We’re just here to talk to people.

Speaker

Yes. If you’re not invited, you cannot come in.

Jenny Medina

We can’t? Is there anybody here I can speak with?

Speaker

No.

Jenny Medina

There’s nobody here who would be willing to talk to a reporter?

Speaker

No.

Austin Mitchell

So it’s press in general that they’re —

Jenny Medina

It seems like it was press in general that she was averse to. Yeah.

Jenny Medina

I’ve gotten used to this kind of thing this election season. As we were standing outside the Latinos for Trump office, though, we noticed people pulling up and heading inside.

Jenny Medina

Hi. I’m a reporter with The New York Times.

Jenny Medina

So we started talking to them. Do you mind if I ask you what brought you out here today and what you’re coming for?

Luz

About what?

Jenny Medina

About what brought you out here today.

Luz

I am a Latina. And I am for Trump. Why? Because I am for God, for life and for family. That’s it.

Jenny Medina

Luz is a Catholic shelter worker in Phoenix.

Luz

I’ll tell you one thing. My father was one of the founders of the Democratic Party in Chile. And when he came here, he said to me, unfortunately, the Democrats have dropped God. And believe me, that was a long time ago. So anyway.

Jenny Medina

Can I ask you how has the pandemic impacted you or people you know?

Luz

Yeah. We have to be cautious. I think it has been exploited for the leftist reasons. You know, I know churches that are open. And we don’t have any extra Covid. I think it’s a plandemic in many ways, you know?

Jenny Medina

She’s referring to misinformation that circulated on social media a couple of months back that the pandemic was orchestrated as a power grab by global elites.

Jenny Medina

Do you know anybody who’s gotten sick?

Luz

No, I don’t. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I did meet a worker. And this man decided to go back home and start using all the natural remedies of his mom — meaning boiling vapor and breathing and you know, did all these and all the things that the mom and the grandma used to use at home in Mexico. And they’re all fine. They were all healed. Natural. No vaccines with babies in it.

Myron

I’m an old man at 67 years old, been around a long time. And it makes my heart feel good to see Hispanics and Blacks represented in the Republican Party.

Jenny Medina

Myron is a Baptist minister who’s doing security work right now.

Myron

Trump sees things in the real world, the reality of really what’s going on. He knows there’s a difference between Blacks and whites. But rather than harp on it and do nothing about it, Trump says, I’m not going to harp on it. I’m going to do for you what the Democrats said they would do and never done. I’m going to give you the opportunity to do something for yourself. Republicans say, I’m not going to give you a fish. I’m going teach you how to fish. And you can go catch whatever damn fish you want. If you want a minnow, catch the minnow. If you want a shark, take your [EXPLETIVE] and catch your shark. Or go get in your boat and catch a sea bass. But the limit is yours. The Democrats say we can going to give you a can of tuna and some crackers and be satisfied with that. They’ve been eating tuna and crackers so long, that’s all they want.

Jenny Medina

And then —

[Truck Horn Toots]


Jenny Medina

— a large pickup truck with several Trump bumper stickers on it pulls up —

Jenny Medina

From The New York Times —

Jenny Medina

— and a man hops out.

Speaker

I’ve forgotten your name.

Cruz Zepeda

My name’s Cruz.

Jenny Medina

Cruz. And and what’s your last name?

Cruz Zepeda

Zepeda.

Jenny Medina

Cruz Zepeda, dressed in full Trump supporter gear.

Cruz Zepeda

I’m wearing a MAGA hat that I got online. Everything I bought from Trump, made in America. This one’s actually Bangladesh. Kind of pisses me off.

Jenny Medina

He’s got a bright red MAGA hat, a mask that reads Keep America Great and a Trump keychain. He’s also wearing a T-shirt repping his local gun store.

Jenny Medina

Do you mind if I just ask you real quickly what brought you out here today?

Cruz Zepeda

I need more bumper stickers.

Jenny Medina

What? You need more bumper stickers?

Cruz Zepeda

Another yard sign, because they keep getting stolen.

Robert Jimison

How many yard signs have you had stolen?

Cruz Zepeda

Several. I don’t count them. There’s Biden signs in my neighborhood. They don’t get stolen.

Jenny Medina

What do you consider yourself? What’s your ethnicity? Yeah.

Cruz Zepeda

I’m Mexican. I don’t see say Hispanic. I’m an American first. I know that’s not an ethnicity, but yeah.

Jenny Medina

Are you from here?

Cruz Zepeda

From here meaning —

Jenny Medina

Phoenix.

Cruz Zepeda

Phoenix? My family’s been here since before it was a territory.

Jenny Medina

Oh really?

Cruz Zepeda

Yeah, yeah. My grandmother was born a year before Arizona became a state.

Jenny Medina

Where did you grow up?

Cruz Zepeda

All over. I was a military brat, Air Force brat. My father was born here. My grandfather was born in Mexico.

Jenny Medina

Part of what I’m curious about is, like, being Mexican, is that important to you? Does that feel important to you, that identity?

Cruz Zepeda

The identity, yes. Yes, it does. I mean —

Jenny Medina

So clearly, I’m fishing to understand how Cruz reconciles his Mexican-American identity with his support for the president.

Cruz Zepeda

What do I like about Trump? He’s getting stuff done. He’s getting stuff done. He’s pragmatic and a results-oriented person. He has to be. This man who can be sitting — he’s a billionaire. What does he — he doesn’t need a job. He has enough money to influence people, if that’s what he wanted to do in politics. He’s not taking a salary. I think he takes $1 a year right now.

Jenny Medina

Here again is this idea that Donald Trump is a man who knows how to get rich and wants you to have the chance to get rich, too.

Jenny Medina

What do you want?

Cruz Zepeda

What do I want? Well, I want the American dream. I mean, I want to pursue life, liberty, pursuit of happiness. That’s it, basically, in a nutshell. I don’t get complicated with it.

Jenny Medina

Do you feel like you’ve attained your American dream?

Cruz Zepeda

That’s an unfair question.

Jenny Medina

That’s what?

Cruz Zepeda

I think, I think that I’ve been —

Jenny Medina

Wait, sorry I didn’t hear you.

Cruz Zepeda

I was going to say it was an unfair question, have I attained it. The question should be do I have the opportunity to. First and foremost, the American dream is the opportunity to pursue, the opportunity to go for what you for you want — fiscal, financial, security, home, two kids, white picket fence, all that jazz, regardless if yours is a mansion on the hill or yours is just that double wide. It’s some point where you’re comfortable and secure in your government, for instance, your rights.

Jenny Medina

I’ve thought a lot about this now. And I think ultimately it’s about two very different views of the American dream within the Latino community. One is about making this country a better, more just version of itself. As Tomàs came of age, and as many young Latino voters have come of age, they’ve been activated in part around their identity as Latinos. They’re voting on behalf of a community that they see themselves as a part of, and that they believe is marginalized and subject to systemic racism in the form of policies like the one Sheriff Arpaio supported in Arizona. Through that lens, it’s very difficult to understand a vote for Donald Trump. But if you’re like Cruz, and you see your primary identity as an American, that the American dream is about any individual being able to go after what they want and to get it, then you can see how Trump might be an attractive candidate. But these are such fundamentally different ways of viewing the world that it can be very difficult for the first group to see the actions of the second as anything other than a betrayal.

Jenny Medina

Do you have kids?

Cruz Zepeda

Do I have — pardon me?

Jenny Medina

Do you have children?

Cruz Zepeda

Yes. Democrat, my daughter is — yeah.

Jenny Medina

She’s a Democrat. How old is she?

Cruz Zepeda

36.

Jenny Medina

What are the conversations like with you and your daughter, like, are you able to go back and forth with her?

Cruz Zepeda

The other day, actually, I texted her about having a conversation about several different topics. And I stuck one in there on her. And she goes, I think — yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. That topic’s off limits. Love you Dad, bye.

Well, that’s not fair. And we went back and forth —

Jenny Medina

Cruz says when he tries to talk with his Democratic daughter about politics, she won’t even go there.

Cruz Zepeda

No, she and I remain civil. I’m disappointed that she doesn’t have enough — I think that anybody that doesn’t want to have an open discussion about it disrespects to a person, on any level. That’s just disrespectful. You know? You tell me stories that you would tell nobody else in the world about your personal life or this or that. And I do too, I share deep stuff. But when it comes to this, turn the light off. I find that that’s horrible, that you can have that kind of relationship, and then all of a sudden, if it becomes politics, you just shut it down. I mean, at one point my life, people had pretty much the same goals. There might be different stuff like Roe v. Wade, abortion. There’s a couple of division bells that ring real loudly. But for the most part, we all wanted the same thing. We just had different ideas on how to get there. And now it doesn’t seem like anybody wants the same thing.

Jenny Medina

I’m guessing that your daughter has said some version of this to you before that, like, Dad, the president’s racist. And he’s racist against Latinos.

Cruz Zepeda

I was shopping for my daughter. I took my grandson to go shopping because it was Mother’s Day. And we sneak out. [INAUDIBLE] Grandpa, abuelo he calls me. So we go shopping. And we’re talking this, that and the other. And I don’t know if it was on the radio or he saw stickers. And I said yeah, yeah, Trump, I’m going for Trump. And he says, he’s racist. And I said, I beg your pardon? And my grandson’s half Black. And he’s going to have to grow up in that environment, being a Black American. I looked at him and I said what are you — what? Why? He didn’t have an answer, much more than being indoctrinated somehow in that belief. So I said, well, before you start saying that — and I didn’t tell him how to think. I didn’t say, listen, that’s bull. You’ve got to do it this way. And that’s a lot of [INAUDIBLE]. So hold on now. Do me a favor. Let’s think about it. Go find out why first. I want him to think for himself.

Jenny Medina

Do you —

Cruz Zepeda

I’m a Republican with a gay daughter, a Black grandson. I mean, you couldn’t have picked a better guy to talk to, right? [LAUGHTER]

Jenny Medina

Do you believe that there is such a thing as systemic racism?

Cruz Zepeda

Overall, no. I believe that there’s a certain part of our population that Black, white, or whatever — that needs to be a victim. I mean, people do racist things all the time. I mean, I’ve experienced racism. I grew up in military bases when I was younger. And as soon as we’re off base and I’m in a particularly white neighborhood, I got my ass kicked all the way home sometimes by people because I’m Mexican.

Jenny Medina

As he’s talking, I’m starting to think of Tomàs and how he came to think about events like this and his own childhood.

Jenny Medina

When was the last time you experienced racism against yourself personally?

Cruz Zepeda

Against myself? A lot of times you don’t know if you experienced it or not. You don’t know if you didn’t get a job because of it. You don’t know if you — so a lot of times racism isn’t experienced, is implied but not inferred. It’s funny you said that. Because the first thing that popped in my head was a police officer. But that was 30 years ago. I was asking for his help.

He told me he’d arrest me, to get away from him, one of those things. Do I hate all cops because of that? No. That guy’s a jerk. That guy’s an idiot. He’s showboating for somebody. And I felt it, though. And it really hurt deeply. Like, when a parent scolds you for the first time —

Jenny Medina

Thank you so much.

Cruz Zepeda

Thank you.

Jenny Medina

I forgot what you’re doing here, you’re picking up yard signs?

Robert Jimison

Because they were stolen, right?

Cruz Zepeda

Yeah. Yeah. They get stolen.

Robert Jimison

Text her if your sign gets stolen. We want to know what happens with the signs.

Cruz Zepeda

Yeah. You bet.

Jenny Medina

Thank you.

Cruz Zepeda

Have a good day.

[Engine Starting]


Jenny Medina

After I left Phoenix, I got a message from Cruz. His yard signs only lasted four days before they were ripped up and thrown in the street.


Link to Podcast:

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/19/podcasts/the-daily/latino-voters-biden-trump.html?


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