Latinos for Trump: The Legacy of Anti-Latinx Racism (OPINION)

Oct 30, 2020
5:26 PM

President Donald Trump speaks during an event to honor Bay of Pigs veterans, in the East Room of the White House, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Headlines this election season remind us that a sizable number of Latinx voters support President Trump’s re-election. Since Trump is constantly spewing anti-immigrant venom, many observers wonder: how can Latinx voters possibly support him? Explanations abound. But they rarely focus on how some Latinx families are supporting Trump, under pressure and coercion, to appease white people.

In my own politically divided familia, Trump support is far less about religious, fiscal or socially conservative values and much more about how we interface and interact with racist white people.

In my family, some people vote for Trump because not doing so would open the door to intense harassment at work. If everyone in your office or shop is voting for Trump, how do you safely express dissent when you are the only person of color or immigrant? If you don’t work in a safe, identity-affirming space, the peer pressure —with your livelihood at stake— can be debilitating.

Others in my family have faced significant political pressure from white neighbors. This is often manifested aggressively. For example, a white neighbor brings a Trump sign to your home for placement on your lawn. In this neighborhood —far from liberal bubbles—homes with Biden/Harris signs have been targeted and vandalized. When you are the only family of color in a block where every other home has a Trump sign, the political pressure can be daunting.

In these contexts —with tangible economic and social constraints— Trump support is a direct response to white supremacist intimidation and coercion.

Even if you don’t have to struggle with explicit threats from co-workers or neighbors, concerns surrounding self-preservation in racist America can trigger Trump support.

Among some families and communities, there’s a strong belief that racism and discrimination against Latinx people will subside when immigration decreases. The myth —that immigration and racism are inversely proportional— distorts the Latinx social, cultural, and political landscape. It turns the concept of “safety in numbers” on its head. Some people in my family seriously fear that too many Spanish speakers make white people feel nervous—and that too many immigrants scare white people. For these Latinos and Latinas, the growing visibility of our own Latinx community presents an existential danger. They believe it will inevitably provoke white people to unleash more racism, discrimination, and violence. To mitigate this threat, they vote in support of candidates, like Trump, who espouse anti-immigrant sentiments. These votes reflect an intense preoccupation with personal safety and survival in racist and xenophobic communities.

To be sure, Latinx support for Trump is multifaceted with a constellation of ideological currents and complex demographic factors at work. But these elements exist against the terrifying backdrop of virulent and violent anti-Latinx sentiments. We must acknowledge that some Latinx people are supporting candidates like Trump to protect themselves and their children from cascading anti-Latinx racism and hate.

In my family, this is trauma and fear-informed voting.


Iván Espinoza-Madrigal is the Executive Director of Lawyers for Civil Rights. Twitter: @IvanEspinozaESQ.