Voting for those who can't: Latino Americans turn out for Hillary Clinton

By Michael Miller, Arelis Hernandez, Antonio Olivo

Nelvia Diaz and her husband Leonel Diaz voted for Hillary Clinton because of Donald Trump's stand on immigrants. Photo / The Washington Post
Nelvia Diaz and her husband Leonel Diaz voted for Hillary Clinton because of Donald Trump's stand on immigrants. Photo / The Washington Post

Morena Solis was burdened by more than her own civic duty as she waited to vote in Woodbridge, Virginia.

The preschool teacher from El Salvador said she wasn't just voting for herself. She was voting for her fiance, who is undocumented.

"He is trying to get his papers," she said, growing emotional outside R. Dean Kilby Elementary School. "I don't think that will happen under Trump."

A few spots away in line, another Hispanic American said he was voting in honour of an uncle who was deported to Peru. And in Maryland, a Latina teenager disillusioned by the Democratic primary said she was finally driven to vote for Hillary Clinton after meeting dozens of undocumented immigrants who wished they could.

From the 81-year-old Peruvian woman who pumped her fist as she exited an Arlington, Virginia, polling station to the Dominican grandmother in Hyattsville, Maryland, who said she was "desperate" to protect her fellow immigrants, Latino Americans voting in this election said they were casting ballots for something larger than themselves.

In Virginia, Latinos filed almost twice as many in-person absentee ballots as they did four years ago, according to the data firm Catalist. While it remains to be seen whether Latinos voted in higher numbers than they have in past elections, many who came to the polls said their choices felt more urgent and personal this time around.

"When Donald Trump said that Mexican immigrants were rapists and thieves, it hurt me and it hurt all Latinos," said Oscar Menjivar, who came to the United States from El Salvador in 2000 and cast his ballot for Clinton. He woke at 4am and arrived by 5am at Kirby Elementary, where he was one of the first waiting in line in the pre-dawn cold.

"Most of us are good, hard-working people," said Menjivar, 54. "Insulting us was a grave error."

Muslim Americans in the immigrant-rich suburbs of the nation's capital said they, too, were motivated to vote in this election because of Trump's rhetoric. Last December, the GOP nominee called for a "total and complete" ban on Muslims entering the United States, although he has since backed down, saying he would instead stop immigration from certain countries.

"If one person can come into office and just point a finger at ethnic groups and a religion, this is not America," said Ijaz Chaudry, a Muslim from Woodbridge who cast an early absentee ballot. "United States means united. Everybody is welcome here."

A native of Pakistan who became a US citizen in the 1990s, Chaudry said being a Muslim in America has always been a tentative existence, especially after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. For the most part, however, his family has lived a quiet life in a welcoming community in suburban Virginia, where his three sons play sports in school and volunteer at a local homeless shelter.

This year's presidential race, he and many other Muslims said, may have placed all that in jeopardy.

Outside the Great Falls Library, Shanzay Khan, 19, described being harangued in a park three months ago by a man who "asked me, if I was a Muslim, why wasn't I wearing a towel on my head?"

"I didn't know he said that," interrupted her sister Shazreh Khan, 24.

Shanzay shrugged. "He went on for about half an hour."

Ijaz Chaudrey cast an early ballot in Woodbridge, Virginia. Photo / The Washington Post
Ijaz Chaudrey cast an early ballot in Woodbridge, Virginia. Photo / The Washington Post

Both young women voted for Clinton. Their parents are physicians who came to the United States from Pakistan in the 1980s. Their father is a political independent who voted Republican in the past. Not this time.

"My father bothered to get up at 6 am so he could come vote to 'crush' Trump," Shanzay said.

Yasmin Martinez, who was born in Guatemala, has been a US citizen for 20 years. But she had never cast a ballot in this country before today, when she stepped proudly into Yorkshire Elementary in Manassas, Virginia.

"I voted to boot out Donald Trump," said Martinez, 45, who was joined by her sister Nelvia Martinez, brother-in-law Leonel Diaz and several other family members.

Marco and Susana Tanchez had waited even longer. After more than three decades in the United States, they became citizens this year so they, too, could cast votes for Clinton at Yorkshire Elementary.

The couple fled Guatemala's civil war in the 1980s. Now, with new generations of Guatemalan immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border to escape gangs and drug cartels, they feel a responsibility to vote for the candidate who they believe would best help those people.

Clinton "has a good position for those without papers," Marco Tanchez said.

Juan Balbuena, a 46-year-old air conditioning technician in Woodbridge, stood in line and thought of his uncle, who was deported from the United States back to his native Peru.

"He was here for 12 years, paying taxes, before he was sent back home," Balbuena said. "I fear for those who are here illegally, trying to make a decent living."

In Hyattsville, Maryland, Francia Familia, 55, had her 6-year-old granddaughter at her side as she cast her ballot at Nicholas Orem Middle School.

University of Maryland student Jocelyn Nolasco cast her vote knowing there are many other Latinos, undocumented and non-citizens, who wish they could. Photo / The Washington Post
University of Maryland student Jocelyn Nolasco cast her vote knowing there are many other Latinos, undocumented and non-citizens, who wish they could. Photo / The Washington Post

"He's going to kick us all out," the immigrant from the Dominican Republic said of Trump. "We are desperate."

Jocelyn Nolasco, 19, the daughter of immigrants from El Salvador, considered not casting a vote for president. The University of Maryland student said she was going through "Obama withdrawal". She supported Bernie Sanders during the primaries, was unenthused with Clinton and couldn't imagine voting for Trump.

Three weeks ago, Nolasco volunteered for a voter-registration drive at a Prince George's County high school. One by one, teenagers and adults walked up to register. About half were ineligible because of their immigration status.

Nolasco found herself explaining to many of them in Spanish why they couldn't vote, and asking if they perhaps had other family members who would be able to cast ballots.

"It breaks my heart," Nolasco after submitting her ballot for Clinton at an early-voting station. "Now I know that my vote is not just my vote but a vote for 30, 40 or 50 people."

- Washington Post

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