By Raoul Lowery Contreras
My grandfather was a wise man. He was a lifelong construction worker, a union man. His “dichos,” or sayings, influenced my childhood and made me what I am today.
He was a staunch Democrat, a supporter of Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman until Dwight Eisenhower ran for President. He switched back to the Democratic Party with Catholic John F. Kennedy, then voted for Barry Goldwater in 1964, and Richard Nixon in 1968 and 1972, his last election.
Even though he mostly voted Republican after 1964, he remained a Democrat.
When I asked him why he bounced around so much politically, he answered with one of his life’s observations:
“Put ten Mexicans into a room and you’ll have eleven different opinions.”
That explains what happened in Florida, where President Trump carried the Hispanic vote, though that vote didn’t carry the state. It explains what happened in Texas in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, which is upwards of 95% Mexican American. There, Trump cut into previous Democratic margins of victory as high as 70 points. He even carried one Mexican American county.
But in Colorado and Arizona, Mexican Americans rose up and carried both states for Democrats, turning Arizona blue for the first time.
The 2020 Hispanic vote spread itself all over the partisan political map. This is the essence of the Hispanic vote. As it matures it spreads out, challenging theories that Hispanics think and vote alike. Hispanic voters are seriously proving my grandfather right.
In Texas, for example, heavily Mexican American counties ranged from one in the Rio Grande Valley that actually voted for Trump, to several where he came close by slashing heavily into 2016 margins for Hillary Clinton and leaving only a narrow win for President-elect Joe Biden.
But in Arizona, Mexican Americans had chafed under political and economic bigotry exemplified by former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose deputies implemented his racist roundups of every Mexican-looking person on made-up charges. Arpaio was convicted of ignoring federal court orders. Tangentially, he lied so much in federal court that he was the American poster child for what legal scholar Alan Derschovitz calls “testilying,” a unique brand of lying by law enforcers in courts.
With Arpaio in mind, Arizona’s Spanish-speaking population self-organized to the extent they substantially contributed to running Arpaio out of office four years ago and turning the traditionally Republican state blue in this year’s election. They voted against Trump in part because he pardoned Arpaio and spared him prison. And they elected a Democrat Senator for the first time in decades.
When we cross the Colorado River into California, where Hispanics make up 40% of the population, and are well-organized, the diversity of views and outcomes is on full display.
In Los Angeles, for example, the five county supervisors are all women for the first time, a takeover that started with the election of the first Hispanic, Democrat Gloria Molina, in the 1980s. Macho Hispanic men aren’t supposed to vote for women, but it happened
In Orange County, two Republican women, one born in South Korea and the other of Chinese ancestry, were elected with Hispanic voter help even though one defeated a one-term Democrat Congressman who is Mexican American.
As of this moment, and with over a 100,000 ballots remaining to be counted in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, Mexican American Mike Garcia, who won a special election in May to replace a Democrat who resigned due to a sexual scandal, is running slightly ahead of a Democratic challenger to win a full term in the seat.
California’s Hispanic voters are of varied political partisanship. They are squashing Trump, with the final tally 70% for Biden and less than 30% for the President. California’s Hispanic voter definitely looks someone my grandfather would describe.
Raoul Lowery Contreras is a Marine Corps veteran, political consultant and author of the new book White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPS) & Mexicans. His work has appeared in the New American News Service of the New York Times Syndicate.