Despite higher than usual early voting among Latin communities, Trump could still succeed. Even if he doesn’t, he’s made racism against us fashionable again. The nightmare truly began when Donald Trump threw Jorge Ramos out of a press conference in August last year. Some might argue it was when he called Mexican immigrants “rapists” the month before, but the beast hadn’t yet emerged, hadn’t yet been given a clear face or features.
“Go back to Univision!” Trump shouted as Ramos was escorted out of the room. The familiar syntax was not lost on us Latinos, who have been told to “go back” for as long as we’ve been in the United States, whether we were born here or not.
Before he was forcibly removed, Ramos was criticizing Trump for effectively saying he would deport 11 million undocumented people and build a 1,900-mile border wall. Well, Trump skirted those specifics, but that was the reality of what he was proposing. We Latinos were put in a familiar place – where we are merely numbers or parasites to the economy, seen not for our worth as human beings but for our worth as laborers.
Al mal tiempo, buena cara, goes an old Mexican proverb. “To the bad times, good face.” When I first delved into the world of activism, I used to hold the saying in contempt. It seemed to feed into the bottomless humility of the Mexican American in the face of oppression, the immigrant family, the Chicano who doesn’t want to make a fuss. It painted us, I thought, as a people who merely stood by while bad things happened to us.
Watching the Trump campaign, being its first scapegoats, I felt we were in that helpless place where our only option was to endure. The slogan Make America Great Again encapsulated exactly how we are seen in this country. We are the unclean other, our culture dilutes the purity of America’s white citizens who must be protected from us. Make America great again – by kicking us out.
Violence against Latinos surged, at Trump rallies and across the country. Xenophobia and racism were whipped into a fever pitch by the demagogue’s rants, his constant attacks on our families and our neighbors. “Send them back” was a phrase I heard more in those months than I ever had in my life. “You have to go back” became a common response to everything I wrote. Something had changed.
It was Trump’s attack on US district court judge Gonzalo P Curiel, born in Indiana and of Mexican descent, that saw our worst fears begin to take shape in reality. Trump, then the presumptive Republican nominee, accused Curiel, who was overseeing a class action lawsuit against Trump University, of being biased simply because of his Mexican heritage.