Iowa Latinos Try To Make Sense Of Improved Support For Trump

Days after the frenzy of the election I received text messages from friends asking, “What’s wrong with your people, why are they voting for Trump?”

Memes, either angry or making fun of “those Latinos,” began to pop up on social media right away. Before Election Day, a radio host for a Latino radio station in Des Moines was interviewed on Iowa Public Radio, where he declared his preference for President Trump and the reasoning behind it. The backlash from other members of the community against him was overwhelming. 

Nationwide there are 61 million Latinos living, working, and raising families in the U.S. Nearly half of them, about 32 million, are eligible to vote. In Iowa Latinos make up the largest minority in the state — 200,000 — with about 65,000 eligible voters. According to a nationwide CNN exit poll, President Donald Trump picked up more Latino voters in “several key battleground states” than he won in 2016. In Iowa, Trump captured about 32% of the Latino vote compared to Biden’s 67%, according to presidential exit polls.

For many these numbers are beyond comprehension since this president’s attacks against the Latino community have been constant since Day One.

I am an immigrant and naturalized citizen that has lived in this country for more than 20 years. I have seen and experienced the consequences of an administration that has been openly racist against people that look like me. For me it is extremely difficult to understand why Latinos think it is a good idea to vote for Trump, but this comes as no surprise to others in some Latino circles.   

Political parties are taking notice of the numbers and of the importance of the Latino vote, but unfortunately, both major parties insist on putting all Latinos in the same box without taking into consideration that we are so diverse within our own demographic group.  

We come from different countries, some were born here while others have been here for generations. Latinos differ ideologically based on age, gender, religion, race, education, and socio-economic status, and even when families are very tight in our culture, we can have many differences in one single household. 

It is also important to understand that past experiences in our home countries are a big factor on how we vote.

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Many Cubans in Florida were misled by the Republican Party and Trump’s campaign into thinking Joe Biden and Democrats are pushing a socialist agenda, which most of them refute. Another problem in campaigning is that many party leaders think giving information in Spanish is sufficient in reaching out to the Latino community without learning anything about our culture and differences. 

I reached out to Latinos who have worked on civic engagement efforts and education to get their prospective on why many Latinos voted for Trump.

Dr. Joan Jaimes, 44, originally from the Rio Grande Valley, Texas, moved to Iowa when she was 18 years old. She worked in education and served as a commissioner for the Office of Latino Affairs. Joan and her family recently moved back to Texas and she told me: “I feel that many people who identify as Latino or Hispanic in the United States, specifically in South Texas, suffer from internalized racism.”

“This is not a recent phenomenon,” Joan said. “This has been around for as long as I can remember in Texas. I never realized that until I left for Iowa as an 18-year-old. I am from the Rio Grande Valley and we face oppression every day. But now they feel that it is the opportunity to be on the side of the oppressor since it is closer to the machismo of the culture.”

When I asked Alba Perez, 55, who is originally from Honduras and has lived in Iowa for over 30 years, why Latinos in some areas did not vote for Vice President Biden — who is now the president elect — she said: “On one hand, first generation immigrants like myself take a little while to understand the political system in the U.S.,” said Alba.

“Many of us were likely not civically engaged in our countries of origin for multiple reasons. On the other hand, political parties’ approach to Latinos may answer this question,” she said. “Indifference from Democrats has played a role and the strategy from Republicans in exploiting the vulnerabilities of immigrants that come from communist countries proved to be a winning move to increase Latino votes for Trump this time around. Lack of knowledge from Latinos did not help either.”

Alex Piedras, 47, originally from Mexico, has lived in the U.S. since he was 14 years old.

“I personally think it was a combination of the disappointment that many community members have with the Democratic Party for their lack of true commitment in the past and those that were bamboozled by the Republicans that a vote for Biden would be a vote for socialism,” Alex said.

Yes, the Democratic Party has made some progress in Iowa in recent months, but as I pointed in one of my recent articles, it may have been a little too late for this election. And although some may argue that Latino voter registration and participation in the state has increased, something went wrong when only 67-70% voted for Vice President Biden.

On the other hand, the Republican Party and President Trump have done nothing but attack Latinos, but they surely knew how to secure some of the Latino vote. I am personally frustrated with people I know who voted for Trump or refused to vote for either candidate based on their faith. It does not make sense to me that if you are against abortion, you support a President and a party that has been cruel towards people of color, kids included, some who died. So much for being pro-life. But I am also frustrated with the Democratic Party that assumed that because this administration has been so awful towards our community, we had no option but to favor them with our vote.

Latinos, too, have a responsibility to ask more questions and to learn more. We must also continue to voice our opinions and issues at the local, state, and national level.

It is time for the Democratic Party to rethink how they approach the Latino community; it is time to engage in a meaningful way with our people. It is time for the party to keep their promise of fighting for immigration reform and to pass laws that benefit the millions of Latinos that are part of this country. 

It is time to truly earn the Latino vote, to help us understand and to welcome us into the political system that created the democracy we all love.  

¡Nuestro voto cuenta!


By Claudia Thrane
Posted 11/9/20

Iowa Starting Line is an independently owned progressive news outlet devoted to providing unique, insightful coverage on Iowa news and politics. We need reader support to continue operating — please donate here. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more coverage.

3 Comments on "Iowa Latinos Try To Make Sense Of Improved Support For Trump"

  • This is more of a personal opinion piece than an article. Be that as it may, one key point is this: “both major parties insist on putting all Latinos in the same box without taking into consideration that we are so diverse within our own demographic group.”

    It is difficult to make that very true statement, then argue that, voting for a Republican is inconsistent with being a Latino. If Latinos diverse, who expects them to vote as a solid block?

    The matter of Cubans in Florida being misled to the Trump Administration may be true but, that is unlikely the reason Trump received many more Latino votes than Biden. Talk about diversity in the Latino community! Cubans came here as American-recognized refugees, not as seasonal workers, and not from a Cold War enemy of the United States. So, their assimilation into the American mainstream was immediate and they enjoyed the lifestyle of the middle class nearly immediately.

    Voting trends for the last — at least — 50 years demonstrate that south Florida Cubans and Cuban Americans are a Republican bloc. It is obviously true, as it was in the last election, that Donald Trump could say or do whatever he wanted to Mexicans, and he was going to prevail among Floridians of Cuban descent.

    There does, too, seem to be a strong, “I got mine, f*@k you,” position among some Latinos, too. “MY parents/grandparents came over here legally,” we hear. But, “legally,” 100 years ago meant, you came here and bought property. That time period did not present the clearly anti-Spanish speaking sentiment that exists now.

    This piece refers to a doctor who refers to “internalized racism.” That’s a more polite way of saying, “selfishness” than how I would say it.

    Finally, while I don’t agree with Alba Perez on much of anything, I think she’s deadly accurate in describing the Democratic Party — county, state, national — as being “indifferent” to Latinos, and Hispanics. It is made up of, predominantly, middle-class, middle-American, middle-aged White people. And the way they operate reflects that pedigree.

    Its “constituency caucus” program, essentially, has a small group of people from some marginalized communities vote for one representative, whose purpose is to round up all the Latinos and Hispanics — from every cultural background and political ideology — from all over the state, and get them registered as Democrats, and voting as Democrats.

    Yet, there are no enticements like, “Here’s some Latino-Hispanic specific policy that our candidate for [name your elected office] is going to propose, promote and pass in [name your political body].” There never is. Lip-service and nothing more. Sure, every so often, some Latino-Hispanic will get a position within the Democratic Party but, a brown Cabinet member or military officer or statehouse seat does not a Spanish-speaking-origin-people mandate create.

    And let us NEVER forget that here in Iowa, one of the first things that the first Democratic governor in something like 50 years — Tom Vilsack — did as Chief Executive of the State was to sign then-Iowa Representative, Steve King’s, “English-only” bill. Talk about a middle finger to a growing constituency! And since that time, repealing that law has not been on ANY Iowa statehouse candidate’s agenda.

    And, of course, signing that thing — which he now, comfortably out of the hot seat for 30 years — can say was “a mistake.” “Mistakes” can be corrected. What’s the former Secretary of Agriculture doing to correct his “mistake?”


  • As a proud Latino our support should not be taken for granted – its racist to think we are a monolithic group. I have voted for some dems, reps, and even a libertarian or two. Its insulting to think we have to vote for the democrat no matter what. A Latino “wakening’ has begun and is long overdue.

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