© 2024 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Latino Voters 2020: A Democrat And Daughter Of Immigrants Becomes A Faithful Trump Voter

Sylvia Cervantes (left) poses for a picture with other Latinas at Webb County Republican Party meeting in late August.
María Méndez
Texas Public Radio
Sylvia Cervantes (left) poses for a picture with other Latinas at Webb County Republican Party meeting in late August.

Latinos comprise about 40% of the population in Texas, and their votes could be critical to races up and down the ballot. Campaigns are rediscovering the fact that there is no solid “Latino” bloc. Public Radio reporters across Texas are listening to these voters discuss the issues they care about and give their thoughts on where the nation should be heading.

This is the second in a series of five stories about Latino voters in the 2020 Election.

Sylvia Cervantes is 74 years old, retired and spends a lot of time tending to her front garden in Laredo.

“These are my pride in joy,” she said in Spanglish. “These are my Angel Trumpets. See how beautiful they open up.”

Her garden is filled with flowers like Angel Trumpets, Plumerias and Hibiscuses. The upkeep can be grueling work.

“When you’re poor, you have to work very hard because you don’t have to get a gardener. I don’t have the money,” she said.

But she’s used to hard work.

“I worked two jobs most of my life. I used to come home at 9 or 10 at night, transcribing all day long… and that's to make ends meet. Those, what you see there,” she said pointing to a black and purple wreath on her front door. She makes them for el Día de los Muertos, Day of the Dead. “That's my third job. I used to do the wreath and I sell all my stuff.”

She said she got her work ethic from her parents, who immigrated to Laredo during Mexico’s Civil War.

“My mom was 11 when she came over here, and so was my dad. And they stayed here all their lives,” she said. “But they never wanted to be American citizens. You don't know how much I begged? ‘Mom, you, you know, so you can vote.’ My father? ‘No, I'm not gonna be an American.’ But he was always for Democrats. He said, ‘They're good people.’”

That’s why she was — for a long time — also a Democrat, like most of Webb County.

“I voted for Hillary instead of Obama,” she said.

The 95% Hispanic county has reliably voted Democrat, but its voters don’t always go for establishment candidates. In this year’s Democratic primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders — a self-described democratic socialist — won the 2020 Democratic primary in Webb County. Michael Bloomberg — a billionaire businessman — came in second.

But Cervantes swayed to the right.

“I hear Hillary (Clinton) and I think Benghazi,” she said.

Sylvia Cervantes (right) poses for a picture with other Latinas at Webb County Republican Party meeting in late August.
María Méndez
Texas Public Radio
Sylvia Cervantes (right) poses for a picture with other Latinas at Webb County Republican Party meeting in late August.

She’s part of the 23% of Webb County voters that supported Trump in 2016. And it’s not just because of Clinton’s response to the 2012 attack on U.S. buildings in Benghazi. She said she’s tired of “handouts” after also working in social services offices.

“I've worked for the state of Texas, and you see, generation after generation, that grandpa, that dad, that daughter that the grandchildren, they're all the same people over and over,” she said. “It's like they're stuck in, you know, in a rut that they don't want to get out.”

That’s why when Donald Trump began campaigning for President back in 2015, he caught her attention. Trump’s call for a border wall in South Texas and push against illegal immigration quickly drew opposition from some Laredoans.

But Cervantes says that’s exactly what drew her toward Trump: “Stopping all the illegal aliens. And no more, you know, the asylum. They're always asking. It's the same lies all over,” she said.

Central Americans and other asylum seekers frequently come to the U.S. fleeing violence and conflict in their home countries.

But Cervantes, a daughter of immigrants, thinks immigrants these days feel entitled to receive help.

“It hurts me. That they come and they’re like ‘I’m here.’ There's nothing wrong with working,” she said, adding that she once took a pregnant woman from El Salvador to a local hospital. She said the woman told her she had come because a friend told her about the benefits in the U.S.

And she’s happy with Trump’s presidency, especially Republicans’ removal of the individual mandate in Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

“You have to have insurance? No, we don't. Especially if you live here in the south, you go across the river, you get all the meds and you get seen by physicians a lot cheaper,” she said.

She’s proud of her vote. At a Webb County Republican Party meeting in late August, she sported a bright red shirt and a “Make America Great Again” cap. She happily posed for pictures with other Latinas.

But in this reliably Democratic area, she’s gotten pushback, including from her husband.

They often get into debates about politics like President Trump reportedly paying only $750 in taxes.

“It's like my husband said, ‘You know, Trump hasn’t paid,’” she said. “I told him, ‘You want to check around Laredo how many people don't pay and take a lot of money back? Because everybody's crooked.’”

So, on the first day of early voting, Cervantes headed to the polls in Laredo bright and early.

“I said if I don’t find parking, I’ll just go to St. Patrick and park over there, and then walk. But then I went to the back and there was one space. God made it for me,” she said.

And voted for Trump.

“I felt good and I told the Lord, ‘I’m going to do what I think is best for the country,’” she said.

But after Trump, will she remain Republican?

“I think I am, unless we get a crazy Republican — I won’t vote. Trump is crazy, but he has done a lot of what he promised,” she said.

TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.

María Méndez can be reached at maría@tpr.org or on Twitter at @anxious_maria