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.
Marlon Duran and his mom decided to vote early because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Rio Grande Valley has been hit hard; more than 3,000 people have died.
Duran and his mom are lifelong Democrats, but they voted for different candidates.
“I’m voting Green because I think that’s the best choice, but if people vote for (Joe) Biden, you know, I can’t judge them,” said Duran “But I can’t vote for him for several reasons.”
Duran identifies as a democratic socialist, and over the past few months Progressive Rio Grande Valley Democrats like Duran have made some waves.
They’ve mobilized what some call a “Progressive Movement” in a region where the majority of the population is Latino.
“When I was like 2 or 3, my dad ran for mayor or municipal president, as is known in Mexico of his municipality for the PRD, which is a leftist party. So, I've always been a leftist,” he said. “I've always cared about people that are oppressed and marginalized. Especially because I've gone through some oppression.”
Duran said some of the oppression he experienced came from being a gay undocumented immigrant.
Sylvia Cervantes is 74 years old, retired and spends a lot of time tending to her front garden in Laredo.
She said when you’re poor like her, you have to work very hard. She said she got her work ethic from her parents, who immigrated to Laredo during Mexico’s Civil War.
“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.
But Cervantes has since swayed to the right. She’s part of the 23% of Webb County voters that supported Trump in 2016. 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.
Juan Venancio is a first-generation U.S. citizen and a first-time voter.
“Most people, when they turn 18, they’re really happy you know to get a car or go to college,” he said. “I was obviously happy to go to college and do these things and become more independent, but one of the things I was most excited about about turning 18 is being able to vote.”
Venancio, 19, made plans to cast his first ballot for Joe Biden, citing his disappointment of policies brought on by President Donald Trump.
Venancio is no stranger to civic engagement, and he credits his parents’ immigration experience for that. As immigrant workers, they quickly learned fair wages had to be fought for. Venancio’s dad joined a union called Fe y Justicia, or Faith and Justice.
It wasn’t until one day his father invited him along that he realized what organizing meant.
Fast forward a few years, and Venancio remains dedicated to community engagement. He’s currently studying government and economics at Harvard University and like most students across the country, he’s been taking his classes remotely.
But studying from home has perhaps come at an opportune time, as he considers this year’s election.
Ana Hernandez is a marketing manager for a home builder on El Paso’s sprawling far East Side.
She was born in Juarez — El Paso’s sister city — and also attended school there. Later she graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso. Now 27, she is building her career in El Paso, but she has not forgotten her roots.
“I would still go back and forth to see my parents, all my friends, all my high school friends were over there,” she said.
For generations, thousands of families have criss-crossed bridges like the one connecting El Paso and Ciudad Juarez. They visit family and friends, attend school, work and do business. Many are dual citizens.
That experience shapes their political views. Here, “International border issues” are local issues
Hernandez, like many others, felt compelled to participate in the political process. After years as a legal U.S. resident, she became a citizen.
“Right after Trump won the election, I got it because I got scared and I was like, ‘What if he actually sends people back with green cards?’” she said. “I’m building my life here.”
And since becoming a citizen she’s voted in local and state elections, but this is the first time she casts a ballot for president.
Izcan Ordaz is a 18-year-old who will tell you he thinks about serious topics a lot. He likes to research what he doesn’t know.
He said he wants to make smart decisions about his future, and he tries to do that by watching videos about managing money. He’s also bought stocks.
When it comes to politics, Ordaz is pretty clear about where he stands — to the right of his parents, but not too far right. He said he’s a centrist.
“Being in Texas, we’re surrounded by a lot of the conservative ideologies and I do think they have played just a little bit of an effect on me growing up,” said Ordaz. “Also I’ve been fortunate to be growing up in a middle class home. And so I don’t have the same kind of upbringing that my parents had.”
Indeed, Ordaz’s parents have played a big part in shaping him. Mom Xochitl was born and raised in Chicago, and his dad Simon came to the U.S. from the state of Guanajuato when he was 16.
Neither of them want to see President Donald Trump re-elected. One of the reasons: Trump’s rhetoric and policies on immigration.
But soon after the COVID-19 pandemic began, the U.S. economy and job insecurity were top of mind for Ordaz and the rest of the world.
“I feel like there’s a little bit more criticism than I’ve noticed before in terms of the federal government’s responses and President Trump’s responses to this whole outbreak,”Izcan said.
“I just know that people want to see action happen and if people still don’t have jobs by the time election time rolls around, it may be a little different than I anticipated.”
In June, Ordaz marched in two Black Lives Matter protests. He said he feels like he has a lot to learn about racial bias.
In August, he started college at the University of Texas in Austin. But instead of living on campus, he’s staying home and taking classes virtually. He said he doesn’t want to risk catching the coronavirus.
He recently voted in first presidential election.
Reporting by: Reynaldo Leaños Jr., María Méndez, Lauren Terrazas, Angela Kocherga and Stella Chávez