Me Gusta Trump: Portrait of a Hispanic Trump Voter #AlwaysTrump
León Krauze, New Yorker
John Castillo grew up in Lincoln Heights, the heart of Hispanic Los Angeles, in a tight-knit Mexican-American family. His father’s name was Juan, but his mother decided to name their son John. He attended Cathedral High School, a Lasallian Catholic private school founded in 1925 in East Los Angeles, one of the country’s most populous Latino communities. The red-brick building, which sits on an old burial ground, overlooks downtown Los Angeles. The school’s current population is two-thirds Hispanic, and seventy per cent of its students receive financial aid. Castillo did, too: he had to sweep floors after class to help cover his tuition. Most of his friends were sons of immigrants. Many, he says, became “cholos,” joining local gangs at an early age. “A few of them are doing life in prison,” Castillo says, casually.
Juan, John’s father, was born in Tijuana and, in 1963, immigrated to the United States with his parents and his brother. He was barely five years old. The family moved to Los Angeles, where John’s grandfather, Manuel, who had been a miner in Mexico, worked as a gardener. John’s grandmother, Carmen, put in long hours as a seamstress at a sweatshop. John’s father grew up to work “odd jobs,” until he settled as a bus driver for the local transit authority. He married his high-school sweetheart, a Latina from Los Angeles.
After graduating from Cathedral, Castillo went to boot camp in San Diego: he joined the Marine Corps in 1996 and remained on active duty for five years, mostly working as a truck driver, carrying artillery. He served in Japan and Singapore, and left a few months before 9/11. He felt at home with the Marines. There were “un montón” (a bunch) of Hispanics, he says now: “perhaps more than half.” Castillo remembers the thrill of “loud, powerful, and motivating” weaponry. A tattoo on his right forearm reads “USMC.”
After the Marines, Castillo moved back to California and went to work for U.P.S. He’s now an inspector for an aerospace company. He was once a Democrat but is now a conservative and a Republican. The transition happened in the Marines. “The way they scream at you, it hardens you,” he says. “It makes you understand the importance of respecting the law.” He also thinks travel helped him get rid of a “naïve” point of view that he associates with liberal politics. He believes in the importance of the Second Amendment. At thirty-eight years old, Castillo speaks softly, wears wide-rimmed glasses, and has the build you’d expect from someone who once carried hundred-pound shells for a living but now sits inside a cubicle. When we last met, in Eagle Rock, in northeast Los Angeles, he seemed concerned about crime in the area. “If you were allowed to carry a concealed weapon here, you could protect yourself,” he says. His Twitter bio reads “devout Catholic” and “lifelong pro wrestling fan.” He’s also a fan of Spanish-language radio, and he retweets Pope Francis and the W.W.E. with equal enthusiasm. And he is also a passionate supporter of Donald Trump.
Fourteen per cent of Hispanic voters say they will “definitely support” the Republican candidate in November, and Castillo, who describes himself as an “American of Mexican descent, in that order,” is not an anomaly in his support for Trump. Although eighty per cent of Latino voters held an unfavorable opinion of Trump in a recent Washington Post/Univision poll, a fifth of Hispanic Republicans said they planned to vote for Trump during the Party’s primaries. That level of support has remained constant in states with a discernible Hispanic presence. According to entrance and exit polls, Trump got just under half of the admittedly few Hispanic Republican votes in Nevada and a quarter of them in Texas, surpassing Marco Rubio in both instances. Rubio won Florida’s Latino vote (seventeen per cent of all Republican voters) by a wide margin, but Trump’s backing among Hispanics remained at twenty-six per cent.
Given the fact that Trump has built his campaign around the recurrent disparagement of Mexicans and immigrants, his support among Hispanic Republicans has baffled well-known Latino voices in the United States and Mexico. In an interview with Jorge Ramos, former Mexican President Vicente Fox begged Trump’s Latino supporters to “open their eyes.” “I’d like to know who those Hispanics are,” Fox said, “because they are followers of a false prophet.” Fox is far from alone. Last month, in an open letter to the Latino community, twenty-two celebrities, led by the guitarist Carlos Santana, accused Republicans of turning their backs on Hispanics. “Latinos should understand that Donald Trump embodies the true face of the entire Republican Party,” they wrote. Something similar happened at the Latin Grammys, where the bands Los Tigres del Norte and Maná, both of whom are beloved by Latinos, displayed a banner that read “Latinos unite: don’t vote for the racists!” No prominent Hispanic has endorsed Donald Trump.
John Castillo and others like him beg to differ. Over several recent conversations, Castillo explained his support for Trump in meticulous detail. At times, he sounded like the many white voters who have been inspired by the candidate. He says he finds Trump relatable. “He speaks like a regular person,” Castillo says. “If I were running for President, that’s how I would talk.” He likes that Trump is not a politician. “I’m pretty much fed up with career politicians,” he says. Castillo believes Trump will manage to extricate the United States from unfair agreements, and he likes the idea of Trump imposing tariffs on imported goods. He firmly believes this will help “bring jobs back” Stateside. He also likes the fact that a number of “world leaders” have expressed concerns over a potential Trump Presidency: “He must be doing something right if the élite doesn’t want him.”
Still, Castillo knows that his Latino heritage and Donald Trump’s vow to deport eleven million undocumented immigrants might seem irreconcilable. “I do think about it often,” he admits. The dilemma is not exclusive to Castillo. Trump’s Hispanic supporters are often called “traitors” or worse on social media, which is why Castillo mostly refuses to talk politics anywhere but Twitter, where he does so anonymously. (He never posts anything on Facebook or LinkedIn, and at first refused to give me his full name for fear of repercussions.) He’s also concerned about how his views might be interpreted in the workplace: “They might fire me if they knew I like Trump.” Castillo bristles at the idea that he might be betraying his own people or his own family’s history. “I am not anti-Hispanic at all,” he says. “What I am is anti-breaking-the-law.” Castillo suggests a distinction: “People need to understand, illegal is not a race.” When I ask him about Trump’s plans for deporting millions of immigrants, he seems incredulous. He insists Trump is not anti-immigrant nor would he ultimately expel that staggering number of people from the country: “I think he will only deport some of the criminals,” he says. “And then the other criminals will self-deport.” In fact, Castillo doesn’t think Donald Trump is a racist at all: “If I did, I wouldn’t support him,” he adds emphatically.
When he’s not supporting Trump, Castillo obsesses over the gentrification of traditionally Hispanic areas in East Los Angeles. He’s bothered by the arrival of “rich,” young professionals to Lincoln Heights, where he grew up, and Highland Park, where he lives now. “I’m going to be honest,” he told me suddenly. “I hate the hipsters moving into our town. They’re pushing Latinos out of the area. I love my town. I love my people.” When I responded that plenty of those whom he wants to protect could potentially be deported en masse by President Trump (there are a million undocumented immigrants living in Los Angeles County, more than in any other county in the United States), Castillo rejected the idea that his views were contradictory. “I’d much rather live surrounded by my own people than any other,” he says, “but illegal is illegal.” And yet, there is a possibility that gives him pause: What if Trump keeps his word and rounds up Castillo’s friends and neighbors? “If he were to try that there would be riots and uprisings,” he says, blinking rapidly. “If he did that I would fight back.”
Still, John Castillo remains unapologetic: “I love my heritage,” he says, “I love this country with all my heart. I served it.” He says he lives for “God, family, and country.” For his Twitter profile picture, Castillo has chosen Uncle Sam, index finger pointing directly from the screen. The face, though, is Donald Trump’s. Castillo will vote for him in California’s primary, on June 7th.