RICHMOND, Va — Richmond’s Latino community is watching the presidential race anxiously as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s poll numbers tighten. Many community members said the tone of the presidential race already has consequences in their daily lives.
Yanet Amado, the head of RVA Dreamers, an organization that advocates for undocumented immigrants, said that she’s seen how Trump’s rhetoric towards illegal immigrants has affected how people treat her and her family, especially in public spaces like restaurants.
“We sat next to a Caucasian family, and we saw how they got up and the manager came in and changed them to another seat,” said Amado, who is a VCU student and a so-called Dreamer herself, an undocumented immigrant who was brought to the U.S. as a child. “They asked him to move them, because we were speaking Spanish.”
Since Donald Trump announced his bid for the presidency last year, his comments about illegal immigrants from Mexico helped define his campaign in the eyes of many Latinos.
“I honestly thought it was a joke,” said Jessica Moreno-Caycho as she thought of Trump’s initial campaign announcement.
Moreno-Caycho is also a student at VCU and the public relations chair for Political Latinxs United for Movement and Action in Society (PLUMAS), which advocates social justice for the Latino community.
The organization uses the term “Latinx,” which is inclusive to Latinos who do not identify within the gender binary.
“If I’m working and I see someone wearing a ‘Make America Great Again’ shirt, they have to come up to me to ring them up, and it’s just disturbing,” Moreno-Caycho said. “I have to be nice to someone that thinks I shouldn’t be here.”
In the year since Trump entered the race, immigration has become a major issue in this election, and Richmond’s Latino community has seen how the renewed interest on both sides of the ticket has affected their day-to-day lives.
According to his campaign websites, Trump’s immigration reform plan will mandate deportation of all undocumented immigrants regardless of their criminal record, and any immigrant passing over the border will be put in a detention center.
Clinton, on the other hand, promised to lower the costs of naturalization, expand educational opportunities for adults, and give those without any criminal offenses a greater opportunity to stay in the US.
Tanya Gonzalez, the director of the Sacred Heart Center, a local non-profit organization that offers mentoring programs and adult education classes to Latinos, said that many Latinos feel a panic at the thought of a Trump presidency.
At the same time, the raids on the homes of undocumented immigrants that the government has been carrying out over the past several years are a very real fear that many families are already facing, said Gonzalez.
“I don’t mean to diminish what’s being said, but at the same time, people are living it already. So it’s kind of hard to think that one party or another will make anything better,” said Gonzalez.
But not everyone in Richmond’s Latino community has been made uncomfortable by Trump’s comments.
Steven Maranville, a retired Verizon employee and native of Puerto Rico, believes that strict immigration laws must be upheld in order to control who comes into the United States.
“If they come illegally, and they are criminals, they should be deported,” Maranville said. “I agree with Donald Trump’s position on that issue. I wouldn’t want people coming into my house just because they want to.”
Some in the Latino community also do not feel enthusiastic about Clinton’s track record on immigration.
Moreno-Caycho said that she feels that Hillary Clinton is just pandering to Latinos and does not understand the community.
“She lost me when she said she was like my abuela,” said Moreno-Caycho, using the Spanish word for grandmother. “I think a lot of other people feel that way, we as Latinos and just as people in general, our elders are very important to us. With the struggles that our parents and grandparents have gone through, to have somebody that’s been so privileged throughout the entirety of her life, to insinuate that she is somewhat like the person who I respect the most, it did not sit well with me.”
Amado fears that although Clinton has pledged support for Dreamers in the past, the fact that she has left out undocumented parents does not bode well for what she plans to do once in office.
“I know that Donald Trump doesn’t want me, and if he does want me, he wants me to enroll in the military in order for me to have a work permit and a driver’s license,” said Amado. “And I know that we have Hillary who says she supports undocumented students, but she hasn’t said anything about undocumented parents. What’s going to happen to my friends’ parents or my parents?”
Camille Brenke, president of the Latino Student Association at VCU, said that she is very unsure what will happen to her community if Trump wins the presidency. But at the same time, she doesn’t feel that she can trust Clinton either.
“I have no reason to trust any of her sentiments or any kind of offerings that she has to the Latinx community,” said Brenke.
In the end, for many Latinos living in Richmond it will come to a decision for “the lesser of two evils” in this election.
“November is coming soon,” said Amado. “What am I going to do?”
EDITOR’S NOTE: WTVR.com has partnered with the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project at VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students from the project reported the following story.