I am not a Republican. I never have been and I probably never will be. I am exactly what an average Trump supporter hates: I am an intelligent young woman with a mind of her own. I am a child of two Mexican immigrants unafraid to voice her liberal opinions, and I am proud of my Mexican heritage.
I was raised in a highly conservative community, the majority of registered voters are Republican. Our representatives in the California State Assembly are Republican. Our doctors, and teachers, and farmers, and business owners are primarily Republican. But, so are the people who started and run the soup kitchen I volunteered at for three years. So are the people who gave me the scholarships that allowed me to attend UC Berkeley, a school with the reputation of being one of the most liberal universities in the country. So are the parents of a lot of my friends, as well as many of the people I know and respect.
Many of them are voting for Trump. And many of them probably don’t like me very much right now, because of how vocal I have been about my dislike of Trump. But they are still the people who I think of when I think of home. They have not changed my mind about Trump, but they have changed my mind about Trump supporters and this election.
As I think about Trump supporters I try to keep in mind that racism and prejudice and hate and discrimination were not created by Trump — they exist in all political parties and in all groups of people, and are, unfortunately, part of the legacy that remains from America’s past. Although Trump supporters seem to embody the radical sentiments of the far right, not all Republicans voting for Trump are filled with hate and believe in white supremacy. It’s easy to categorize them all under the same title, as I have in the past. After all, Trump did win the Republican nomination by a landslide.
Not every conservative believes in all of Trump’s messages. They believe he can help alleviate the troubles the drought has caused to our agricultural community, and they believe he can help the family owned businesses in town. To them he is bringing positive change to a town that has been hit hard by the 2008 recession and the California drought. They chose to put their faith in Trump the same way I am choosing to put my faith in Hillary Clinton despite all the controversy surrounding her. I’m sure they are not the only Republicans choosing between what they think is the lesser of two evils.
Good people are voting for a bad man. Trump offers them hope and promises he can’t fulfill, but they have made their choice. I won’t pretend that it doesn’t make me rethink many of the relationships I built in my home town. By supporting Trump, people I know and like are openly agreeing to his demeaning comments and beliefs about Mexican and Muslim American Communities.
How can I keep respecting them? How can I go home and answer questions about my major and grades when they’re wearing Make America Great Again hats?
Don’t get me wrong, I knew my town wasn’t perfect long before this election. It is divided in the most cliche of ways — by train tracks. The west side of the tracks is the ghetto, home to gangs and poverty. In the east side reside the good neighborhoods and schools. The high school I attended was the ghetto school on the wrong side of the tracks, according to the residents of the east side. Of course, this isn’t an opinion held by the entire town, like most things it depends on who you ask. But it was something that has always bothered me. I have never understood why they allowed this divide to form. It was created long before I moved to Tulare and it will exist long after I have moved away. This doesn’t change that Tulare is the town where I grew up and it is the town that helped me become who I am today.
This is the same town where my brother was told by a sweet, elderly lady he had helped nurse back to health that he was a good boy with a Portuguese last name so he shouldn’t tell anyone he was Mexican. She said he should say he was Portuguese, that it would be better for him. He had helped save her life, he had gone to school and earned a nursing degree, but his race mattered more. She told him that he should keep that fact that he was a Mexican a secret because he had so much potential.
This is the same town where I first experienced racism when I was 9 years old. My older cousin told me she was going to a protest at the park and she let me tag along. I don’t remember what it was for. It was fun. People in big trucks honked and waved at us and then we would cheer and laugh with them. The one thing I remember clearly about that day was the small white car that slowed down enough for us to see the middle finger sticking out of the passenger side window and for us to hear their message, “Go back to where you came from!” In that moment I didn’t understand, but I have never forgotten. There I was introduced to the idea that I didn’t belong, this was not my home, I shouldn’t be here.
I know that is bullshit. I love my country. It’s flawed, this election proves that — but there is no place I would rather be, no place I can go back to. This is where I am from. This is my home. I don’t know if that person was a Republican. I don’t know if they are voting for Trump or voting at all. What I do know is that not every Republican in my home town believes that I don’t belong there.
In a world defined by the internet and Facebook friends, political divides are becoming more polarized and personal. I am no longer being yelled at by people speeding away in small white cars. Now, I am being unfollowed and defriended and blocked because of what I believe. This is something I thought I would never see. I thought that outside of our political differences I would still be able to call certain Trump supporters friends. We might not talk or see each other but there was a connection to our past and the experiences we shared that we kept alive through social media.
This isn’t a petty outcry over lost followers because, truly, I couldn’t care less about how many people follow me on Twitter. What I care about is that I’ve lost connections to people I genuinely liked because of this election. Because it is now either or, red or blue, friends or not. I have managed to mend some of those relationships through outreach and attempts at open and understanding conversations. But some, I believe, may be gone forever.
Come January 20th the world will still turn, the sun will still rise in the east, and Tulare will still be my home. Regardless of who becomes our next president I’m still going to love that town, and I’m still going to care about the people in it. This election has not changed that. However, it has changed how I look at some of the people there and how I look at many Americans.
This election has been ugly to say the least and it has brought out the worst in people, but the world will not end in 2016. It will go on and we still have to live with the ideas and sentiments Trump’s candidacy has brought up. I’m choosing to look beyond this election and to remember the kindness my local Trump supporters have shown me in the past. I hope you will as well.