Latino voters were wildly misunderstood in the 2020 presidential election. Pollsters and pundits who spoke of a Latino “bloc” that would vote reflexively for Democrats came to discover it did not exist.
Latino voters chose President Donald Trump in numbers higher than experts expected. In Minnesota, where Latinos are a growing political force, exit poll data analyzed by the Washington Post put that vote at 38 percent for Trump, greater than the 33 percent he received nationally.
The election laid bare what the Latino community already knew: Their identity, experiences and concerns are not the same.
”If you didn't know the amount of diverse and educated Latinos that coexist with you, maybe you're the one that needs to get more educated. Period,” said Daisy Hernandez-Barguiarena, 21, a college student living in St. Peter, Minn., and one of 115 Minnesotans who responded to an MPR News survey asking Latinos across the state what issues informed their 2020 vote.
“It isn't our responsibility to educate people,” she said. “But at the same time, I do think it's my personal responsibility to be proud and open about who I am and the things I stand for.”
The informal survey, done in collaboration with community organizations COPAL, UNIDOS, the research firm HACER and other groups serving Latinos, asked people what they cared most about and whether they were feeling hopeful, worried or a mix of both, heading into 2021.
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Immigration, health care, racial justice and COVID-19 were among the top issues. Overall the responses were hopeful. For many, their hopes and concerns were grounded in their own Minnesota experiences.
‘Two very different environments’
Cristina Florencia Castro, 31, said racial equity was the most important issue for her. It was this issue that informed her vote and has her feeling equally hopeful and worried as the next administration takes office.
The child of a father who identified as Chicano and a mother she describes as a “nice white lady from Minnesota,” she moved from Texas to Minnesota to go to college. During that time she grew closer to her mom’s family. Castro is “mixed-race,” she said, and presents as a woman of color.
When George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police in May 2020, she started to speak out online about defunding the police. Her posts sparked a confrontation with family members. When they got together to address the tension, she shared her experiences with racism. Instead of love and care, she said she was met with defensive aggression and ultimately silence from some.
After the Jan. 6 insurrection in the U.S. Capitol, Castro connected what she was seeing to her experiences speaking out over Floyd. She said she wants white people to see the privilege they carry, especially if they don't support the violent attack.
She worried people might try to distance themselves from what happened and think, “Well, I’m not that kind of white person.”
“That is just a perfect example of the actual dangerous move that white people do inwardly to distance themselves from a problem that they really need to be taking responsibility for,” she said. “It is an invitation to interrogate your whiteness to look at it. What do you have in common with those people? How were those people treated by law enforcement, in comparison to the many instances of treatment we saw of protesters over the summer?”
‘The only thing that matters’
Mateo Frumholtz, 24, works in public health. His 2020 vote was motivated by health care, the third most important issue to surveyed Minnesotan Latinos, along with COVID-19.
As an epidemiologist he said he acutely understands the ways in which the health care system is failing not just the Latino community but the rural white community as well as Black, Indigenous and certain Asian communities. COVID-19 elevated the issues.
“It's the only thing that matters: Whether you're healthy or not, whether you're being crushed by medical debt or not, whether you have access to basic health services to basic preventive health services.“ Frumholtz said, “it's the one thing that every single person on earth is inextricably linked to.”
Frumholtz is not confident that the new Biden administration will use a public health lens when it comes to addressing the nation’s health care issues. He thinks a for-profit health care model isn’t incentivized to address the root causes of sickness and calls the model “immoral.”
Good health, he said, is “a privilege when it should be a basic human right.”
‘A president for all’
Like some children of immigrant parents, Hernandez-Barguiarena can remember translating for her father. She recalled being about 8 and going to an auto parts store with her dad to buy motor oil.
A few things got lost in translation and the clerk ended up selling the father and daughter a product that ultimately damaged the car. While the store agreed to help pay for the damage, Hernandez-Barguiarena said the clerk initially tried to blame her, saying she didn’t comprehend the clerk.
Hernandez-Barguiarena’s anger and disbelief at the clerk’s response forged her, and as an adult, experiences like these informed her politics. In 2020, she volunteered by phone banking, first to get out the vote then to encourage people to vote for Joe Biden.
Hernandez-Barguiarena said she cared most about immigration when voting for president.
Biden’s immigration would provide a path to citizenship for the nearly 11 million people living in the country without government authorization. This includes nearly 100,000 people living in Minnesota. She said the plan would help some of her own family members and friends--but she’s waiting to see more details before getting excited.
When she was phone banking this fall, she realized the race wasn’t about any one candidate, but something bigger.
“You are not just a president, for one group of people, you are a president for the entire United States of America,” she said. “That includes undocumented and documented folks because they both contribute to your economy."
This reporting was made possible by COPAL, UNIDOS-MN, HACER and other community partners that helped inform and distribute the voter issues survey. You can take the survey here, share your thoughts with MPR News, and have your voice heard.