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Journal of the Plague Year Interviews Luisita López Torregrosa on Trump, Coups d'Etat, and Why The Latino Vote Matters

JOTPY: Before we break down the vote, let's get to the fear factor. You've written about revolutions and coup d'etats, notably in the Philippines and South Korea. We're all nervous today. Some of us have come face to face with violence or threats of violence on the streets. How worried should we be?

TORREGROSA: There is only one reason Americans are afraid. The reason is the president of the United States, Donald Trump. He has made it clear that he will defy the will of the people, and he will defy the election results if he hasn’t won. Everybody’s afraid because he’s incited violence. He has done it plainly.

JOTPY: Should we take him seriously?

TORREGROSA: Coup d’états are serious. This is nothing. This is just Trump. When I was covering the Philippines and South Korea, these were countries revolting against dictators. This is Trump egging on white supremacist racists. These are the people you see in Beverly Hills where Rodeo Drive is all boarded up. I don't trust white supremacists who are armed to the teeth but this is not a coup d'etat by the military.

JOTPY: Good to know, although I want to come back that subject later because I want to make sure we talk vote counts. Let's look at swing states: Texas and Florida. Both have substantial Latino populations. Nationally, Latino voters are the largest “non-white” voting bloc. There were 32 million Latinos eligible to vote in November, making up 13 percent of eligible voters. Turnout has historically been low, but that’s changing this year. But we've seen so many articles asking why the Biden campaign isn't doing a better job at reaching these folks. Both campaigns have made efforts but they've been spotty. Why are politicians so lousy at reaching out to Latinos?

TORREGROSA: Because politicians, including the media, think of Latinos as one thing. Latinos are very different in every way: background history, accent, the way they think. The differences are clear, most particularly when you look at those states, the Latinos in Florida and Latinos in Texas. Not even mentioning California and New York City.

I am Latina and I am nothing like a lot of Latinas in Texas and Florida. Everybody tends to dump us in the same pot. It’s like saying all Americans are the same. That is the problem with how to reach the Latino vote.

Until Americans, North Americans, and the political parties realize that, they are going to continue not to get the Latino turnout.

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JOTPY: How does that break down in the states we're concerned about in the 2020 election?

TORREGROSA: Latinos in Texas now finally may be close to voting their numbers, which are very high. Texas will be majority Latino state in 2022. The Latinos in Texas come from a wide variety of backgrounds: upper middle class, middle class, a background of poverty, migrants. Ted Cruz is a good example. Ted Cruz is Cuban. He comes from a family that is highly educated. He’s not the same as the Mexican who crosses the border illegally.

JOTPY: We're all looking at Florida and I know you've spent a lot of time covering the state. The conventional wisdom is that the Cuban vote dominated and it was solidly Republican.

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TORREGROSA: In Florida, the vote is not all that diverse. You have to understand the history of the countries that these people come fromm. Cuban-Americans we know more about because we know about Castro. The Cubans who came first, who live in places like Coral Gables and Coconut Grove, were the wealthy and middle-class, educated professionals fleeing the Cuban revolution. The campesinos came later, in the 80s and 90s and live in places like Hialeah. But there have been new influxes from Latin America.

The Venezuelans who came in the last 5 or 10 years are middle- and upper-middle class. They are educated. They came with money. They fled Venezuela because Venezuela was confiscating their businesses and corporations.

Doral is the Venezuelan neighborhood and it's very expensive neighborhood. The Venezuelans have more in common with Cubans. The same with Colombians. They’re fleeing dictatorships and violence. Their businesses were confiscated. They come here well to do and educated.

Nicaraguans, the same. They are a new group in Florida, and they come from a dictatorship.

These Latinos in Miami are totally different from the people at the U.S.-Mexico border. They didn’t stop at the border. They took flights. They immediately got what they wanted.

They tend to be Republican, as you might imagine.

JOTPY: Is it different among the younger generation? Cuban-Americans who are Gen Z or Millennials? Young people who grew up here?

TORREGROSA: Among Cubans or Cuban-Americans even the younger generation tends to be solidly Republican. They have one thing they hold onto: their hatred of Fidel Castro. That is as true today as it ever was.

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Fidel Castro and Barbara Walters in the early '70s. To some, Castro was the embodiment of evil; to others, a rock star.

JOTPY: The Latino youth vote could be a game changer. What does that look like in this election and going forward?

TORREGROSA: All young people, Millennial, Gen Z, whether they're Latinos or not, Asian, White, Black are deeply involved in this cycle. They are voting. 700,000 young people under the age of 29 have voted already in Texas. That has not happened before. It has everything to do with the people running for president. They will vote not only for the Democrats but against Donald Trump.

JOTPY: How much of this is because of Beto's grassroots organizing? That will be interesting to watch because he's returning to old school politics with that kind of person-to-person, community effort.

TORREGROSA: The organizing in Texas has been stunning and it’s due to Beto and it’s also due to local activists in every county.

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Texas is an incredible state. it is the second-richest state in the nation after California. California is the largest in population, Texas in second. Many of the people coming in droves to Texas are from California. That is changing the whole character of the population. The suburbs of Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio are becoming far more Democratic.

Texas hasn’t elected a Democratic president since Jimmy Carter. Now, all of a sudden it's a battleground state. It has to do a lot with the Latino Vote. The Asian vote is very strong here. Blacks don’t have as much sway in Texas. Their numbers are not as high.

JOTPY: Studies show that young Latino voters have similar priority issues as other young Americans: health care, the economy, climate change and how to afford college, among others. But they also have different interests and concerns tied to their family backgrounds, along with their social and economic statuses. Republicans have leveraged anti-socialist sentiment among Latino voters effectively. What about abortion?

TORREGROSA: The issues of socialism and communism are laughable. They only work in Miami and Dade County. These are the Cubans, Nicaraguans, and Colombians who fled oppressive socialist governments. The Republicans have played that very well.

But in Texas and California, they are not afraid of socialism/

Abortion plays with the older population. That's people who are Catholic or Protestant evangelicals. Protestant evangelists are the most anti-abortion.

JOTPY: Let's circle back to the actual election for a minute. Why aren't you more worried?

TORREGROSA: I fundamentally believe that the United States is a democracy. In the end, the law enforcement institutions, from police officers to the FBI, will not stand for this kind of lawlessness. The election will be honored. Whoever wins. It will be honored.

If I had a model to follow is Gretchen Wilmer. She is amazing, incredibly courageous. San Francisco is doing a great job with this. Even Texas is prepared.

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JOTPY: The other night Eric Holder gave what I thought was a good reality check. He dismissed all the talk of "we need a landslide." Biden just needs to win. Take a deep breath, folks.

TORREGROSA: He needs to win the electoral college. The Biden campaign is girded with lawyers. They have more than 1,000 lawyers working for them right now, in every locality where a problem may arise.

We’re not dealing with an ineffective leader. He was vice president for 8 years. I'm watching television like everyone else.

JOTPY: When does the wine get uncorked?


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Luisita López Torregrosa is a correspondent for NBC News and a contributor to Texas Monthly. As a special correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle she reported on coup attempts against President Corazon Aquino, the communist insurgency in the Philippines, and protests in South Korea that led to the fall of authoritarian rule.

DEEP DIVE: Read Luisita López Torregrosa's Deep Dive into the Latino Vote in JOTPY here.