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Border wall not key for some Hispanics

Sertan Sanderson, Corpus ChristiMay 25, 2016

Donald Trump's pledge to build a wall along the US-Mexican border has caused a stir in the Hispanic community. But they are not all offended by the remarks, reports Sertan Sanderson from Corpus Christi, Texas.

Deported Mexicans graffitied a section of the border fence in protest against Donald Trump earlier in May
Image: Reuters

Texas is not exactly known for its diversity, a reputation that does not do the Lone Star state justice. The second largest US state - both in terms of landmass and population - enjoys a multicultural makeup, which grows positively more Hispanic the closer you move to the border it shares with Mexico.

That border has repeatedly been the subject of scrutiny by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who has caused a stir with provocative slogans saying that, as president, he would erect a protection wall along the frontier, and have Mexico pay for it.

Locals in the city of Corpus Christi, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of the border, have had time to think about these statements as the race to the White House has grown steadily more intense. Not everyone in the predominantly Hispanic city finds the remarks offensive, especially among younger generations.

"I want to know: Is the rest of the world laughing at us? What does Europe think about the American elections?" asks local resident Bob Montez and points at the latest election coverage on a TV screen at a Mexican restaurant, a taqueria, in Corpus.

"The whole process is getting embarrassing. It's not just about Trump."

Soundbites and appearances

Montez, 45, works as a senior administrator at a local college and has lived most of his life in the town, which markets itself as "the sparkling city by the sea." Both he and his wife Melinda, a massage therapist, are fourth generation US citizens, who say they honor their Mexican tradition as much as they take pride in being American. Today for instance, they're celebrating Cinco de Mayo, which commemorates a 19th century Mexican military victory but has become an excuse to pay tribute to Mexican-American culture in the US - with tacos, margaritas and questionable Mariachi bands.

"I can't say I really like Trump, but I can't say I like Hillary either," Bob Montez says and turns to his wife, who adds that Trump "scares her."

Bob and Melinda Montez
Bob and Melinda Montez don't consider Trump's comments offensive to them or their heritageImage: privat

"I'm not really all that political, but it seems like it's all just entertainment. It's like a horse race. And I know that it shouldn't be," 35-year-old Melinda Montez adds somewhat despondently.

"They're all just saying things to scare people. And it works. Trump scares me."

The shock value of Trump

The idea that the presidential elections are increasingly being run like a show is echoed among other Hispanic residents of Corpus Christi. Javier Urias, an operations director at the local YMCA, says Donald Trump's comments may be "immature" at times while stressing that this could be exactly why the Republican presidential candidate has managed to hit a nerve with many people.

"He just says things that many people don't dare to mention, and that makes him unlike any other candidate. He's not a career politician and that's what makes him so attractive to voters," says 35-year-old Urias, adding that Trump isn't his preferred Republican nominee.

"A lot of people in this country are tired of the dynasties. They don't want another Clinton. They don't want another Bush. Voters have already expressed this in the Republican camp by booting Jeb Bush out of the race early on. And the same is happening with the Democrats. Why do you think Bernie Sanders presents such a real threat to Clinton's bid?"

But as much as much as he dislikes the idea of dynasties, Urias concedes that Trump himself seems to hail from an empire in his own right: "Yes, we know that he's a billionaire who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but what we don't know is what to expect from Trump if he makes it to the White House. But many people are dying to find out."

On the fence about the border wall

Bob Montez appears to agree and says he might vote for Trump just to see how he would "do things differently." But the proverbial elephant in the room, Trump's comments on building a border wall along the US-Mexican border, doesn't seem to factor in. "He's just saying that to get a reaction," Montez thinks.

"We're Americans first," says Urias, "We're proud of our background and we honor that tradition, but there's a legal process of coming into this country, and many people abide by that process and become part of the system here. It's not fair on them and it's not fair on other Americans that people who don't abide by those laws should get away with it. America is a republic, which means that we're governed by the law."

Javier Urias
Javier Urias believes the US has sufficient safeguards in place to ensure the rule of law regardless of the presidentImage: privat

Melinda Montez interjects and says that only few of the locals have links to Mexico anyway.

"All our families are here. They have been here for generations. This is the only life we know. I've never even been to the Mexican border towns. So why would we think any different about illegal immigrants from Mexico than others do?" she says. "I mean I feel sorry for them, but I don't go voting with the issues of immigrants on my mind."

Voting for issues, not parties

Her husband Bob adds that there is "no such thing as the Hispanic vote" - despite various forecasts saying the election could be swayed by how Hispanics cast their ballots.

"People shouldn't expect Mexican people or Hispanic people to behave a particular way at the elections. Some people vote Democrat, others Republican, and many are simply undecided. Some older generations might care a lot about particular issues, like abortion for instance, but most people just want the next four years to be better than the last four years," Bob Montez says.

Javier Urias nods in agreement but thinks that even a separation along generational lines might be an outmoded way of looking at the election.

"If you look at Trump, you see someone who is liberal by many Republican standards. The man even used to be a Democrat, and he would even manage to attract a lot of votes if he ran as an independent candidate. I hardly think that our elections are about die-hard partisan issues and views anymore," he says. "In fact, when you really look at Trump and Clinton, you'll even see some areas of agreement."

The 'border-fence' runs along and through hillsides at Border Field State Park along the US-Mexico border
A fence already exists along lengthy stretches of the borderImage: AFP/Getty Images

Those areas of agreement may be difficult to spot as the presidential campaigns become more aggressive and the candidates focus on presenting their public persona and polishing the corresponding image rather than highlighting issues they would work on in office. Bob Montez believes that this is because voters "don't get to choose the president anyway."

"With everything depending on the electoral college and the primaries being run as partisan events, those who really get to choose the president are few, powerful people," he says.

"If you want a direct vote for the president there's a lot that needs to be overhauled," Javier Urias says in agreement.

"But again, America is not a democracy like European countries. We're a republic with a separation of powers. So at the end of the day, who gets to be president isn't nearly as important as who gets to pass laws in Congress. And people seem to forget that."