Flint, MI–Alondra Rosas Ornelas, a 19-year-old UM-Flint engineering student and first-time voter, said voting became “non-negotiable” for her after witnessing this year’s Black Lives Matter protests.
For Ornelas, the past four years has been a time when she said she’s watched racism become more commonplace, something she blames on the rhetoric of the Trump administration. She’s not alone. Ornelas said she’s witnessed half the country seemingly turn on Black people and, by extension, other people of color, which opened her eyes to what had been right in front of her for years.
“I see how the Trump administration has affected people around me … seeing my brother’s (soccer team), they’re mostly Hispanic, whenever they would play against other teams they would be discriminated against by the referee or they would be spit on by other players and be called slurs,” she said.
Having just entered high school as Trump became president, Ornelas said she became more aware not only how people of color were treated, but also of a change in her peer’s behavior. “I saw firsthand the effects of Trump being in office,” she said.
She thought back to her high school years and talked about how even in her early teens, she started seeing the idealized version of the world she had been raised in, crumble before her.
“I was kind of naïve, I feel like a lot of us were naïve, thinking that the color of your skin does not matter … I just couldn’t imagine someone thinking that it does,” Ornelas said.
Ornelas attended high school in Grand Blanc, and said some of her friends supported Trump. She said it shocked her whenever she found out someone close to her supported him.
“To this day, when I hear someone say something like, ‘Trump 2020,’ I feel a twist in my stomach to think that my friends support someone who has brought so much hate into my community,” she said.
For Ornelas, these experiences quickly made clear why her family and friends within the Latinx community chose to vote for Biden.
Sandra Ornelas, who also voted for Biden, is Alondra’s mother and site coordinator for the Latinx Technology and Community Center of Greater Flint. Their family had originally moved from Jalisco, Guadalajara to Mansfield, Ohio.
During her family’s time in Ohio during the mid 2000s, Sandra says she struggled to find a latinx community to be a part of. Despite this, she said the majority White community she found herself in was welcoming to her and her family. It wasn’t until Trump’s rise to power and popularity Sandra says, that she started experiencing any sort of racial tension.
“Everything in our environment just feels more hostile … in fact, this is the first time that I’ve felt discriminated against …” Sandra said.
Despite Sandra’s experiences, she says the Latinx community in Flint gave her something she’d been missing since she moved to the U.S. She said she was able to reconnect with her culture and with people who shared similar life experiences. “Here, I’ve found my culture. In Ohio it was more difficult since the city we lived in had a nearly nonexistent Latin community …” Sandra said.
Sandra Ornelas said she was relieved her children, who have grown up almost entirely in the U.S, have an opportunity in Flint to grow close to their culture. Being in Flint allowed her children, Adrian and Alondra to play trumpet and guitar for El Ballet Folklórico Estudiantil (EBFE), a non-profit based out of Flint focused on highlighting, preserving and educating citizens on Mexican culture, especially through music.
Similarly, other non profits, clubs and institutions like the Latinx Tech Center, Genesee County Hispanic Latino Collaborative and UM-Flint’s Latino’s United for Advancement all exist to cater to the various needs of Latinx Flintstones.
These organizations exist for a reason. Despite Flint’s historic population decline over the years, the Latinx community in the city has slowly but steadily continued to grow. According to the U.S Census Bureau, this demographic represents 3.9% of the city’s entire population. Putting their numbers anywhere between 3500 to 4000 citizens.
Asa Zuccaro, director of the Latinx Tech center said he believes the majority of Flint’s eligible Latinx voters cast their ballots in favor of Joe Biden.
Trump saw an uptick in Latinx voters in states like Florida, mostly due to a large Cuban population who, according to The New York Times, liked “Trump’s confrontational stance toward the island’s Communist government” (Trump had also warned voters that he believed a Biden presidency would lead to a socialist government). But Zuccaro said Flint’s majority Mexican Latinx population does not share the same sentiment.
However, based on conversations with members of the community, Zuccaro says he agrees with the long-established statistic that about 33% of Latinx voters cast a Republican ballot.
“What I hear in the media sounds pretty accurate to me, about a third of Latinos identify as Republican. That seems pretty accurate to the people I’ve connected with and know that are voting,” said Zuccaro.
Despite this, he said the average Latinx voter in Flint went to the polls this year for one “obvious” reason. “I think the overwhelming majority … voted for an elected official that doesn’t degrade our community or identity … the current administration has made disparaging remarks about our culture … even with their policies and how they treat latino families,” Zuccaro said.
Zuccaro pointed to the tightening of security at the U.S/Mexico border, the Trump administration’s campaign subtle changes to immigration policy as well as rise in numbers of deportations as large motivators for Latinx citizens to vote against Trump.
On a local level, Zuccaro believes Congressman Dan Kildee had a hand in persuading the Latinx community to vote blue. According to Zuccaro, Kildee has maintained a consistent and positive presence within the community. “I’ve learned a lot just from interacting with Congressman Kildee,” Zuccaro said. “He is an elected official that I think does a fantastic job in making sure that he is aware of community issues within his district. He is constantly meeting … specifically with marginalized communities.”
Zuccaro himself, along with the rest of the Latinx center, played a large role in getting a historically low-turnout demographic to go out and vote. The Tech Center partnered with the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation earlier this year to distribute a robocall, recorded by Zuccaro, throughout Genesee county urging Latinx citizens to vote.
The Tech Center also partnered with organizations like the ACLU, Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village, Flint Development Center and UM-Flint Student Government to host a “Day of Action” located at the Tech Center’s offices aimed at promoting information regarding the importance of voting.
“It was great, we … got (voting) literature donated by the ACLU, we had Senator Peters and Congressman Kildee come out and speak at the rally to let people know their rights and why it’s important to get out and vote.”
According to Zuccaro, this event and others like it resulted in volunteers from the Tech Center and other local organizations knocking on nearly 10,000 doors across the city to further spread voter information.
Despite the different roles they play in their communities, Latinx people like Zuccaro, Sandra Ornelas, and Alondra Ornelas, and the nearly 4000 other members of the community all share a common history and culture. For many, the hardships of being a person of color in the United States have been compounded during the current presidency.
Alondra Ornelas recounted her experience when visiting the polls. She talked about the reality and gravity of her decisions settling in. She knew when she ticked the boxes on the ballot that her words and thoughts hold power.
“For months and months and months we were talking about people like Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Donald Trump, Mike Pence. It was so weird to see their names on the actual ballot,” she said. “ I thought to myself ‘oh my gosh, by me scribbling in this box, it’s gonna count toward Biden’s campaign.”