Freshly minted as Americans and quickly overwhelmed with 'Hillary' and 'Trump' sales pitches

Francisca Molina had been an American citizen just a few minutes when she was inundated with sales pitches:

"Come take a photo with Donald Trump!"

"All Hillary information here!"

“Don’t forget to vote!”

She and thousands of freshly sworn-in citizens exited their naturalization ceremonies at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Tuesday to find a scene that went beyond the usual peddling of T-shirts, flowers and teddy bears.

Outside the center’s doors, backers of both presidential campaigns crowded around them, vying to get more registered voters for their party.

Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton worked the crowd too. (Well, their life-size cutouts did). Trump flashed two thumbs-up, and Clinton smiled, clad in her trademark pantsuit.

Molina, 68, born in Mexico, made her way through the crowd with help from her daughter and grandchildren. Like many, she was too overwhelmed with emotion to talk about politics or even make sense of the commotion around her. 

“I have the power to vote,” said Molina, who waited 18 years to become a citizen. “That’s what matters most.”

Her plan was to go home, eat tamales and think things through, with input from her daughter, a Clinton supporter, and a granddaughter, a Trump backer.

Less than a week before California's registration deadline, some new citizens found themselves torn between the advice of loved ones. Others, like Editha Eckert of East Hollywood, had already made up their minds. 

"I'm with Hillary because she's a woman fighter," said Eckert, who was born in the Philippines.

Her husband, Larry, and her son, Earl Rich, rooted for her at the ceremony, but they disagreed with her choice.

"I just can't stand the sound of Hillary's voice," her husband told her.

"I know you can't," she said, laughing. "It's too bad because she's going to win."

Volunteers from both parties typically set up booths at the center each month to register new citizens.

But with the election three weeks away, the entrance to the center was packed with more than half a dozen booths operated by immigrant-rights groups, nonprofits organizations, political party organizers and the Los Angeles Public Library. More than a dozen voter registration workers were working independently to sign up citizens. 

Some volunteers set up as early as 6 a.m. to get a prime spot near the center’s exit, where they can best access people. 

“This is the busiest we’ve ever seen things here,” said Renee Nahum, political chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party. “Everybody’s been pretty good about keeping a cool head.”

Of course, there were a few minor skirmishes:

Democrats taunted Republicans for flashing a “Latinos for Trump” sign during a group photo, when, according to them, they didn’t have any Latino volunteers.

And one Republican, Debra Oresko of La Habra, approached a registration worker and questioned her tax-paying record.

“I think she’s only been in the country like seven days,” she said.

Each side policed the other to keep them from violating the convention center rules, such as soliciting citizens inside or blocking their pathway as they exited their ceremony.

At the Republican booth, Trump supporter Stephen Saletros said the goal wasn’t to push the candidate onto people, though his cutout was a popular stop to snap selfies.

"We're here to say congratulations," he said. "We want to show them we're diverse and we're inclusive."

Standing by the front doors with a handful of balloons in his hand, Rolando Sifuentes, born in Guatemala, looked at the scene and shook his head. His brother, Marco, had just become a citizen and would soon register to vote. 

“He’s going to do whatever he wants,” Sifuentes said. “But if you ask me, I think this whole thing is ridiculous. We should forget this election and just start all over.”

Twitter: @LATBermudez

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World