After listening to Donald Trump charm his audience for almost an hour — “Who’s gonna pay for the wall?” — I waded into the crowd at the Selland Arena to find Latino supporters.
Who were these people, exactly, who could vote for a man who has called Mexicans rapists and murderers, who insulted the Republican Latina governor of New Mexico, who tweeted “I love Hispanics” as he ate a taco bowl at his desk on Cinco de Mayo?
Turns out, they are people like Elena Pineda, 81, and her daughter Mary Jennings, 57, both dressed head to toe in red, white and blue. They’d taped photos of Trump in his “Make America Great Again” baseball cap to their own little top hats. Compounding the fashion insult, Pineda wore a campaign button featuring a cat with a Trump comb-over. It said “The Time is Meow.”
------------FOR THE RECORD:Donald Trump rally: In Robin Abcarian’s May 29 column in the California section about Donald Trump’s Friday appearance in Fresno, Elena Pineda was referred to as Helen, her nickname, on second reference. —------------
“My family stopped speaking to me because I was supporting Donald Trump from the beginning,” said Jennings, a retired law enforcement officer. “I’m conservative, a registered Republican. It’s always been a bone of contention in my family.”
“It’s about illegal aliens!” Jennings said. “Mom and I can’t go to Canada and just squat and get benefits. We couldn’t go to Mexico either without the proper paperwork. They’d put us in jail!”
I also met Alicia Aderhold, 39, an office manager in Tulare whose family grows cherries, olives and oranges. Aderhold has four kids, two of whom are in college. They support Bernie Sanders, who’s running for the Democratic presidential nomination.
“You know what I like about Trump?” she said. “He’s for the farmers. And building that wall.”
I noted that farm workers are the lifeblood of this state’s agriculture industry. (Even the most conservative estimates say that at least half of California’s million-plus farmworkers are here illegally.)
“I’m Mexican,” Aderhold said, “and I understand that Mexicans do the farm labor, but there are a lot of legal ones. That’s how they should do it, the way my parents did.”
In that case, good luck in a Trump administration to all the lettuce growers in Salinas. They can’t find enough people to pick their crops even now.
Outside the arena, it was easy to find Latinos who take a far dimmer view of Trump. Polls, after all, show that he is viewed negatively by a yuuuuge majority of Latino voters.
Practically the first person I bumped into was Daniel Ortiz, a 66-year-old retired truck driver from Selma.
He carried a homemade sign featuring a photo of Trump altered to look like Adolf Hitler. It said, “FU … Trump” and “Anything can happen if you don’t vote.”
“He’s an idiot,” Ortiz said. “His rhetoric, his hate, the plain stupidness of it. You know what this Valley would do without farmworkers? This Valley depends on Latino farmworkers.”
Nearby, Aleisa Rodriguez, a college student, was holding a sign with a hand-painted poop emoji. It was swarming with flies and featured a Trumpian swoosh of hair. No slogan necessary.
Paul Garcia, 52, was dressed in khaki fatigues, and wore a beret. He held a Mexican flag in one hand and a “Stop Trump Hate” sign in the other. He’s a teacher and an activist, he said, and a member of the Brown Berets, “a Chicano nationalist organization that promotes peace and unity in our barrios.”
I asked him whether carrying a Mexican flag didn’t just play into Trump’s harsh rhetoric about illegal immigration.
Not at all, he said. He does it because he’s proud of his heritage, and he’s proud of the longstanding relationship between Mexico and the U.S. Also, it tweaks many Trump supporters.
Mona Llamas, 47, brought her two teenage children to the protest because she believes that Trump’s “nationalism” is dangerous, and underpinned by racism.
Her sign caught my eye. It had photos of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has been mocked by Trump for claiming to have Native American ancestry. “I’m with Pocahontas,” it said.
Llamas, whose family owns car dealerships, said she has trouble understanding why Trump has even a modicum of Latino support.
“It’s almost what I call social schizophrenia,” she said. “That’s when you should understand that this movement is so totally against your own interest, however, you don’t have the common sense, the self-worth or the knowledge to see things the way they are.”
A block away, at M Street and Ventura Avenue, a few dozen protesters in the intersection refused to leave. On a bullhorn, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer asked them to move.
The chief assembled a skirmish line of 50 or so cops clad in black riot gear. Over the course of a couple hours, in the 90-degree heat, the line advanced very slowly. The chief kept asking people to disperse. He walked up to protesters, put his hand on their backs, said they’d be arrested if they didn’t move. He wasn’t pleading exactly, but almost.
“We are going to be very patient and wait for these individuals to leave,” he told me. “The individuals who were sitting in the roadway, I personally went up to each one of them and said, ‘I want to give you an opportunity to stand up because this is an unlawful assembly.’ ”
A few yards away, a 38-year-old protester named Eddie Garcia was on his own bullhorn. “Our job is done,” said Garcia, who once studied for the priesthood. “Let’s go home. God bless.”
Kids on the sidewalk started yelling at Garcia — go ahead, leave — but they planned to stay.
“I traveled from Los Banos to be here, and I am not ready to go,” said Katrina Ruiz, 32, who had a quiet conversation with Garcia. “People are still upset about Donald Trump’s xenophobia and racism. I think the cops are itching for a fight with us.”
“As elders, we say we’ve accomplished what we want here, then you move on,” said Andres Fierro, 47, who stood with Garcia. “Maybe the young generation is not aware of what happens when you hang around and egg on the police. But look at Chief Dyer. He’s walking around talking one-on-one. He let people voice their anger and displeasure. He’s shown a lot of restraint.”
The Trump rally had started at 10 a.m. By 3 p.m., the police had pushed the few protesters who remained to the end of the block. A group of half a dozen or so young Latino men still were facing the skirmish line. It wasn’t hostile, exactly, but they did not want to leave. Still, each time the officers advanced, they stepped back to avoid arrest.
Eventually, Dyer came up to chat. He shook their hands, asked whether they needed a ride.
“I’m done protesting,” said Benjamin Juarez, 20. “I just want to go home.”
“OK, go ahead,” said the chief, letting Juarez walk back toward the arena on the street the police had just cleared. “Have a good day.”