For 11 years, he’d never felt like he’d been targeted for the way he looked. Donald Trump’s victory changed that
Janeth Calderon flipped on the kitchen light and the windows burned bright in the pre-dawn blackness. Next she slayed the quiet, turning on a radio that filled the room with traditional Mexican music. A few pots and pans clattered as she began making breakfast for her four children.
Mario was up first. The 11-year-old with his short, dark hair and lanky frame already was taller than his mother, and he had to bend slightly to get a morning kiss.
Next came Xitlaly Calderon, who would turn 8 that Saturday. Dressed in her tan school uniform, she was excited about the birthday cupcakes she’d be giving out to her classmates.
“Leche?” mom asked.
“Sí,” her son replied.
She poured him a cup of milk and turned back to the French toast. Janeth usually would ask her son about tests or homework. But mornings had been a little more somber since Nov. 8, when Mario came home from school and told her what the kid had said on the bus — that because he was a Mexican he’d have to start sitting at the back now that Donald Trump would be president.
Mario had never felt a sting like that before — he was born in Idaho, just like his sisters. His stomach churned. He was confused. Lonely. Anger muscled its way forward too. The bus driver reprimanded the kid, and Mario didn’t sit in the back. But the seed was planted. He worried that it would happen again.
“I felt sad,” he said.
Janeth already had plenty to worry about as her son grew older — she would fret about his grades, about his growing up so quickly and she still was learning how to gradually surrender her protective instincts to time. Now she struggled with the quiet fear that Mario’s dreams could be strangled by something new and ugly. For 11 years, he’d never felt like he’d been targeted for the way he looked.
Donald Trump’s victory changed that.
“Before the election, I didn’t worry about this for my kids,” she said softly. “Now that he’s elected, it feels different.”
Trump’s comments during the campaign were well-documented. His claim that Mexico was sending drug dealers and rapists to America was particularly incendiary, but so to were his tough immigration proposals that prompted supporters to chant “build the wall!” at rallies.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has been tracking incidents of harassment since election day. As of Monday, that number stood at 701.
The bulk of the harassment has been labeled as anti-immigrant, with 206 falling into that category. Among those totals, most incidents have occurred at K-12 schools.
Trump didn’t address the issue until Nov. 13 on “60 Minutes.”
“I’m so saddened to hear that,” Trump said. “And I say, stop it. If it — if it helps, I will say right to the cameras: Stop it.”
He also condemned white supremacist groups at a meeting with the New York Times last week.
But Trump had done some troubling things. He picked Stephen K. Bannon to be his chief strategist. Bannon oversaw Breitbart News, which became a key forum for a movement that has, in many cases, pushed a racist agenda. Trump met with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who wrote the “papers please” law in Arizona fueled by sentiment against immigrants in the U.S. illegally. And Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) is Trump’s pick to be attorney general. Sessions, an anti-immigration hard-liner, has been criticized for making racist remarks in the past.
Janeth’s husband, Jorge Calderon, 36, felt as if he was watching clocks spin backward to his days as a teenager. Fears he’d put to rest years ago began to resurface amid conversation at his job in the nearby sugar beet factory.
Jorge moved to Idaho with his parents more than two decades ago. He came to love Idaho after a rocky start when his parents got jobs and he helped them in the summer picking fruit.
“We were in the fields, and across the highway there were some Caucasian people calling us ‘wetbacks’ and saying, ‘Go back to your country — you don’t belong here.’ It made me angry and it made me think I wanted to go in front of them and say something back,” Calderon said. “But I knew they were bigger and older and I wasn’t going to be able to do something.”
The outburst on the bus surprised him. It hurt him. It scared him too.
Since Trump’s election, immigrants living in the country illegally and their advocates have expressed fears of mass deportations and workplace raids. But for people like the Calderons, the fear is being targeted not for the legal status, but for their ethnicity.
Both of Jorge’s parents were legal permanent residents when he was born in California. Janeth and her parents are legal permanent residents too.
He wondered whether their status would be enough protection for them amid anti-immigration zeal that seemed to surround Trump’s campaign. Perhaps they should become citizens to be on the safe side. Janeth said she would start the process to becoming a citizen now. Jorge figured his parents — close to retirement age — wouldn’t try. Janeth thought hers would.
When Jorge walked in from the garage after getting off work from the overnight shift at the factory, he had just missed Mario taking out his violin to play “Ode to Joy” — something to pass the time while Janeth lightly put Vaseline in Xitlaly’s hair to keep it from drying out. She helped her put in earrings too.
Mario wiped the strings on the violin and put it away in its case while 5-year-old Xochilt played with her younger sister, 2-year-old Sarnay. Jorge had picked up some doughnuts on the way home from work and put them on the kitchen table and they swarmed the box. Two languages bounced about the kitchen as the family rushed around, mostly speaking English but tossing in Spanish here and there.
School would be starting soon and Janeth made one last check that they had everything they needed. Coats were buttoned and backpacks slung overshoulders. Xitlaly asked if they had to go. Yes, Janeth said.
Jorge went outside to unlock the car. The sun had risen, but it provided little warmth. Ice scrapers for car windshields finally were called into duty after an unseasonably warm fall. The sprinkler systems had been blown out, and tree limbs still stubbornly clung to crisp leaves — one storm removed from nakedness.
His son’s story about the bus worried both of them. Janeth said she noticed he was staying late at school for math tutoring since election day, despite already having solid grades in the subject. She wondered whether he was avoiding the bus ride home. He had said he would be staying late again that day. Could they pick him up? Of course they could.
The reality of what had changed seemed hard to grasp. And while harassment was occurring across the country, she said the large protests in places such as Los Angeles, Phoenix or Portland, Ore., seemed to offer some solace where larger populations of Latinos lived. In Idaho, with just 12% of the state’s population being Latino, the family felt more removed — with 60% of voters in Idaho going for Trump and two-thirds in their county backing the Republican.
Janeth also had heard of harassment through friends and local media.
Ivan Carrillo, a paralegal at Ramirez-Smith & Tvinnereim in the nearby town of Nampa, said his sister’s friend was spit on and called names. Carrillo said he and a friend went to a local bar and were called derogatory names.
Trystan Gray, an 18-year-old Latino, told the Idaho State Journal that some of his classmates in Pocatello were telling him it would only be a “few more days until Trump sends you out of here.”
Jorge and Janeth said they wanted to tell their son things will be OK. That his dreams of starting a band at 15 and maybe joining the Army like Jorge’s two brothers did after high school are still possible. Or maybe going to college. Before the election, anything seemed possible.
“He is trying hard,” he said.
Janeth kept busy during the day while Jorge slept after his overnight shift. She delivered Girl Scout cookies. She visited a friend who recently had surgery. Janeth was still wearing a wrist brace from surgery she’d had for carpel tunnel syndrome, which made her unable to cook a big birthday meal for Xitlaly.
They decided they’d ask Xitlaly where she wanted to go for lunch on Saturday. But all day, Janeth worried about Mario. When it was time for the bus to dropXitlaly off, Janeth dressed up Sarnay in a jacket, slipped on her coat and boots and walked along the sidewalk, past some homes. A couple pulling out of the driveway waved. She waved back.
As Janeth stood on the edge of the road, bracing against a cold wind, the yellow bus rolled up and finally lurched to a stop. The doors opened and a few kids trickled out. She saw Xitlaly trundle out.
Then, a surprise.
Off the bus stepped Mario. He walked with his sister to meet Janeth at the corner. He smiled. She sighed as he bent slightly to give her a kiss.
Must-read stories from the L.A. Times
Get all the day's most vital news with our Today's Headlines newsletter, sent every weekday morning.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.