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Border & Immigration

Two Sides Of A Mexican-American Family Show Identity Doesn’t Always Lead To The Same Politics

Marlene Herrera, an 18-year-old currently living in Mission Center, says the pandemic and recent protests have influenced her politically during her first year as a voter.
Adriana Heldiz / The World
Marlene Herrera, an 18-year-old currently living in Mission Center, says the pandemic and recent protests have influenced her politically during her first year as a voter.

On election night in November, 18-year-old Marlene Herrera was trying to keep a low profile at her father’s house. Even though it was her first election as a voter, and she was excited to learn the outcome, Herrera knew that her vote wasn’t in line with the rest of the household.

“My dad’s house, they have a very different political view than me,” she said. “So while everyone was rooting for the other side, I wasn’t.”

Two Sides of A Mexican-American Family Show Identity Doesn’t Always Lead To The Same Politics
Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler.

Herrera’s father and her Mexican-immigrant grandparents were supporting President Donald Trump. So was her younger brother. Her stepmother even told her it was a good decision on her part to maintain the peace, and keep her vote to herself. But Herrera wasn’t able to completely hide her political views.

“My grandfather kept coming out while the counting was still coming in, and saying ‘Trump won,’ ‘Trump won,’ in Spanish, and I was just like ‘no, he didn’t. It’s not done yet, stop listening to your news,’” she said.

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Herrera’s parents split up when she was young and she divides her time between their households. While her father’s side was supporting Trump, her mother’s side of the family was mostly pulling for Joe Biden. While Herrera watched the votes get counted in the days following the election from her father’s house, she kept in touch with her mom.

“My mom and I were messaging each other and like, 'Have you seen the election,' and the minute that Philadelphia turned and cleared the way for Biden, my mom was the first one to call me,” she said.

Her mom woke her up on the Saturday morning that many people in San Diego took to the streets to celebrate Biden’s victory.

The split sides of Herrera’s family aren’t unique in Latino households. A third of Latinos usually vote Republican, but Trump was able to build on that in this year’s election. That left a lot of people wondering why. Herrera, who felt the impact of anti-immigrant rhetoric in her own high school, was slowly coming to terms with her own grandparent’s support of Trump.

“The main thing that surprised me most was my grandparents, considering the fact that they did come here as immigrants. And the whole hate that was sparked around the community because of Trump, it’s kind of hard for me to understand how they could vote,” she said. “Everything they’ve gone through to stay in this country, to have your green card and stuff. How could you do that? But at the end of the day, it comes down to perspective.”

Reflecting on her grandparent’s choices, Herrera realized that a lot more impacts people’s political choices than just their identity. They live with Herrera’s father, who manages a grocery store. He saw his hard work pay off. While he still works long hours, often coming home too exhausted to even eat, his work has led to economic stability for his household, and a belief that hard work can bring you prosperity in America.

But unlike her brother, who lives full time with her father, Herrera hasn’t had the same lived experiences. A lot of her life was spent with her mom and her younger sister.

“I grew up in a single-mother household, my mom getting food stamps, getting government help,” she explains.

Her experience, with the government helping her mother deal with two young daughters while holding multiple jobs, has shaped her own politics. She believes in a social safety net that many Democratic candidates support. While Herrera voted for Biden, and hopes his administration will bring relief to people hurting during their COVID-19 pandemic, her original choice for president was Bernie Sanders, who proposed vastly expanding government assistance to working families, and making universities free.

Growing up in a border region, Herrera’s perspective on things like border enforcement and immigration were shaped by the Trump administration’s harsh stances. With heightened Border Patrol staffing and the construction of a new, higher border fence in San Diego county, the changes under the Trump administration were physically visible. But in this year’s presidential election, more Latinos in California voted for Trump than in 2016. Herrera didn’t see this filter down to the youth vote, however. For the most part, the young people she knew were adamantly opposed to Trump. And while they weren’t supporting Biden wholeheartedly, they were still motivated to vote against Trump.

Her mother’s side of the family, including two aunts that she lives with, didn’t all vote in this year’s election. Some were too busy with work, and others just didn’t find the time.

“It was something or another on why they didn’t vote,” she said. One family member had just moved in from Arizona, and didn’t register to vote in San Diego. She understood that with several kids to take care of, as well as jobs, her aunts didn’t have a lot of free time.

During the pandemic, Herrera’s world has grown smaller. She’s still waiting to be able to attend college in person, where she plans to study psychology. Her first year at San Francisco State University was virtual, and she’s grown frustrated about not being able to meet her peers because of the pandemic. At school, she hopes to broaden her horizon, and her life experiences, even further.

Until then though, she’s trying to come to terms with how her own family has experienced this year’s election, and how their own lives — as Mexican-Americans, workers, and parents — have shaped who they vote for.

But that hasn’t stopped her entirely from trying to change people’s minds.

“It’s so hard to change a perspective. I know I get frustrated. It’s just such a big split between both sides of my family.”