INTERVIEW: Headlines, Si! Votes, No!

By Reuvain Borchardt

A sign in English and Spanish marks the entrance to a voting precinct in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Abel Prado discusses the loss of Hispanic support for the Democratic Party.

Prado is executive director of Cambio Texas, a progressive organization that seeks to promote Democrats and get out the vote among Hispanics in South Texas.

Historically speaking, there’s always been a perception — mostly grounded in truth — about progressive policies being more sympathetic toward communities of color, going all the way back to New Deal politics. There’s been this commonly held belief that Democrats are more friendly toward communities of color and working-class folks, and that Republicans are the party of business owners, conglomerates, and people who value tax breaks over everything else. 

In South Texas, where I grew up, there was a shift after the last big movement on immigration: the amnesty bill passed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. A lot of brown people became citizens because of that law. That’s something that’s always lingering in the background: that it’s because of a Republican that I’m able to vote and live in this country freely. 

My own parents came here illegally from Mexico, and were granted amnesty under that Reagan bill.

Also, there was an intense directive as a child to assimilate. I grew up in a school district where I almost got kicked out of school because I didn’t speak English. I had to go home and learn English before I was allowed to continue my education. 

For those of us raised in the ’80s, ’90s or early aughts, we’ve grown up with this idea that you’re supposed to put your being American first, and your background comes second.

That’s what happened historically.

As for the last five or 10 years, there’s definitely been a culture shift in the Democratic Party.  There’s a perception amongst progressives that they’re championing issues that are important.  But these issues — about social care and inclusivity which are often referred to as “woke” — don’t necessarily apply to the vast majority of Americans. 

Abel Prado


Those in the halls of power care more about those things than they do about “fighting for me.” But these woke issues don’t really resonate with the everyday Joes, and it’s led to a lot of apathy. I don’t know if people of color are necessarily turning Republican; they’re just getting turned off and not participating. 

And, you know, party infrastructure on both sides is fueled by that which drives donors. So you see the issues that are important to Republican donors being amplified on the Republican side, and what’s important to Democratic donors being amplified on the Democratic side. It’s great for headlines and for fundraising — but it doesn’t actually attract voters in all parts of the country. 

To the extent they are turned off by that, I wouldn’t say it’s a religious motivation. I’d say it’s a social motivation — the Hispanic machismo that has been ingrained in our people since the Spaniards came over.

I think religion has been co-opted by both sides as a political organizing tool. I don’t believe that the tenets of religion align with either side of the political spectrum. Truly hardcore religious zealots wouldn’t be Republican or Democrat.

We were founded in 2016, geared specifically toward increasing voter turnout, particularly among Hispanics in South Texas. We do a lot for voter turnout during the November elections. During the rest of the year, we are active in Texas with events like food drives, voter registration drives, and “Know Your Rights” seminars for people who just became citizens. 

The most interesting thing we’ve done is we’ve formed a partnership with our local probation department and gotten our organization registered as an organization where you can do community service hours, so I was able to hire people to get civically engaged while they complete their community service. 

You’re technically correct, but that’s also misleading. The area has definitely gotten more purple, and Trump did a lot better in 2020 than he did in 2016. But he still didn’t win a single county in South Texas.

Trump is almost like the reverse Obama. What Obama did for progressive politics in terms of activating an entire generation of people who hadn’t been involved in politics, Trump did the same on the opposite end. So you had a lot of people who really resonate with Trump’s story regardless of what the facts are. Trump’s story is that he is a successful businessman — though there may be some evidence to the contrary — and he has been a figure in popular culture for decades. 

It’s not a surprise that Trump did as well as he did, considering that he’s been a celebrity for decades, and I think his way of being naturally connects with the Hispanic male machismo that’s so ingrained in our culture.

Migrants wait to be processed by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol in Eagle Pass, Texas, after they crossed the Rio Grande and entered the U.S. from Mexico, last October. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Not at all. 

The children of immigrants have been so thoroughly assimilated with the American idea of how you’re supposed to be that there’s actually very little sympathy for the new immigrants.

Both of my parents came over illegally — and four of my six brothers are Trumpers. That is not uncommon. 

When children of immigrants go back to Mexico, they feel smug and superior about having dollars instead of pesos. 

It’s a very common misconception that the children of immigrants are sympathetic toward immigrants. There have been billion-dollar operations designed to stamp the Mexican out of you and tell you that you’re American. Growing up, you wanted to have everything that the white kids had. 

The American education system. It whitewashes every topic from slavery down to the Bracero Program [in effect from 1942–1964, under which the U.S. admitted laborers from Mexico as guest workers].

America has always benefited from cultures, customs, and policies that come from somewhere else. I don’t believe that there is a single inherently American staple that isn’t influenced by another culture, another religion, or another country, and that’s been the truth for America from the very beginning. 

When you grow up as a child of immigrants and you’re told that the American Dream is to buy a house and have a good job and all that stuff, it plays into the hands of the people who are already in power. In my view, it’s never really been a cultural issue or a race issue; it’s always been a financial issue. It’s people with money versus people without money. When you’re somebody who was born without money and then you become somebody who has money, you’re surprisingly less sympathetic to people who don’t have money, because you were able to claw your way out of it. And it’s very convenient to forget that you had help. This idea of “self-made people” is very uncommon. Everybody gets help on their way to the top, whether because you were born into the right family, or somebody took a chance on you and gave you an opportunity to prove yourself. Everybody has to catch a break. But we’re told that nobody catches a break, and that if you made it is because you’re a tough guy.

I would say that’s fair at least superficially. But everyone uses their roots when it’s convenient. Hispanic Republicans will fly their Mexican roots when it’s convenient, but they don’t really resonate with it. And the progressives do the same thing. They’re people of color when it’s convenient. But then when it comes to other issues, they’re as American as the white male CEO.

If Democrats want to increase their support amongst Latinos, they just need to walk the walk as well as they talk the talk. They need to deliver on their promises on immigration. Actually, both sides have had majorities in our government in the last 20 years, and have been in positions where if they really wanted to do something they could have. We seem to have blank checks when it comes to foreign aid for everywhere else. But when it comes to taking care of our border here at home, or our veterans here at home, I believe Democrats do a better job of trying to address those things, but both sides have been in positions where they could deliver if they wanted to, but because of political pressure and because of the natural, slow process of how our government functions, it has just never happened. But it’s very telling that Republicans wanted to kill the border deals in an election year when Democrats were ready to give in to a lot of what they wanted.

This interview originally appeared in Hamodia Prime magazine.

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