Why you should care
Because these are the real conversations communities have with each other.
The teenager rose, somewhat haltingly, to tell her story. The room full of Latinx families in the Riverside Church, a soaring Manhattan structure that has served as a sanctuary for so many, fell silent. “I was brought here at the age of 4,” she said, as a few heads bobbed along. She came to the U.S. illegally, from Mexico, with her mother. She remembers a lot of walking and a lot of confusion. Nine months ago, she said, her father died. Her social studies teacher in the Bronx, Justis Lopez, rose to complete the story, noting how the teen’s father avoided seeing a doctor because of his immigration status. “He passed away because he was afraid,” Lopez said.
For the third episode of OZY’s innovative town hall series Take On America, we gathered 100 Latinx people together in New York to go deep on questions of faith, identity and politics. By no means is this a bloc vote, and in the discussion moderated by OZY co-founder Carlos Watson, opinions varied widely. Nowhere was the contrast more heated than on the question of immigration, with Donald Trump and an advancing caravan of migrants hovering over American politics as the midterm elections draw near.
Facts are, a country without borders falls apart.
Omar Navarro, Republican candidate in L.A.
Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, who became a national sensation for her fiery denunciations of Trump in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, said she was opposed to “internment camps” for children separated from their parents at the border, adding “dialogue has to come from facts.” Omar Navarro, a Republican running against Rep. Maxine Waters in Los Angeles, replied: “Facts are, a country without borders falls apart.”
More than a year after Hurricane Maria, Cruz remains angry and emotional about Trump’s response to the disaster, including when he tossed paper towels into the crowd during a visit. “I would like anyone here to raise their hand and tell me if you think that is an honorable thing to do when people are dying,” she said. Everyone’s hands stayed put. “The leader of the free world’s response was to talk about the Puerto Rican debt, and not talk about the deaths,” Cruz said.
Navarro, meanwhile, repeatedly sought out gray areas and “dialogue,” saying the Latino community must work with the president to accomplish its goals, rather than simply shunning him. But for many in the audience, Trump is a black-and-white issue given his racially charged rhetoric — starting with his introductory speech infamously calling Mexicans “rapists.” “The president — excuse me, ‘45’ — is a racist,” said Led Black. “And if you support him, you’re a racist as well.”
“I’m not racist. I’m not hateful toward anybody,” Navarro responded, who said his parents came through a legal process to the U.S. and that he does not appreciate people trying to circumvent the law. Others in the crowd backed him up. “I don’t believe Trump is a racist, never was,” one woman chimed in.
When the conversation turned to religion, the participants expressed varying and complicated views of Catholicism. “I’m a recovering Catholic,” said actress Rosie Perez, who talked about the pain of a closeted gay relative. “I don’t want to let go of all of it, but some of it I need to let go.” As Melissa Sweets pointed out, Latinx Millennials form the core of the American church. “We are like the business of that. We buy statues, we put out incense. You got to get the bad juju out of the house! … If they lose us, they lose it all.”
Religion, like many issues, is part of a generation gap in the Latino community. While traditional gender roles have hung on for older members of Latinx families, that’s not the norm for younger generations. The men don’t always react well to the shift. “Machismo now is like guys want to show their manhood by doing crazy stuff like racing cars, getting in fights and doing stupid things,” said Daniel Garza, president of the Libre Initiative, a conservative group.
Latinos also have a complicated relationship with color, and the divide among Latinx skin tones, not to mention other races. Jennifer Lopez (no, not the singer) relayed how her parents barred her from dating outside her “White Latina” race. Black spoke about a friend who sees himself as “dark-skinned White. That doesn’t even exist!” Perez lamented former Major League Baseball star Sammy Sosa — a dark-skinned Dominican — who appears to have bleached his skin in recent years. “I’m not here to say you’re wrong, Sammy,” Perez said. “I’m here to say I understand where it comes from. … Why did he do that? We’re all guilty for why he did that.”