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Minority delegates at the RNC: An uncomfortable place to be?

Alirio Martinez, a member of Maryland’s delegation to the GOP convention in Cleveland, waits for a group photo at Progressive Field in Cleveland. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The African Americans and Latinos who are part of Maryland's delegation to the Republican National Convention hear the question often: What are you thinking?

They are among a mere sprinkling of people of color on the convention floor this week in Cleveland, and their reasons for supporting Donald Trump as the Republican nominee are varied, sometimes even complicated.

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Joann Fisher, a black former Navy reservist from Baltimore, said she appreciates Trump’s focus on veterans, immigration and jobs.

“He brought up very specific issues that I think we need to address — things that should be at the forefront,” she said. “He brought up immigrants. Immigrants’ coming over here is fine, but I would like to see the people who want to be citizens go through a process.”

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CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 20: Republican Vice Presidential candidate Mike Pence addresses the crowd, during the third day of the Republican National Convention on Wednesday, July 20, 2016. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Alirio Martinez’s family went through that process after emigrating from El Salvador. The Silver Spring resident, whose father worked as a painter after becoming a U.S. citizen, said Trump’s tough stance on illegal immigration resonates with him.

“I agree with him, and my parents agree,” he said. “A lot of Spanish people agree, because people come and take their jobs. My dad couldn’t work anymore because people were coming from Guatemala and Mexico and charging less. He couldn’t compete with that, so he just retired.”

A survey this month from NBC News, the Wall Street Journal and Telemundo showed Trump trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton 76 percent to 14 percent among Latinos. A Pew Research poll in June showed that 24 percent of registered Latino voters would vote for him in a head-to-head contest with Clinton (who had 66 percent).

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Trump's support among African Americans has been consistently low. Only 7 percent of blacks in an NBC/Wall Street Journal survey this month said they would vote for him over Clinton. A Washington Post-ABC News poll last month found that 88 percent of blacks view him unfavorably.

And yet there was African American pastor Shannon Wright on the convention floor this week, cheering for Trump because she thinks that Democratic policies have failed blacks in deep-blue strongholds such as Baltimore, her home town.

Wright accuses Democratic politicians of trying to appease African Americans “on the surface level, to get votes.”

She said African Americans from Maryland should find hope in Trump’s promise to bring manufacturing jobs back to places such as Baltimore by restructuring or ending free-trade deals.

“Economics and economic development are the two core issues that the urban areas are dealing with,” Wright said. “We need a president who understands that concept and will do what it takes to bring life back to our manufacturing plants.”

Trump critics contend that the candidate’s support from white supremacist groups and long history of racially and ethnically incendiary statements, including during the campaign, should disqualify him from serious consideration by minorities.

But a common sentiment among the 10 African Americans and Latinos in Maryland’s 73-member GOP delegation is that they appreciate Trump’s candor and think that his comments are often taken out of context.

“There are some statements I certainly would have worded in a different way,” Wright said. “People may have misconstrued his meaning, but he’s a real person – he’s not polished.”

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Chancellor Torbit, a black hospice-care worker from Baltimore, said he appreciates “a person who isn’t just trying to make political analysts happy.”

“At least I know where he’s coming from,” Torbit said of Trump, “and I don’t have to struggle with that.”

Martinez said Trump’s comments about immigrants who commit crimes don’t bother him.

“He’s not talking about everybody who is Latino,” he said. “If you know what’s going on at the border, crime and everything, that’s what he’s talking about. The funny part is that a lot of Latinos, my own people, they always talk trash about the other Latinos. They say, ‘Oh, this guy comes from Mexico just to commit crimes.’ I tell them, ‘You talk exactly like Trump. Why is it a racist thing? You see what’s going on and then you talk about it.’ ”

Six of Maryland’s 38 voting delegates at the convention are African American or Latino. Another four people of color are either alternates or Maryland representatives on the party’s national committee.

The delegates say their support for Trump can lead to debates with family and friends — in Fisher’s case, heated conversations with her youngest daughter, who is a Democrat.

“It’s like death talking to her,” Fisher said. “She’s a diehard, but she’s my daughter. What am I supposed to do, kick her to the curb? We respect each other’s opinions. We’re family, and this is America.”