EL PASO, Texas — Ramon De La Rosa predicts it’ll take President-elect Donald Trump just six months to make America great again.
The 73-year-old is eager to see Trump bring back jobs from places such as China and stop taxing hard-working Americans to pay for food stamps and other entitlement programs.
When Trump launched his presidential campaign and labeled Mexicans who enter the country illegally as rapists, criminals and drug dealers, De La Rosa, who was born in Mexico and crossed the border at 17 to become a U.S. resident, was not offended. It also didn’t faze him that Trump pledged to build a massive wall along the border here in an effort to keep people just like him out.
“I know he didn’t mean that about all Mexicans,” De La Rosa said, noting that Trump just talks like a “tontito,” a Spanish term meaning “fool.” “He knows nothing about politics and nothing about speaking politically correct.”
Counter to what many polls and pundits expected, De La Rosa — who for decades was not a U.S. citizen and earned the right to vote just 10 years ago — was among the 29 percent of Hispanic voters across the country who chose Trump on Election Day, according to exit polls.
Here, he is one of thousands of El Pasoans celebrating Trump’s victory and looking forward to his inauguration. Trump received 26 percent of the vote in El Paso County, which includes El Paso and five small rural cities in the far west corner of Texas.
Many thought Trump would fare far worse among Latinos than he did, largely because of his anti-Mexican and anti-immigrant comments. While many in El Paso say they don’t agree with all of Trump’s approaches — he still performed worse among Latinos than did previous Republican presidential nominees — many who voted for him had single issues in mind: Some chose Trump because they want to see restrictions on abortion; others said he will bring more jobs back to the United States; still others hope he will limit entitlement programs. Some, many not born in the United States, oppose illegal immigration and hope Trump will be successful in immigration reform, something they say Democrats failed to do in the past eight years.
Trump’s anti-Mexican insults apparently weren’t enough to turn off many voters in this border town, including Cecilia Kazhe.
Kazhe, 45 and a native of Chihuahua, Mexico, was shocked by her first encounter with racism in America, when decades ago a co-worker used a racial slur against her.
“ ‘You are nothing but a wetback,’ ” Kazhe recalled the colleague saying, using a derogatory term for Mexicans who cross the nearby Rio Grande from Mexico to the United States. “She would say ‘wetback’ like it was a dirty name, but I never saw myself that way.”
“At the end of the day, they are just words,” said Kazhe, who became a U.S. citizen when she was 17. “I know I am a productive citizen. Those words don’t represent me, so it didn’t bother me at all.”
The fact that De La Rosa sees Trump as a better advocate for America, his adoptive home, was more important than anything Trump might have said during the campaign.
De La Rosa likes to ask “educated” people a simple question: “Where does Santa Claus come from?” He gets answers such as “the North Pole,” “Europe” and “the universe.”
Wrong, wrong and wrong. De La Rosa replies: “Santa Claus comes from China.”
“Everything he is wearing — shoes, socks, underwear — says ‘Made in China.’ That means he must be from China,” De La Rosa said , noting that he voted for Trump because he thinks he will bring jobs back to the U.S. from overseas. “He’s going to make this country better. ”
El Paso, a city on the southernmost point of the Rocky Mountains with more than 680,000 residents, is so close to Mexico that a wrong exit on Interstate 10 brings motorists to the Juarez port of entry. Mexican students cross the border to attend local U.S. schools and the University of Texas at El Paso, which is separated from Mexico by just the highway and the Rio Grande. Popular Mexican steak, seafood and taco restaurants from Ciudad Juarez have locations spread across the U.S. city.
There’s already a large, rusted steel fence that skirts much of the border. Even staunch Trump supporters here laugh at the notion that building a wall is going to stop anyone from coming in.
Adolpho Telles, the head of the Republican Party in El Paso, was surprised by how well Trump fared among Latino voters nationally and in his city. About 81 percent of El Paso residents are Hispanic and longtime Democrats. A Republican presidential candidate has not won in El Paso County in more than two decades.
“We would be visiting people around the community, and they would whisper, ‘I am going to vote for Trump,’ ” Telles said. “People felt they had to whisper it here because you would get criticized.”
Clinton won El Paso by a wide margin, garnering 68 percent of the vote.
Jenny Carrillo, 58, was among that majority, and she said she expected Clinton to receive the same overwhelming support across the country. Carrillo, whose mother came to El Paso illegally, found Trump’s comments about Mexicans extremely offensive, and she thinks many Trump supporters have forgotten that the United States is a country of immigrants.
She is still mourning Clinton’s loss a month later.
“I cried so much,” Carillo said. “It was so discouraging, not just for me and my candidate, but I feel scared about what’s going to happen to our country.”
Not De La Rosa.
Still employed in construction, De La Rosa says he can break a concrete slab better than his 20-year-old colleagues can. De La Rosa has worked in construction or agriculture — picking cotton and other crops — since he was a little boy, and he’s not even sure he finished the first grade.
His family moved around a lot, chasing seasonal crops in the United States. His father was part of the Bracero Program, which allowed Mexicans into the country for a limited time to work as seasonal agricultural laborers. De La Rosa was able to get his residency when his brother became a U.S. citizen in 1960.
De La Rosa became a citizen 10 years ago. At his home on the west side of El Paso, joined by his two daughters, De La Rosa said he is tired of working hard and seeing the government raise taxes to support others who are “not motivated” to better themselves. His daughters agree.
“The harder you work, the more the government penalizes you,” said Veronica De La Rosa, 46. “If you are poor, then you stay poor because the government will give you everything you need.”
While De La Rosa and his daughters were drawn to Trump’s economic policies, Ismael Aguayo, 31, and his wife, Darlene, 30, were drawn to Trump’s antiabortion stance. More than half of El Pasoans are Catholics or evangelical Christians, according to the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies.
Aguayo and his wife were both raised in evangelical Christian households. They are now raising their two daughters, 8-year-old Darlene and 4-year-old Victoria, the same way. They attend a church in west El Paso, and Aguayo is a member of the church’s advisory council.
Aguayo, who grew up in a rural town outside El Paso, said that he and his wife do not fully support Trump or his agenda, but that a vote for Trump was a vote for “godly principles” that give unborn children a chance at life. While he and his wife “love homosexuals because Jesus loved us no matter what our sin was,” they also oppose same-sex marriage.
His vote for Trump was a vote for at least one conservative Supreme Court justice, he said.
“Somehow or another, we did feel that his principles were more aligned to that of a God-fearing person,” Aguayo said.
Kazhe, who worked for 15 years as a nurse in a newborn intensive care unit, also anxiously awaits the appointment of a conservative Supreme Court justice because, she said, abortion is nothing short of “murder.”
Her husband, Peter, who is part Mescalero Apache, an indigenous tribe in the Southwest, also voted for Trump. He spent eight years in the Marine Corps and is now a firefighter.
They say they had to keep their support for Trump somewhat secret because of the negative reaction they tend to get from friends and co-workers. Another firefighter even asked Peter how he can call himself a Christian and support the president-elect.
Their 24-year-old son, who did not vote in the presidential election, was in disbelief. He questioned how Kazhe — a woman and a Mexican immigrant — could have voted for someone who made vulgar comments about sexual assault, wants to stymie immigration and broadly insulted Mexicans.
“I know that’s not who I am, so his words don’t offend me,” Kazhe said. “And I also know my people aren’t like that.”