She had rushed to apply for her citizenship in large part to cast a ballot in the upcoming election, to vote on behalf of other immigrants, particularly those unable to cast their own, she said in an interview with The Washington Post. For months, she urged her fellow Latinos in California to vote, to prevent Donald Trump from becoming president.
But when she awoke to the news on Wednesday morning, after praying for several hours the night before, the pride she felt for her country that day in the auditorium felt very far away. It was replaced by a sense of utter, gut-wrenching defeat. Had any of her efforts — and those of volunteers and advocates across the country — made a difference?
“I felt like it was a stab to my people,” Valdovinos said. “I was disappointed in my country, because I was so happy to be a part of it, and now I’m not so sure. This is not what I represent as an individual.”
Across the country, scores of immigrants like Valdovinos were motivated to become citizens specifically to gain the right to vote in the general election.
Spurred by Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and plans to boost deportations, a record number of people submitted citizenship applications and registered to vote. Voto Latino, one of the nation’s largest Latino civic groups, used its website and network of hundreds of bloggers, Hollywood actors and Spanish-language rock bands to encourage Hispanics to vote, Ed O’Keefe wrote in The Washington Post.
Immigrants and advocates nationwide expected — or at least hoped — the unprecedented surge in new citizens and new voters would propel Hillary Clinton to the White House. Even in the final weeks, headlines anticipated the powerful support of a record Latino voter turnout in favor of the Democratic front-runner.
Indeed, Hispanics turned out to vote more than ever before, and they gave Clinton a helpful boost, favoring her over Trump 65 percent to 29 percent. But that 36-point margin, based on exit polling conducted by Edison Research, was smaller than the 71 percent-27 percent split that President Obama won in 2012. And it was smaller than the 72 percent-21 percent former president Bill Clinton won in 1996, USA Today reported.
With immense disappointment, Latinos collectively mourned the loss, questioning why their efforts weren’t enough.
“Tonight, across the country Latinos will hold our children and our family members a little tighter,” Ben Monterroso, executive director of Mi Familia Vota, wrote in a statement Tuesday night.
Valdovinos still felt proud of having done her part in voting and encouraging others to do so. But, she said, “maybe I didn’t shout it loud enough.”
She could feel the agony in her community, particularly among those volunteers and advocates who encouraged Latinos — those who could — to vote. “All their energy was just poured into making this happen for us,” Valdovinos said.
She could sense the fear over the phone with her sister, and her undocumented aunt, and the friend that texted her with the simple message, “my heart hurts.”
“How do you reply to someone who said their heart hurts?” Valdovinos said.
Many recently naturalized immigrants felt relieved and grateful to have sworn their oaths before Trump was elected, in order to feel assured they wouldn’t someday be deported.
But what others, like Emilia Flores, 28, of Livingston, Calif., felt above all was guilt. She resented that “not everyone is going to live that same experience,” she told The Post. While she was protected from deportation, what about her undocumented loved ones? What would be their future, under President Trump?
Flores, who was born in Michoacán, Mexico, and brought by her family to the United States as an infant, had also been living in the country for about 25 years when Trump began his presidential campaign. Hearing his threats to crack down on immigration, Flores was angered. “He was a symbol of hatred,” she said.
Like scores of others, she decided to apply for her citizenship, in the hopes of voting against him. She became a citizen on April 19. But even with this security, Flores felt anything but relieved on Wednesday.
“What I wanted was for all undocumented and hard-working individuals to have a voice,” she said. “It’s devastating.” But despite that guilt, she added, “I am proud to be American. All I know is America. I want the best for this country.”
The results of the election “hit us like a bucket of cold water,” said María Magdalena Hernández, a 52-year-old receptionist in Long Island who fled from El Salvador about 16 years ago. She had left behind war in her home country in the hopes of bringing her children — then ages 10, 15 and 16 — to a country where they could feel safe. She became a citizen in 2013 but voted for the first time in this election.
On Wednesday, she felt frustrated, but also energized.
“Tomorrow, we get back up,” she said in Spanish in a phone interview with The Post. “We have the blood of warriors. We will keep fighting.”
Other advocates, such as Pili Tobar, director of communications for Latino Victory Project, lauded the landmark efforts and successes of Latino voters. For example, they helped send the first Latina to the U.S. Senate, he noted.
“We had many victories,” Tobar told Univision in Spanish. “Unfortunately, the electoral map and the numbers didn’t result, but we did the job we had to do, we played our part.”
For her children’s sake, Valdovinos also felt the need to stay positive, and maintain hope in her country.
“This is what we swore,” she said. “We’re going to stick with the United States through better or worse.”
“Maybe right now we’re feeling that worse part.”