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Trump Stop In Oklahoma City Angers State's Hispanics

Presidential candidate Donald Trump at a campaign stop, Sept. 3, 2015.
Michael Vadon
Presidential candidate Donald Trump at a campaign stop, Sept. 3, 2015.


The air conditioner hums in Fredy Valencia’s office in south Oklahoma City - a tiny covey in an church with a desk, a computer and a few worn chairs. Sitting at his computer, Valencia works on plans for a protest he is helping lead during Donald Trump’s campaign stop this Friday at the Oklahoma state fair.

“If people want to attack our community, people attack us, we’ll speak up and we’ll have something to say about it,” Valencia said.

Valencia helps lead DREAM Act Oklahoma, an organization that advocates for Oklahoma’s Hispanic community, including undocumented immigrants.Trump, who leads the field among Republican presidential hopefuls, has called for the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, and changes to birthright citizenship laws.

Valencia thinks Trump’s message is hateful.

“We know that in the past other candidates have also put the solution out there, putting a fence around the border, which is impossible but that doesn’t stop them from actually saying that’s the way to fix it,” Valencia said. “The scary part, the disappointing part, is for such a person to be resonating with so many people.”

About ten percent of Oklahomans are Hispanic, and they have the potential  to alter the state’s politics, according to University of Oklahoma political science professor Keith Gaddie.

“Hispanics are the largest ethnic or racial minority in the state now, the fastest growing demographic group of any group in the state and what’s happening is it’s becoming an increasingly permanent population,” Gaddie said.

Gaddie calls south Oklahoma City an economic enclave. Take a drive down 29th Street, and one sees several generations of businesses -- and its increasingly sophisticated local economy. What started off as a few restaurants and small grocery stores has grown into Latino-owned car dealerships, business support services, accounting firms, and lawyers.

“Now once you get to that point, there are two things that are going to happen. You’re going to start to develop a stable citizenship population, which has happened,” Gaddie said. “And people are going to get invested in wanting to govern their local space. They’re going to get into politics.”

Both the state Democrats and Republicans have fumbled their chances at gaining Hispanic votes, according to Gaddie. He thinks Democrats continue to fight a losing battle to win back white rural voters who long since abandoned the party. Meanwhile, state Republicans have hurt their chances with Latinos by passing laws that crack down on undocumented immigrants, and through hostile rhetoric toward immigrants from presidential hopefuls like Trump.

“What we’re getting is a whole lot of unworkable solutions that are designed to inflame people, to work up the crowd, in order to feed the ego of the greatest egoist of the 21st century,” Gaddie said.

In 15 years, the majority of Oklahoma voters under 40 years of age won’t be white. Political parties have to figure out how to engage them.

“There are a lot of thoughtful people in the Republican party trying to do this,” Gaddie said. “But until they can make this immigration issue go away, and they’ve got to make it go away, they’re going to have a problem.”

Estela Hernandez, the interim chair of the Oklahoma Republican Party who came to the United States as a child from El Salvador, credits Trump and other Republican presidential hopefuls for jump-starting a conversation on immigration. But she says the answers aren’t at the extremes, like open borders on the one hand, and mass deportation on the other.

“We can’t think that it’s just as easy to round everyone up, put them in a bus, and ship them out. Because now we’re looking at those individuals we do send away - what do we do with the American born children? Until that issue comes to be resolved, we are solving one issue but creating another,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez stresses that Latinos are not single issue voters --- immigration isn’t the only thing that matters. Her party has been active in meeting with Hispanic voters because she sees their growing importance.

“We cannot be dismissive of that growing number and if we start building those relationships now, we won’t have to play catchup here in the next few years,” Hernandez said.

Single issue voters or not, Keith Gaddie believes the immigration debate might wake a sleeping demographic giant with big consequences.

“Hispanics have always turned out at about roughly half the rate of African Americans and Anglo Whites,” Gaddie said.

Now, immigration gives them an incentive to go to the ballot box.

KGOU is a community-supported news organization and relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online, or by contacting our Membership department.

Jacob McCleland spent nine years as a reporter and host at public radio station KRCU in Cape Girardeau, Mo. His stories have appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, Here & Now, Harvest Public Media and PRI’s The World. Jacob has reported on floods, disappearing languages, crop duster pilots, anvil shooters, Manuel Noriega, mule jumps and more.
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