Latinos fled corruption at home to come to the U.S. Trump seems to think we forgot that.

As Latinos with roots in Latin America, it’s time we level with each other about the reason we actually fled our failed states.
Image: Three hands with red overlays hold up torn signs that read 'Latinos for Trump'
Censorship; forced sterilization; firing dissenters — Trump’s America looks a lot like the corrupt states many Latino voters fled.Anjali Nair / MSNBC; Getty Images

This year, like most election years, Florida is a crucial state in the national vote. President Donald Trump knows this, and for the past two years has flooded media outlets and the Facebook feeds of Latino Floridians with the horrors of socialism and communism. He seems to have persuaded some voters that a political system is the reason they fled their native countries. It is not. As Latinos with roots in Latin America, it’s time we level with each other for the primary reason we actually fled our failed states.

Trump seems to have persuaded some voters that a political system is the reason they fled their native countries. It is not.

Whether it was under the guise of Cuba’s communism, Venezuela’s socialism, Colombia’s democracy or Chile’s dictatorship, these propped-up government regimes peddled ideologies that masked the true culprit that ravages these countries even today. Because that true culprit is the widespread corruption, from the top of the highest office down to the cable guy. It was, and is, the insecurity and fear of retribution caused by voicing government dissent.

I was born in Colombia. I have first-hand, real-world experience of what a near-failed state looks like, because my family fled one. In the Colombia where I was born, if you ran a small business like my husband does today, unless you were in favor with the ruling party or greasing the palm of someone in power, your small business would be out of business. Corruption was so universal from the top in Bogotá down to state and local governments across the country that it served as an additional tax on the people, one that few could afford to pay.

Tired of a corrupt, broken system they knew would fail and afraid to speak freely about what they believed, my family left Colombia. It was the first step in my journey where I started translating and navigating the American culture for my immigrant family from a young age.

Trump’s America has all the trappings of what millions of us fled.

When I was 16, my mother and I were sitting on the cement step to our backyard with the sun streaming down. She asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I said, “I like government.” My mother stopped her gardening and stared straight into my eyes: “Remember what we left behind,” she said evenly. “Government is not for the people. It’s too dangerous for you.”

Watching Trump support unlawful strong-arm tactics in Portland this summer as people shoved protestors into unmarked vans was more reminiscent of Latin American governments fearful of transparency of injustice than the right to peacefully protest, which is protected in America. Trump’s America has all the trappings of what millions of us fled: censoring reporters, firing civil servants as a price of dissent, forking over big fat government contracts like his trumped-up wall to his cronies, exacting unimaginable torture by sterilizing migrant women seeking a shot at a better life, and deporting 545 children’s parents and leaving those children abandoned.

Once Trump realized that the majority of Covid-19 casualties were Black and brown, it appeared he ceased his daily briefings. Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, half of all Latinos have been laid off or had our hours reduced, yet just 18 percent of Latino-owned businesses received Paycheck Protection Program loans to help save many of those lost hours and jobs. Twenty percent of Latino workers, including American citizens, were shut out from relief in the CARES Act. Another report on essential workers showed that many were not being protected by basic health and safety measures and that some had died of Covid-19 as a result.

In peddling division and racism, this president telegraphs his true intentions, going so far as to create a denaturalization task force in his Department of Justice under Attorney General William Barr. As a naturalized citizen, this offends me and it should also offend the one-in-10 voters who chose the United States as their country.

All the policies Trump claims he’s advanced instead send our community back decades. Latinos lead in small business creation, and Trump touts the payroll tax to seduce us into thinking we’re getting a tax break. In reality, that same tax funds Social Security and Medicare, programs that are supplemental income later in life for many, but that are very real and critical retirement and healthcare plans for people like my mother.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, half of all Latinos have been laid off or had our hours reduced, yet just 18 percent of Latino-owned businesses received Paycheck Protection Program loans.

This election is so personal and so important to me because my family fled a failed democracy underwritten by corruption. Don’t be hoodwinked. If re-elected, Trump will continue acting in his own self-interest, including continuing to damage our institutions and exploit our resources for himself, his family, and his friends. America is the ultimate democratic example because we can speak freely, assemble safely, and our institutions aren’t ravaged by the cancer that is corruption. But for the last four years, Trump has stress-tested our press, our institutions, our law enforcement, our judicial system our very own American identity — and if elected, the next four will see much worse.

Today is the last day to vote in our country. Most voters are already decided, and an unprecedented number have already cast their ballots. But the effort to sway the Latino vote under false claims of thwarting political evils isn’t new, and we’re likely to see the pattern continue, whether with Trump or another candidate. This is still a moment to acknowledge what’s really happening in this country. As citizens, we must protect our nation against what so many millions fled, and it starts with taking a look at the disparity between what Trump has promised, and what he has wrought.