My abuela and I agree on a lot of things. We both understand the value of raising our voice to its highest decibel in order to get what we want. We both recognize that putting on a decent outfit and some makeup, even when going to the grocery store, will help avoid awkward moments with acquaintances. We both worship the same god, Cristina Saralegui. And yet, there is a topic we avoid: politics.
Like many young Cuban-Americans in Miami, I’m a registered Democrat. Though I did vote for a Republican candidate during my first presidential election in 2004, my views began to change once I entered college at Florida International University in 2005. Since then, I’ve always put societal well-being and equality over a tax cut, but I can’t say the same about many in my community.
When it comes to politics, my family and I couldn’t be more different. Cuban exiles who fled the island in 1969, they have always voted Republican. It's as simple as that.
This year, the stakes feel higher. My family members don’t like Donald Trump, and they concede he is unqualified to be president. But their politics, which have remained steadfast for as long as I can remember, won't easily waver.
Across Miami, the situation is the same inside many Cuban-American families. My friends Ericka and Chris, registered Democrats who wouldn’t dream of voting for Trump, say some of their family members won’t even talk to them because of the tension surrounding the election. Their younger brother, a registered Republican who is breaking from the party this year and voting for Hillary Clinton, has started to avoid family events altogether.
“He knows they'll all get on his case and talk about Trump, and he doesn't want to have to defend himself,” Ericka says.
My friend Michelle Lopez thinks it’s best to avoid the situation altogether with her Republican family. “We haven’t talked about it much besides a few texts,” says Lopez. “Meals have been very civil.”
A few weeks ago at a dinner party at my
abuela's house, surrounded by family I respect and admire – including accomplished entrepreneurs and engineers – I chewed my food in silence as the topic came up. As the only guest under the age of 55, I knew exactly where the conversation was going, and I knew not to interject with my free-wheeling liberal views. As my uncle explained how the Democratic Party has become collusive, pointing yet again to the email scandals and Clinton's handling of Benghazi, I merely listened. When he said that millennials like me are simply too entitled and overly susceptible to propaganda, my eyes rolled so hard into the back of my head that it looked like I was having a seizure.
My abuela joined in, claiming she didn't like Trump but that anyone was “better than Clinton.” But when my aunt asked whether I had ever seen "House of Cards," suggesting the show is based on the Clintons, I'd had enough. Between bites of arroz con frijoles and maduros, I argued – futilely – that this time, voting Republican will have dire consequences.
I tried to calmly explain that Trump threatened our liberty, as they shot back that Clinton did far worse. I brought up Clinton’s track record as a public servant, while they chimed in about Trump’s supposed businesses successes. Voices were raised. Old family drama was brought up.
I've never shared the same politics as my family, but somehow this year feels different. I can't just sit by and watch my abuela vote for Trump.
It's beyond ironic that Trump appears to represent everything a totalitarian leader aims to be: a demagogue using incendiary language, advocating for wealth redistribution that skews up, promulgating racist ideologies, attempting to shut down freedom of the press, fear-mongering and claiming the country is broken. Hey, that sounds like someone my abuela used to know! Old-timer Cubans love to talk about how they knew exactly what Fidel Castro was about when he first emerged, that they never trusted him. Ask a Cuban who they're voting for today, and their blindness suggests otherwise.
I tried to explain this to my
abuela every time we chatted on the phone over the past few months. I reminded her what Trump has said about Mexicans and other immigrants, stressing that those views completely devalue what Cuban-Americans did for this country. I translated his Twitter missives into Spanish, explaining that his poor temperament could easily go nuclear if he were president. I talked about his lack of respect for disabled people, journalists, and women – most of all women.
As a Cuban exile, my grandmother understands better than anyone the role we have played. The example she set for us – to be strong, unwavering, to do what you have to do – made her daughters and granddaughters who they are.
Even Alicia Machado, the former Miss Universe who says Trump called her “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping,” didn’t sway her. Abuela has always loved Miss Universe; she knows exactly who Machado is. But apparently her friend, who between posting internet memes depicting flowers and bendiciones also posts sensational conservative news from questionable sources, says that Alicia Machado's boyfriend is a narco. So much for that.
Remarkably, as of a few weeks ago, Trump still had my abuela convinced that anyone was better than Clinton.
But then, miraculously, the universe threw me a bone.
A Newsweek article published late last month detailed how a Trump consultant had visited Cuba in the 1990s, during one of the bleakest periods in modern Cuban history, in order to research potential business opportunities. I think there's a big difference between calling Obama a communist and actually flirting with the idea of doing business with one, and I said as much to abuela.
“Send me the article,” she finally demanded, a departure from her policy not to pay too much attention to anything negative about her Republican candidate.
I was getting close. The day after the Newsweek story, I called her again. I begged, whined and pleaded that she consider my future children when casting her vote. While she seemed to take this all into account, I doubted she would actually heed my advice. But when I spoke to my grandfather the next day, he said: “
Oye, you managed to wear your grandmother down.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“She says she’s not going to vote for Trump, she’s voting for Clinton,” he answered.
True to form, my prideful grandmother made the right decision – even though she would never volunteer that information to me. Shocked but grateful, I told my grandmother we would go to the polls together to make sure she sticks with her decision.
So what's the moral of this story? If Trump’s demagogic habits aren't enough to convince Cuban family members to change their vote this year, try pointing out that his business strategies may include profit-sharing with the Castros.
Forget gender and race discrimination; skip right to the Communism. It may not win over everyone, but maybe you'll convince an
abuela or two.