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In the era of Trump, Latinos confront discrimination

About half of Hispanics say they've experienced prejudice based on race or ethnicity, according to a new study
Univision News Logo
11 Jul 2016 – 10:44 AM EDT

When 30-year-old Army veteran Cristina Alfonso-Zea woke up in a pool of her own blood in the early hours of June 26, she thought she'd been dreaming. But as she regained consciousness, she began to remember: The night before, she'd been mugged and attacked by a group of men in her gated community in Las Vegas, Nevada, before stumbling home to sleep for a few hours. In the morning, she walked outside to find the assailants had carved the words "wetback" and "bitch" in large letters on her car.

"I was angry at first, but it made me feel so sad,” she told Univision News. “I’m just glad I’m alive.”

Alfonso-Zea, who was born in Venezuela and came to the United States as a baby, said that she'd never experienced racism before. After serving multiple tours in Afghanistan, she never expected to deal with this kind of treatment.

By all accounts, her story follows a trend. A new Pew Research Center study found that about 52 percent of U.S. Latinos say they regularly or occasionally experience discrimination due to their race or ethnicity. That's up from 34 percent in 2010, when Pew asked Latinos if they, their family, or close friends had experienced racial discrimination in the past five years.

Now, in an election cycle in which Donald Trump-inspired, racially charged rhetoric has become the norm, some Latinos have come face-to-face with hate.

Last week, the Cancun Inn Restaurant in Sugar Loaf, New York, was the site of another discriminatory incident that made national headlines.

Owner Israel Campos, who is Mexican-American, said two patrons, a couple, had been rude to staff, and that before leaving, they made discriminatory statements, saying if Donald Trump became president they'd kick out "all you illegals" and accused the owners' parents of being undocumented. "That was very insensitive, very hateful for her to say that. How does she know about my parents?" said Campos during a tearful July 6 press conference. "We’ve been here for 45 years; we’re citizens of the United States."

The couple later alleged they were kicked out because one wore a "Make America Great Again" hat.

After the incident became national news, Trump supporters left the restaurant owners dozens of threatening and racist voicemail and social media messages.

"We’ve gotten more complaints of national-origin discrimination in last eight months than we traditionally get," Campos' attorney Michael Sussman told Univision News. Sussman has been a civil rights lawyer for nearly four decades. "That’s the sort of situation we’ve descended into because of Mr. Trump. He set a tone that denigrated an entire group. This is the kind of mentality that is becoming more prevalent… and it's going to get worse."

A June Working America survey of Latino voters in Orlando, Florida, found that around one in five experienced discriminatory incidents or language during Trump's candidacy. In one instance, a Puerto Rican woman helped translate for a customer at a gas station, to which the gas station employee responded: “If you can’t speak English, don’t speak anything at all.” He muttered that he couldn’t wait until Trump builds the wall, the woman said.

Last August, two Boston men were arrested for assaulting a homeless Hispanic man they believed to be undocumented. “Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported,” one of the assailants told police. The two men pled guilty in May, and received two- and three-year sentences, respectively. The judge called the crime " cowardly and despicable."

Pew found that Hispanics' perceptions of discrimination vary based on several factors. Young Latinos seem to be victims more often. According to Pew data, almost A two-thirds of those ages 18 to 29 reported experiencing racism, versus just over a third of those 50 or older. U.S.-born Latinos are also more likely to to say they have had unfair treatment (62 percent) than immigrants (41 percent). Black Latinos are also more likely to experience racism than white Latinos.

Joanna Cuevas Ingram, associate counsel at Latino Justice PRLDEF, a nonpartisan national civil rights and legal defense fund, said she sees a wide range of discrimination cases affecting Hispanics, from the workplace to the roadways to the voter booth. "We have seen a steady increase in discrimination cases brought by Latinos over the past decade," she said.

She also noted that this year's racially charged campaign - combined with a growing number of voter ID and citizenship verification laws - could mean trouble during the upcoming presidential election.

"The rhetoric has reached a fever pitch across the country, and we are concerned about protecting the rights of Latino voters," she said. "We’re concerned about the violence and some of the political rhetoric."

For Alfonso-Zea, it's been a rough few weeks since the attack. Recovering from severe PTSD after her time in the military, she feels like she's backsliding, and though she reported the incident to police as a hate crime, they haven't made any arrests yet. Since she's afraid to go home, she's been staying with friends, who started a GoFundMe campaign so that she can pay to break her lease and find somewhere else to live.

"I just don't understand how it could happen," she said. "Why did I deserve this?"

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