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Living as a Latino in U.S. during Trump era is surreal

SAN DIEGO – For Latinos, the one-year anniversary of Donald Trump’s election marks the day when a demagogue who treated the nation’s largest minority like a pinata was rewarded with the highest office in the land.

On the campaign trail, Trump’s slights against Latinos included: accusing Mexico of sending people who are “bringing drugs” and “bringing crime”; promising a “deportation force” modeled on President Eisenhower’s 1954 repatriation effort known as Operation Wetback; challenging a provision of the Constitution that says U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants – what Trump called “anchor babies” – are U.S. citizens; insulting Jeb Bush’s Mexican-born wife when he retweeted “#JebBush has to like the Mexican illegals because of his wife” even though Columba Bush came here legally; glibly calling Mexican immigrants “bad hombres”; and making the racist claim that Gonzalo Curiel, a U.S.-born federal judge, could not be fair in adjudicating a lawsuit against Trump University because the judge is “Mexican.”

As president, Trump has continued his assault on Latinos by: picking Jeff Sessions as his attorney general despite the fact that the former senator had an appalling record on immigration and civil rights; pardoning Joe Arpaio after the former Arizona sheriff was convicted of defying a federal court order to stop enforcing immigration law and profiling Latinos; ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that allowed undocumented youth to stay in the United States temporarily; backing a Senate bill that would cut legal immigration in half and create a skills-based entry system that would keep out people from Latin America; cracking down on affirmative action; advancing the fictional narrative that there are so-called sanctuary cities where illegal immigrants live happily ever after; and putting Puerto Rico on notice that the island would soon be on its own as it recovered from Hurricane Maria.

Living as a Latino in the Trump era is surreal. To take a page from Dickens, it’s the best of times – and the worst of times.

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The best: The fact that the nation’s 57 million Latinos now represent about 18 percent of the U.S. population, and will likely reach 25 percent by 2030, has grabbed the attention of the political parties. And the fact that all those people spend about $1.7 trillion annually on goods and services – and, according to a recent study, boast an annual “Latino GDP” of more than $2.1 trillion – has attracted notice from companies and corporations from Main Street to Madison Avenue.

The worst: All that positive attention comes with negative consequences. As more people court Latinos, a lot of white Americans are feeling left out, marginalized, displaced and forgotten. And this terrifies them to the point where they lash out and support carnival barkers like Trump who promise to return them to their former glory by cutting immigration, ending racial preferences, getting out of trade deals, and bringing closed-down factories back to life.

You would think that a demographic group that holds most of the wealth, runs Wall Street, controls Hollywood, shapes academia, drives media and dominates politics would be more secure.

But apparently white people scare easy. And many of them seem intent on creating an America that is scary for Latinos.

At Halloween, do we really need groups of teenagers dressing up like “Trump’s Wall”? Can’t we do without high school sports fans chanting “U.S.A., U.S.A.” when a mostly white school plays one that is mostly Latino?

And could we have just one show on Fox News that doesn’t paint Latino immigrants as a drain, a danger and a drag on society? Every time I watch the channel, I feel like I should fire my housekeeper because she is probably stealing the silverware.

Oh, and if your lazy and entitled millennial can’t find a summer job picking strawberries, you know who to blame.

I admit that, most days, I wake up confused. As a Latino, I’m not sure if America loves me – or hates my guts.

I don’t claim to speak for all Latinos, and yet I know I’m not alone when I say to Trump and his tribe: You’ve had your fun, much of it at our expense. Now it’s time to back off! This country has its problems. But we’re not one of them. America is bigger than you, and better than this. That’s why we love it – unconditionally.

About that, there is no confusion.

E-mail: ruben@rubennavarrette.com. Copyright, The Washington Post Writers Group. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.


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