My younger sister, Ceci, texted me on October 21 to tell me the Trump campaign planned to stop at a local restaurant in our small town of Salisbury, NC. She wanted to attend, though I couldn't stand the idea of supporting a candidate whose insulted Latinos.
However, on Friday, October 24, we found ourselves at a small rally where his son, Eric Trump, stumped on his behalf. I didn't want to be mistaken as a Trump supporter, so moments before we left for the event, I grabbed a white t-shirt and wrote "Latina Contra Trump" across the front with a sharpie.
I thought "Latina Contra Trump" got my point across succinctly while still incorporating Spanish. Ironically, I thought the word 'contra' would be easily identifiable to non-Spanish speakers, since it's a common pre-fix in the English language.
When I protested the rally, I expected a less-than-warm welcome. Violence at Trump rallies has become normal during this election cycle. So, my sister and I stood nervously in the crowded restaurant, preparing for Trump's supporters to recognize my shirt's message and ask for us to leave.
But no such requests or dirty looks came our way. Instead, Trump's supporters clapped and let out enthusiastic cheers as my sister took photos of me. That's when it suddenly dawned on me that no one — save a local reporter — realized what my shirt meant.
Testing our luck, we decided to stand in line for a photo with Eric. Not one of the men in his security entourage had an issue with my shirt. Ceci and I even pleasantly discussed Christmas tree farms and android phones with a sweet older man excited to take a photo with Eric. The gentleman didn’t notice my shirt — and neither did Eric.
Eric and his wife, Lara Yunaska, were gracious. They smiled at us, thanked us for attending, and took a photo with us. We said goodbye and ran out of the rally, laughing hysterically at a stunt we'd be able to tell at family get-togethers. But the photo of Eric, Yunaska, my sister, and me, soon went viral on Twitter.
Many found Eric Trump's obliviousness as humorous as we did.
Wearing the shirt also proved an important point: Trump’s supporters are as oblivious as his son seemed to be in that moment.
The kindness we felt in the rally solidified my idea about Trump supporters. While a few of Trump's supporters are vicious, violent, and 'deplorable,' many are kind people who genuinely believe he will make America great again.
White people, many from older generations, filled the room — and expressed their privilege to ignore Trump's racist rhetoric. They get to ignore his terrifying threat to deport millions of people, his promise to discriminate against an entire religion, and his patronizing words for people of color and women.
They are able to ignore it, which speaks to a greater problem: So many people choose to turn a blind eye to the systemic racial inequalities that still exist in so many corners of America.
I do not have the privilege of ignoring Trump's frightening and disgusting words, especially when they directly target my culture. The message I've received from Trump is that Latinos are less than American. He has implied time and time again that we're uneducated and even pre-disposed to committing criminal acts.
As a Cuban-American, I grew up with many Latinos who are conservative. My grandparents became American citizens when they fled during the Cuban Revolution in the 1960s. However, Trump portrays Hispanics as a disease or infestation that must be quelled. I went to a Trump event wearing a "Latinas Contra Trump" shirt to be heard, and more importantly, to be seen.
I went specifically to remind Donald Trump that Latinos aren't second-class citizens in the United States. Many of us hold and exercise the right to vote — and we will vote against him.
Many people have used my photo as an opportunity to call out the Trump's "stupidity." However, calling any of Trump's words or actions dumb diminishes the power he would have to destroy lives if he is elected president.
Hurling insults at Trump ignores the wide-reaching audience he has captured with his economic reform proposals, populist ideals, and anti-immigrant, racially exclusive, misogynistic rhetoric. Donald Trump is not dumb. He is smart, and knows exactly how to rile up his supporters — and that is terrifying.
It is not just Trump's hateful language that I fear; it is how his message has resonated with millions of voters. His followers have hurled deportation threats at me on Twitter. They have attacked my status as an American citizen, called my second language skills anti-American, and said they take pride in not speaking or understanding 'dishwasher' Spanish language.
Trump has given hateful people the language and courage to attack immigrants and Latinx Americans. That's exactly why I wore the shirt.
I hope my message to Donald Trump is clear: I hear you. I've heard you talk callously and viciously about Latinos and people of color. I hope America has heard you. I hope all Latinos have heard you.
And I hope you hear me: I will be voting on November 8 — against you.