Their numbers fell way short of assuring victory for Hillary Clinton across the country –60 percent for her and a significant 29 percent for Donald Trump. But in Massachusetts and New Hampshire ten of thousands of Latinos voted in this year’s elections, many of them sensing an urgency that bore little comparisons to previous US Presidential campaigns. Talk of a wall and the language used by Donald Trump to describe Mexicans drove many to the polls.
The Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) – the largest organization in New England promoting the rights and integration of immigrants — recruited hundreds of volunteers to canvass, make phone calls and drive people to the polls across the state and in New Hampshire.
A Salvadoran woman named Maria was among thousands who responded. She voted just before the polls closed on Tuesday night. And later at an East Boston restaurant she spoke of her worst nightmare as she watched the Electoral College turn increasingly red.
“Knowing that there’s a possibility that Trump could win and it makes me nervous for a number of reasons: Just the division that he’s caused. The racism. The name-calling. Just a number of things, you name it.”
For months, Joel Rivera from Pasadena, Texas, walked East Boston streets so often this election season that he’s come to know the neighborhood better than most.
“I been up and down Meridian Street and almost every name is a Latino name: Silva and Sosas and Sanchez.”
Neon signs flashing Tex-Mex and Colombian food greeted us as we walked along Meridian and took a right on Princeton. Rivera, a recent graduate of Boston College, is the son of two immigrants from Mexico. He was a political science major who has always been animated by campaigns.
“I very much enjoy political work and electoral work,” he said. But especially this year.
“If Donald Trump wasn’t running I think would still be involved with politics, But the sort of political discourse that has unraveled and sort of hateful rhetoric I couldn't sit idly by. I definitely have seen and felt the adverse but also called-to-action effects of a Donald Trump presidency.”
For more than 12 months, MIRA—which is officially non-partisan—ran a major drive to get out the immigrant vote. And immigrants, especially those who were eligible to vote for the first time, were clear about what was driving them to the polls and to volunteer, said Rivera.
“We've had an upturn in people wanting to get involved. We've had a number of people who have never felt called to canvas and to phone bank on behalf of candidates or even in a nonpartisan way during elections before who showed up at our phone banks, and showed up at our door knocking events.“
At one apartment complex Rivera knocked and rang.
“The thing with door knocking is that not a lot of people are home or not a lot of people answer the door, but there's no need to be discouraged.”
What Rivera says he also saw this year going door to door is the growing voting power of Latino communities.
There’s been a surge in the Hispanic vote and turn out early voting and absentee ballot as well. So it's really good because when Latinos vote people pay attention and I think it’s really the sleeping” giant that’s slowly awakening”
And it’s not just Latinos to whom he reached out.
“Latinos constitute about 30% of the immigrants and are registered voters," said Rivera. "There are also a good number of Asians and Arabic-speaking immigrant communities. East Boston is one of them.”
At MIRA headquarters downtown on election-eve, a small group of volunteers worked the phones in English, Spanish and Portuguese in a last minute thrust to reach immigrant voters in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
Liza Ryan is the operations manager for MIRA.
“These are people who have been canvassed so their doors have been knocked on already in New Hampshire and they’re and they’re likely voters. And we’re just making sure they have all the information they need to get to the polls.”
Joel Rivera was on one of the lines. He telephoned a potential voter in the Granite State –a tiny but pivotal spot on the Electoral College map for both Trump and Clinton –and he reached one of the voters who would help decide their fate.
Rivera hung up and his eyes immediately returned to the computer screen. No time to waste he said, in trying to get people to the polls in the most important election in his 22- year old lifetime.
Now with the election decided, immigrant rights proponents fear that the mass deportations, so often cheered on by Trump supporters, could become a reality. And so MIRA officials says they will waste no time in beginning to organize for rights many believe could now be taken away.