Editor’s Note: Today’s story is a first-hand account of the visits of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump to New Mexico in the run-up to the June 7 primary. It was written by FNS contributor Nicolás Cabrera. Nicolás graduated from New Mexico State University in 2015 with a master’s degree in Spanish.
Trump and Sanders Put New Mexico in the Political Spotlight
New Mexico stole the political spotlight during the last week of May as the 2016 presidential campaigns made stops in the state. Both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump held rallies in downtown Albuquerque at the convention center. Hillary Clinton has yet to campaign in the state. Her husband, however, former President Bill Clinton, has made campaign stops in Española, Albuquerque, and Las Cruces in recent weeks.
Sanders arrived on May 20 when thousands of his supporters saw him make his first campaign stops in New Mexico. Earlier in the day he spoke in Santa Fe to his supporters from northern New Mexico. In Albuquerque, with the U.S. and New Mexican flags draped behind him, Sanders spoke directly to New Mexico’s diverse communities, including women, Hispanics, African Americans, and Native Americans.
“Women are sick and tired of working for 79 cents on the dollar compared to men. They want the whole damn dollar!” exclaimed Sanders to an enthusiastic crowd.
“This campaign is listening to the Latino community,” said Sanders as the crowd erupted into cheers and applause. “If Congress does not do its job and pass immigration reform, I will use the executive powers in the White House to do it. Our immigration policy must be to bring families together, not divide them.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Hispanic population in New Mexico stood at 47.7 percent in 2014 while the percentage of foreign-born persons in the state was 9.9 percent.
Speaking directly to different segments of the population, Sanders resonated with Javier Gold, an undergraduate at the University of New Mexico.
“I feel that Bernie genuinely cares about the well being of minorities,” Gold said.
“He addressed the United States’ record of breaking treaties with the Native Americans as well as offering solutions to these problems. He is honestly working with these people instead of tweeting about taco bowls and how much he loves Hispanics. I like that he acknowledges mistakes then offers solutions to move forward.”
Sanders, who spoke for about an hour, continued by saying, “This campaign is listening to a people whose pain is rarely heard, and that is the Native American community. All of you know if you have read five minutes of American history from before the time this country was a country, when the settlers came here, the Native American people were lied to, cheated to, and treaties they negotiated were broken.”
The crowd booed as Sanders acknowledged the challenges Native Americans face each day. They make up 10.4 percent of the New Mexican population according to the U.S. Census Bureau 2014 estimates.
“All of you know that we owe a debt of gratitude to the Native American people that we can never repay. They have had a major impact on the best parts of our culture and they have taught us a profound lesson that we cannot afford to ignore. And that lesson is, coming from the Native American people, that as human beings we are a part of nature. We must live with nature, not destroy nature,” Sanders said to a crowd that began to applaud.
Sanders also addressed the African American community, both in New Mexico and across the country.
He said, “What the African American community is asking me is, ‘How come we have trillions of dollars to invest in a war in Iraq but somehow we can’t build America’s inner cities?’ Well, together we are going to change our national priorities.”
These remarks resonated with supporters such as Timoteo de la Serna, a grassroots organizer and activist from northern New Mexico. He liked how Sanders addressed New Mexico’s diverse communities.
“The Sanders campaign appeals to me because it is bringing diverse groups of people together who all want a better life and a fair chance at economic stability for everyone, not just a select few,” said de la Serna.
Gold agreed. He said, “The mood was amazing. I have never seen so many young people in one place at once. It was a nice thing to know that everyone was there to support the same cause together.”
After his campaign rally in Albuquerque, the Democratic candidate traveled to Vado, a town in southern New Mexico of about 3,000 people. Vado is a federally designated colonia, or underdeveloped community, which lacks basic infrastructure. There, on May 21, he addressed as many as 5,000 supporters in the tri-state region not far from where Chihuahua, New Mexico, and Texas meet on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Albuquerque also saw a May 24 visit from the Donald Trump presidential campaign. The Republican made his first campaign appearance in New Mexico when he held a rally in the same convention center room that Sanders did.
As crowds queued to enter the rally, they encountered protesters opposing Trump. “Hate is not a family value and he generates hate. He’s racist,” said Mimi, an 81-year-old Sanders supporter and Trump protester in Civic Plaza.
Closer to the convention center entrance was Jairo Márquez. He was holding a sign that read “Hug a Mexican.”
“I just want a hug. I don’t care who you vote for. I want to prove that not everybody who is a Mexican is a criminal, which is a generalization that Trump made and I want to correct it,” said Márquez.
Trump began his address to a crowd of enthusiastic supporters by stating “We’re going to win this state. We’re going to win New Mexico so big, people don’t understand what’s happening. All over the country this is happening. Look at this crowd, this is a lot of people.”
In his rally speech, Trump reiterated his major campaign themes, including building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, drugs, jobs, and trade. But before he had even finished the first five minutes of his speech, a protester with a “I Love New Mexico” t-shirt was removed the convention center. Later he said, “How old is this kid? He’s still wearing diapers” to a child protester. The crowed reacted affirmatively to him throughout the evening with thunderous applause, cheers, and chants of “U-S-A!”
During his speech, Trump talked about making the United States great again by including everybody, even those who do not support him.
“We have a chance to be something so special as a country. We want to take care of those protesters that got ripped out of here,” Trump said. “We want to take care of everybody. We want to be inclusive. We want to include everybody.”
Those who received praise from Trump included some veterans, active duty military members, the National Rifle Association, and law enforcement. Those who received criticism from Trump included the media, veterans protesting against him, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Susana Martínez, the governor of New Mexico.
“We’ve got to get your governor to do a better job. We got to get her moving,” Trump said to a mixed reaction from the crowd.
The New Mexican governor, who declined to meet Trump and attend his rally, has also declined to endorse him–so far. Martínez is currently the only female Republican governor of Hispanic heritage and was first elected in 2010. Other Republican elected officials declined to meet with Trump, including Lt. Governor John Sánchez, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, and U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce.
Trump also made remarks about Sen. Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts. He called her “Pocahontas,” questioning her Native American ancestry and her performance in the Senate and as a campaign surrogate.
“She is probably the senator that’s doing just about the least in the United States Senate. She’s a total failure. She said she was an Indian because her cheekbones were high… that she was Native American and we have those surrogates, like her, total failures,” Trump said.
Captain Eric Sergeant is a veteran who spent seven years in the infantry and attended the Trump rally. He is an undecided voter who was not impressed with what Trump has said about veterans.
“I think Trump, when it comes to veterans and what he said about John McCain being captured in Vietnam is an absolute disgrace,” he said. “I think it’s an absolute disgrace too that he says we can’t defeat ISIS.”
Regarding trade and Mexico, Trump said, “We love Mexico. Here’s the problem. The Mexican leaders are smarter, more cunning, and sharper than our people that are not smart, not sharp, and not cunning. And we are being ripped off at the border, and you people [New Mexicans] know it better than anybody.”
Trump also touched on immigration. The Republican candidate said, “By the way, people, we want them to come into our country, but we want them to come into our country legally. We’re going to build the wall, don’t worry.”
Before his speech, Trump met backstage with supporters from New Mexico and Texas and they discussed his proposed wall. According to Trump, they told him they want it built. “And don’t forget to talk about the wall. We all want that. We all need that. We want that,” Trump said.
A border wall, or big fence if you will, currently runs along portions of New Mexico’s border with Mexico, including in Sunland Park.
Outside the convention center there were protests against Trump that began several hours before the Republican spoke. But after the rally ended vandals replaced the peaceful protesters that walked through the streets of downtown during the evening.
Three Trump supporters and rally attendees, who declined to give their full names, were standing caddy-corner from Civic Plaza as protests turned unruly. They said they supported Trump for a variety of reasons and condemned the violence on Albuquerque streets.
Allen said he went to the rally because, “I like everything he [Trump] has to say.”
Diane is a Trump supporter because he’s going to make America first by “Bringing jobs back from China, from Mexico, and bringing jobs back from other countries, making NAFTA pay their fair share, building up the military.”
She also said, “And he’s going to build a wall to protect us, to keep out people who are trying to do us harm, such as people from Syria and the Middle East.”
Juanita was disappointed at the civil unrest that was taking place before her eyes. “ I think it’s a sad time in America that this type of thing has happened. That they are trying to keep us from expressing what we want. We don’t bother them, but they bother us.”
As the Albuquerque Police Department deployed officers on foot and horseback, Bernalillo County Sheriffs and New Mexico State Police officers joined them. Protesters in full-size trucks and other vehicles stopped traffic on 3rd Street from Tijeras Avenue to Copper Avenue. Drivers revved their vehicles, causing a great deal of noise and smoke from burning tires. They waved signs that said “F*** Trump” in English and Spanish, as well as Mexican flags.
“If the demonstrators with the flags are so happy with ‘Viva Mexico,’ why are they here? Why aren’t they in Mexico? This is America,” said Gwen Poe, a Trump supporter.
“This is the United States. And if you’re here as an American, and you’re not here, and someone pays you to come to the rally and carry flags, cause trouble, who’s paying for that? You and me as taxpayers,” she said.
Poe said she was unable to make the rally because she was working at an early voting site. However, she decided to come downtown after the rally ended to see first-hand what was happening.
John Martínez was a protester who distanced himself from aggressive individuals as the situation escalated. He said he disagreed with Trump on immigration.
“I’m here basically to protest Donald Trump and his policies, especially on illegal immigration. His rhetoric against Hispanics is totally wrong. He’s talked about deporting Hispanics, he’s also talking about labeling Muslims, and his rhetoric is totally wrong,” said Martínez who refused to join in the violence and wanted to keep things peaceful.
The police barricaded the public on 3rd Street and kept moving them towards Central Avenue. Eventually crowds were dispersed but not before damage to a convention center door, injuries to the horses, and reports of gas being used by the police.
On Thursday, June 2, Albuquerque police and city officials announced that two men and a fourteen-year-old boy had been arrested in connection with the May 24 violence; local media outlets reported that law enforcement was searching for more suspects.
“What scares me about Trump is exactly what is happening here,” Sergeant said as downtown Albuquerque descended into chaos. “Trump is all about building walls, creating divides, and this is exactly what you get.”
Sergeant said that although he was undecided, he could not in good faith vote for Trump as a veteran and was considering Clinton.
By midnight the police had scattered the clashing crowds, as Albuquerque made political and civil unrest headlines around the world the next morning.
Rallies and violent protests have set the stage as an unprecedented election year leaves its mark on New Mexico. Voters who did not cast their ballots early will have a final opportunity to hit the primary polls on June 7 when voting sites across the state are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico