‘We came here because this is the land of freedom’: Kimberly Mendoza

By Sarah Pledge Dickson

Nov. 3, 2020

FLORIDA

Kimberly Mendoza with friend Meredith Woociker at Friday’s Trump Rally in Tampa, Florida.

Kimberly Mendoza with friend Meredith Woociker at Trump Rally in Tampa, Fla. on Oct. 29. Photo provided by Kimberly Mendoza

Kimberly Mendoza voted for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election because the campaign was, in her view, “all for equality and LGBTQ rights and lowering taxes.” 

Four years later, Mendoza no longer sees her values reflected in the party and views her vote for Clinton as a mistake. This time, she’s voting to give President Donald Trump a second term.  

“Trump might not be the best speaker in general,” she says, but “I judge people’s character and value by their action more than their words.”  

Mendoza, 25, is a Latina living in Tampa, Fla., where she works for the Trump campaign as a canvasser and event organizer. Born in Puerto Rico, she moved to the U.S. with her family when she was 9. She is half Puerto Rican and half Peruvian.   

In the battleground state of Florida, the president and his 2020 Democratic challenger Joe Biden have been courting Latino voters, who make up 17 per cent of the state’s voting population, according to the Pew Research Centre – the largest Latino electorate among all states. That makes Latina voters like Mendoza a key demographic in a key state. Polls showed Trump slightly ahead in the days leading up to the election. 

Mendoza says her taxes have decreased under Trump and she was pleased to see the president appoint an openly gay cabinet member. But the two main issues that pushed her to the right of the political spectrum were the Republican Party’s stance on human trafficking and a deep fear of communism and socialism in America. 

For Latin American voters, fear of communism can be “grounded in that trauma of lived experiences in their home countries,” says Carlos A. Suarez Carrasquillo, a professor at the Latin American Department of the University of Florida and an expert in Puerto Rican studies and urban politics.  

Listening to radio and television advertisements in Spanish, he has noted that what’s interesting is their effort in portraying Biden as a communist,” and wonders whether this might be an attempt by the Trump campaign to speak directly to Latin American voters. 

At a rally in Tampa on Friday, Trump repeated a common attack on his challenger. “Biden and Obama made a pathetic one-sided deal with the Castro dictatorship,” Trump said. My opponent stands with socialists and communists.”  

This worries Mendoza. “I saw an ad that said, ‘Democratic Socialists for Biden.’ That worries me, that’s what my family escaped from. They aren’t even hiding it anymore.” 

We came here because this is the land of freedom, the land of opportunity. Why would we want to bring [communist] values into here?”  

Florida is ranked third in the United States for human trafficking. After learning about a friend being trafficked in California, Mendoza became concerned about the issue in her own state. When she reached out to local political representatives to express her concerns, the Republican party answered, the Democratic party didn’t, she says. 

Mendoza worries that opening borders further could contribute to trafficking in the U.S. “The Republican Party is saying ‘let us ask you what your purpose is,’ because if you’re here for the wrong reasons, then why are we letting you in?” she says. “Why is that fair to the rest of the people here, why are we putting our citizens in danger?”  

Trisha Medina, a Puerto Rican woman living in Hollywood, Florida, takes a different view on the president and his challenger. “Biden believes in equality and justice for all of us, unlike Trump,” she says. In Trump’s eyes, I am a second-class citizen because I am Hispanic and a woman.”  

“I did not let anyone’s nay saying keep me from doing my best to vote Trump out, Medina adds. 

On election night, Mendoza will be with campaign volunteers from surrounding counties in Tampa, watching results come in.  

Regardless of her political opinion, she says, “There shouldn’t be any reason for riots, there shouldn’t be any reason for death threats. No matter what candidate ends up winning today, I know we’ll keep fighting as a unit, we’ll keep fighting as a community, we’ll keep fighting as a nation.”