I'm standing at a bar in Coral Gables, a Miami neighborhood where streets bear the names of Spanish towns. Here, on Aragon Avenue, at a new American restaurant across the street from a German bar, one of the odder political events of this presidential campaign cycle is playing out in front of me.
About two dozen Latinos are gathered for a "Coming Out Trump" meeting, where they are eating flatbread pizzas, drinking Moscow Mules and pledging to support the presumptive Republican nominee. The event was organized by Latinas for Trump, which describes itself as "a volunteer coalition of Latina influencers that plan to stay true to the promises created by the Trump campaign and the needs of Hispanics and Latinas in the US during AND after the election."
On the invitation, the organizers wrote: "We are hosting this event to show the true face of Trump supporters especially the many faces of the Latinos who support him. We are RESILIENT INTELLIGENT INFLUENCERS uniting to Make America Great again!"
Denise Galvez, who works in public relations and is one of the founders of Latinas for Trump, tells me that she struggled to be open about her support for Trump. The candidate's repeated and flagrant offenses toward the Latino community—including calling undocumented Mexican immigrants "rapists," threatening to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and make Mexico pay for a wall along the border, and saying a federal judge was incapable of doing his job because of his Mexican heritage—didn't help.
"It's easier coming out gay than it is coming out GOP or as a Trump supporter as a Latina," Galvez says. "Early in the election, we would be out with a group of girls and we'd be talking politics. And all the people who liked Hillary would start talking and the rest of us would stay quiet. That's what this is about tonight. People coming out and saying it: 'I'm Latina, and I support Donald Trump.'"
Latinas for Trump are, to put it mildly, a vocal minority.
In a recent Fox News poll, only 23% of Latinos said they favored Trump, compared to 62% for presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. In 2012, President Obama beat Mitt Romney in Miami-Dade County by 24 points—and given Trump's antagonism toward Latinos, it's not likely he'll fare much better in November.
But that doesn't mean Latino Trump supporters aren't out there. Galvaz and her fellow Latinas for Trump co-founder, Ileana Garcia—both Cuban-Americans—insist that Latinos would support Trump in greater numbers, if it weren't for fear and stigma in the community.
Hours before the gathering, Galvaz and Garcia participated in a Facebook Live chat with Telemundo. The comments quickly turned sour.
"What a shame that you Latinas don't even support your own race.. after [Trump] talked bad about Latinos.. You two are fake, selling yourselves out…"
Garcia, a longtime Independent, says she considered supporting Jeb Bush in the 2016 race, and even Hillary Clinton. "Hillary has her merits," she says. But what ultimately drove her to go for Trump was his "Make America Great Again" message and his "Archie Bunker swag."
"We've been pushovers for so long that he felt he needed to raise his voice, and you know what? I'm into it," she says.
In the crowd at Wednesday night's event, every Trump supporter I talk to seems to echo that sentiment—that what won them over was Trump's blunt object honesty and his straightforward message, not necessarily his policy positions. Sure, they say, Trump consistently says controversial things that detract from substantive issues. He tweets too often, and maybe, they concede, he sometimes lies.
"Yeah…he's 70 years old," explains Garcia on that one.
What's missing in the Latino Trump community, according to Garcia and other Latinas for Trump supporters, is a place to talk openly about the candidate, without the outrage, threats of violence and people questioning their Latinidad.
"I haven't slept well for the last two months, just going crazy because I don't really have anyone to talk to about Trump," says Marcela Marin, a Colombian-born registered voter attending her first Trump event. "We face a lot of bullying from our own people, so it's going to take us time to come out and say it—but for me, this is a good first step."
Trump has a long way to go with rallying Latinos to his cause, and he may need to do exactly that in order to get to the White House. Galvaz and Garcia said that Latinas for Trump has recently been contacted by other groups as far away as Arizona and Washington asking to help coordinate efforts. The pair told me they were on the phone with party leaders discussing plans to go to the Republican National Convention next month.
In the meantime, I mention to Galvaz that earlier that day, Trump had finally hired a Deputy Press Secretary for Hispanic Media to help out with Latino outreach for the campaign.
"Yeah it's about time," says Galvaz, laughing. "His website isn't even translated into Spanish yet."
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.