Daniel Zamora says that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign reminds him of the movie Saw, and no, not because he thinks it’s frightening. It’s because in the first Saw, the film starts with the main character shackled to a pipe in a bathtub that’s steadily draining. As he struggles underwater, a mysterious object falls down the drain. The character spends the whole film trying to figure out how to escape his chains, only to find out in the last scene that (spoiler alert) the mysterious object was a key that could have set him free.
“The entire movie, he’s looking for something he let go in the first scene,” says Zamora, a 23-year-old student living in Las Vegas. Trump, he says, did the same with the Latino vote. “He messed that up in the very first speech.”
That first speech, you’ll recall, is when Trump said that Mexico was sending rapists and drug dealers over the border to the United States, and pledged to “build a great wall” to keep them out. After that, Zamora says, no amount of Trump Tower taco bowls were going to help the Republican nominee win back any kind of meaningful support from Latino voters.
And Zamora, whose family moved to the US from Nicaragua before he was born, has a pretty good sense of what those voters are thinking. For the last three months, he’s been working as a canvasser for an organization called Mi Familia Vota, which is trying to get low-propensity Latino voters to turn out to the polls in November here in Vegas and in other swing states like Arizona and Colorado.
Each day, Zamora walks his way through this city, crisscrossing from one low-slung, single-story home to the next, his white sneakers kicking up dust as he stomps across the rock and sand front yards, tablet computer and door hangers in hand. He estimates he hits between 70 or 80 houses a day, and based on his experience, he says there’s no question Trump’s rhetoric has mobilized Latino voters here.
“She’s far from a perfect candidate,” Zamora says of Hillary Clinton. “But when you talk about ‘it’s either her or Trump,’ it’s really easy.”
In recent months, Mi Familia staffers have knocked on some 50,000 doors, registered 16,000 people to vote, and plan to make 70,000 phone calls before Election Day. But as early voting gets underway this weekend in the crucial swing state of Nevada, it’s not the only group making a concerted effort to turn out the Latino vote. A quarter of the state’s population is Latino.
Before the debate in Vegas this week, the city’s Culinary Union, which represents 57,000 workers in this city alone (more than 56-percent of whom are Latino), organized a “Wall of Taco Trucks” around Trump International hotel. It was a cheeky nod to one Trump surrogate’s now viral comments about how if Latino culture isn’t contained, “you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.” Union groups from across the country, as well as other left-leaning allies like NextGen Climate, gathered in support of the effort, hoisting signs that read Dump Trump and joining in chants of “Trump is a Chump.”
But it’s not just noise. Over the last few months, about 100 Culinary Union members have even taken a leave of absence from their jobs to canvass for Clinton full time. The union holds registration drives everyday in casino employee dining rooms. Meanwhile, both the union and Mi Familia Vota have led a push to encourage people to become citizens before election day. The Culinary Union alone has helped 2,200 of its members apply for citizenship this year, though it’s unclear how many of those will go on to actually get it. The Painters Union set a goal of 2,500, and Mi Familia Vota has been holding citizenship workshops of its own. This work has helped drive a 52 percent surge in citizenship applications in Nevada this year.
Maria Perea, 58, is one of the Culinary Union’s newly minted citizens. She came to the United States from Mexico in 1984 and has been working as a housekeeper at a clothing store in Vegas, but it wasn’t until Trump came along, she says, that she felt compelled to get her citizenship in order to vote. “People want to be able to have a better life than I had, and Donald Trump’s plan, putting a wall around people, goes against that,” she said, through a translator. Perea’s citizenship came through just in time—on October 14. She says she’s already registered to vote.
“The union has promised to deliver Nevada for Hillary Clinton, and we will,” says Bethany Khan, director of communications and digital strategy for the union. Indeed, Clinton is currently up significantly in most Nevada polls.
For Clinton, this type of activism is critical, because, so many of the potential voters these groups are targeting are the ones who wouldn’t otherwise be on the many email lists or in voter files that campaigns use to drive their door-knocking and get out the vote strategies. “These are people who don’t vote on a regular basis,” says Ben Monterroso, executive director of Mi Familia Vota. “The campaigns don’t pay attention to them.”
But they’re an increasingly critical part of the electorate. Which is why Monterroso says all of this work isn’t just about November 8. Yes, Clinton is the candidate that supports Mi Familia’s issues, but his hope is that this election—which has focused so heavily on immigration—will help build a strong coalition of Latino voters for many elections to come. “This election obviously is a show of what the community can do,” he says. “Elected officials will get elected by our vote.”
Future politicians, in other words, would be wise not to lose the key in the first scene.
Marisol Myers contributed reporting.