CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Donald Trump will come to the 2016 Republican National Convention to find a shrunken Latino presence, but it will not be absent.
Even though Trump started his campaign bashing Mexicans, promising to build a wall on the border, saying those here illegally “have to go” and calling a U.S.-born federal judge Mexican while questioning the judge’s competence, there are Latinos who say Trump is this election’s better candidate and that they will cast their vote for him to be the party nominee.
Not all have been Trump supporters throughout. Some are part of a thus far unsuccessful movement to allow delegates to vote for the candidate they choose, an attempt to keep Trump from being the nominee. Others have switched to Trump after their first choice bowed out. Some just want to beat Hillary Clinton.
The convention begins Monday, after a week in which Trump named Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate and scored a victory in preventing a rules change in the Republican platform committee that threatened his nomination.
In marked contrast to 2012, when rising Hispanic Republican stars like New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio rallied the convention delegates and put a more diverse face on the party, what is remarkable about 2016 is the few Latinos who will be there. The initial roster of speakers for this convention only included Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
A group of Latino conservatives who have been harsh and vocal critics of Trump said Monday that they are backing the presumptive GOP nominee to get a Republican administration in the White House after recent terror events and shootings. But many Hispanic elected officials and other prominent Latinos who served in previous administrations are not attending.
The convention also comes after the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal Marist poll shows the presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton ahead of Trump in four of the most diverse presidential battleground states, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia.
Nonetheless, there are several Latinos excited to be at the convention and among them those who are enthusiastically supporting Trump. They recognize the diminished Latino presence but are optimistic about their party's chances for the White House and Congress.
Here are summaries of conversations from three of the delegates who talked to NBC News before arriving in Cleveland:
JESSICA FERNANDEZ, Florida delegate
Believed to be the youngest delegate from the state of Florida, 31-year-old Jessica Fernandez comes to the convention with a sense of duty.
A Miami-Dade County resident, she is from the one county of Florida’s 67 counties that Trump did not win. She had been a Marco Rubio supporter in the primary, but because she represents the state, she feels obligated to the other 66 Florida counties' preference.
“I feel as a Republican delegate I have a duty to fulfill and I want to do the correct thing and that means supporting Trump,” Fernandez said. “I want to do the correct thing. I don’t want to add to chaos.”
The Miami-born daughter of Cuban exiles, Fernandez’s parents arrived to the U.S. at a young age in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Fernandez said her mother told her stories of life under the Castro regime and the attempt to brainwash her as a little girl into loyalty to the communist government.
“They would tell her to put her head down and pray for candy and they would open their eyes and there would be candy. Then they would say pray to the father Fidel (Castro) and pray for candy and there would be candy or a penny,” she said. He mother and her mother’s family arrived on one of the last Freedom Flights from Cuba.
One of her grandfathers was forced to leave the country after being told that because of his political work, if he did not, he would face a firing squad, she said.
The political activism has remained with Fernandez, who leads the Miami Young Republicans as its president and is the executive director of the Florida Federation of Young Republicans.
She worked on the Mitt Romney campaign and has worked to helped recruit Hispanics to the GOP and build Hispanic leaders in the party.
She said she expects she’ll be one of the few Hispanics at the convention, but was looking forward to it nonetheless, despite the opposition among the ranks of delegates to keep Trump from getting the nomination.
“I respect that there are people who say don’t want to vote for Trump,” she said. “He got the nomination by the process. There will be delegates like myself who are bound to play their part to deliver the vote of their district,” she said.
“The alternative is not pleasant. We have someone running on the other side who has been testifying in front of Congress, the FBI, who’s been a liar," said Fernandez. "Those problems supersede a comment that would have insulted people."
“When we have someone on the other side who has behaved very questionably,” she said, “I’m all Trump.”
GUSTAVO PORTELA, Michigan delegate
While in high school, Gustavo “Gus” Portela would go to his local county party’s meetings in Grand Rapids, Mich. He liked George W. Bush and helped in his 2004 re-election campaign by going door-to-door to drum up votes.
He went on to join the College Republicans in Grand Valley State University and today is in Washington, D.C. serving as the executive director of the College Republican National Committee.
Despite the years of history in party politics, Portela, 27, says what he likes about Trump is that he is an outsider.
Trump’s success in the primaries is a continuation of elections of outsiders to Congress in previous elections, Portela said.
“I just think that he [Trump] brings a fresh perspective to the process I don’t think we’ve ever had. I don’t think we’ve had a Republican nominee who is an outsider,” he said.
Originally from Puerto Rico, Portela and his family moved to the mainland when he was 11 because his parents “essentially were looking for a better life” and to get better educations for their children. Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory and those born on the island are American citizens.
In Michigan, his father worked in the Sara Lee factory and his mother, who had been a receptionist in a hair salon in Puerto Rico, was a stay-at-home mom while he was growing up.
Portela said Trump has said “controversial things” but said his statements have been taken out of context by the media, such as Trump’s pledges to build a wall, which he said became declarations that Trump wants to deport everyone.
At an Iowa rally in November 2015, Trump said: “I’m tougher on illegal immigration than anybody. That’s what I’m saying we have to take people that are here illegally and we have to move them out and you know what, it’s going to be done, it’s going to be done.”
Trump has also said families would have to go but some could return through the legal process. Although he was thought to have backed off from some of that, Trump has not been clear about whether mass deportation was still a policy.
Portela said he sees Trump as wanting to establish law and order in the U.S. “He has said he wants people to come here legally,” Portela said.
As far as Trump’s comments on the wall, Portela said the policy is not unlike the policies of other politicians who have called for border security.
ADRYANA BOYNE, Texas delegate
Texas delegate Adryana Boyne agrees with Trump that immigration is a serious problem that has to be addressed head on. And she does not believe that he is a racist or a nativist. However his lack of consideration for the tone of his immigration comments is what gets under her skin.
Boyne, a prominent political voice in the Texas GOP and the Hispanic Republicans of Texas, has had to struggle with Trump’s comments. She likes his business sense but has been troubled by his Latino related rhetoric.
What most bothered (and still bothers) Boyne is the generalization Trump made out of the gate that Mexico was sending people that “have lots of problems…They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
For Boyne “the focus on the minority of criminal elements overshadows the tremendous contributions that Mexicans have made.”
The Texas delegate’s struggle with fully embracing Trump is personal. She was born and raised in the Mexican state of Puebla and became a naturalized American citizen in 1994.
“I am a first-generation immigrant and I take Mr. Trump’s comments to heart - he does not differentiate,” she said.
Boyne said that if she were further removed from the immigration experience she would likely not be as affected by Trump’s comments. But for her, the anti-Mexican rhetoric rings too close to home.
Donald Trump is not Boyne’s first choice. She is a Ted Cruz delegate because of his performance in the Texas primaries.
An attempt to stop Trump from securing the nomination by changing rules and allowing delegates to “vote their conscience” failed, so efforts to build more support for Cruz or any other candidate aren’t likely.
But Boyne’s distaste for Hillary Clinton is so strong that it has moved her toward supporting Trump.
In Cleveland, Boyne will be looking to see a change in tone from Trump, but ultimately, she is committed to helping her party stop Clinton from reaching the White House.