WASHINGTON -- Bernie Sanders managed to mention Hillary Clinton once in his speech and some who cheered him at the League of United Latin American Citizens conference said they too are adjusting to shifting their support to her.
There were screams and cheers and a rush to the stage when Sanders walked on to speak at the LULAC luncheon.
Although he has yet to suspend his campaign, Sanders began the work of bringing it to an end with an endorsement of Clinton at a rally the two attended in New Hampshire Tuesday. Clinton was scheduled to address the LULAC conference on Thursday.
The transition from backing him to supporting Clinton is still in the works for Flora Ornelas, 18, a member of a LULAC council in Dallas.
“He gave us a sense of hope, a sense of safety. Like we had that in our heads and even though it’s not going to happen, we know there are people out there who are eventually going to be able to think as he does,” said Ornelas, who will vote for the first time this year.
She said LULAC has an office in her neighborhood that reaches out to Latino youth to help them get through high school and to college and that’s how she became involved in the organization.
Sanders was introduced by actor Edward James Olmos, who is active in working to turn out the Latino vote. In introducing him, Olmos said he has declined a number of presidential campaigns who wanted him to speak on their candidate's behalf, but accepted when Sanders asked because “no one has done more to bring out the young voters.”
Before the speech, Sanders held a closed-door meeting with members of LULAC’s Young Adults and Youth councils and answered some of their questions.
Sanders’ mention of Clinton came when he spoke of his campaign's work with her on the Democratic Party platform, which he called the “most progressive platform of the Democratic Party.”
Sanders did throw some support to Clinton without mentioning her and by attacking GOP presumptive nominee Donald Trump. Sanders said he’d everything he could to make sure Trump does not become president.
“Most of us, I would hope all of us, are appalled by the divisive, bigoted and xenophobic comments of people like Donald Trump,” he said. “ ... His labeling of Mexicans as rapists and criminals repulses all Americans of goodwill.”
Wendy Cruz, 18, Rosario Hernandez, 20 and Nancy Magaña, all members of LULAC Council 5298 in Chicago spoke of their support for Sanders as if he was still in the running, listing his issue positions that they like.
“I’m just glad that he’s partnering with Hillary Clinton so now that they’re partnering together it makes it much more comforting for us as Latinos knowing there’s someone who was already working for us partnering with hopefully, the new president Hillary Clinton,” Hernandez said.
Ornelas said she still doesn’t see a connection between Bernie and Hillary.”
“He might be endorsing her and all of this, but there’s no strong bond that we see that they will be working together to be able to accomplish his ideas,” she said.
Alejandra Lozano, also 18, said as the daughter of immigrants she was rooting for Sanders because of his push to keep Latino families from being separated by deportation.
“We have to be our own voice and if we don’t speak for the Latino youth, who will,” Lozano said.
Ornelas said she doesn’t want to feel this way, but Clinton “is the only other option” for her.
“Trump will never … he’s … I’m sorry,” she said.
She praised Clinton for standing up for women.
“Things happen and sometimes things don’t go the way we want them to be, but we have be positive and find the best options that we have,” she said.
Alice Higgins, who has supported Clinton throughout and a member of the Washington, D.C. LULAC Council 11041, said she is certain Clinton will gain many of Sanders' supporters and acknowledged that Sanders had an impact on the Latino community.
"He brought out a lot of young people, Latinos and everybody. I saw a lot of young people just sitting there taking pictures of him, of this old man. I mean, where do you see that?" Higgins said. "Young people don't want anything to do with old people or what they say. They were all taking pictures of him like they were praying to the Virgin."
The LULAC conference runs all week and includes speeches by several Cabinet member, including Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
Before Sanders spoke, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack accepted an award from the group naming it the federal agency of the year. Vilsack is considered a potential vice presidential pick for Clinton.
Vilsack told the group that he was adopted and so doesn’t know his heritage.
“When I see a group like this I say well, maybe I am Latino,” Vilsack joked.
At the event, he announced $26 million for housing for farmworkers, telling the crowd the worse poverty he had seen was when he went to live with farmworkers in McAllen, Texas.