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Taco Trucks to Bad Hombres: 7 Times Latinos Figured In Trump's Campaign

"Taco trucks" and "bad hombres": Along the way – for better or worse – Latinos figured memorably in Donald Trump's road to the White House.
Photo of taco trucks parked in Las Vegas, drawing in potential eligible voters to register people to vote.
Photo of taco trucks parked in Las Vegas, drawing in potential eligible voters to register people to vote.Pili Tobar

Remember “taco trucks on every corner” and “bad hombres?” Of course you do.

When Donald Trump announced his run for the Republican nomination 15 months ago, few veteran political observers took him seriously, or expected him to knock off 16 GOP challengers.

Yet he managed to do exactly that, and then he beat Hillary Clinton in the general election to become the next president of the United States.

Along the way – for better or worse – Latinos figured memorably into the course of his campaign.

Here’s a look at seven times Latinos played a role during Trump’s road to the White House.

1. “They’re bringing drugs… they’re rapists.” (June 16, 2015)

After sailing down the Trump Tower escalator before a crowd that reportedly included paid spectators, Trump kicked off his campaign by deviating substantially from his prepared remarks. "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best… they're sending people that have lots of problems and they're bringing those problems," he said. "They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime. They're rapists and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards and they're telling us what we're getting."

In the ensuing public backlash, Macy’s dropped his clothing line and NBC and Univision refused to air the Miss Universe pageant. Yet Trump stood by his remarks. His defiance in the face of criticism and his anti-immigrant posture would later become two of the hallmarks of his campaign.

Maria Elena Cepeda, professor of Latino/a Studies at Williams College, told NBC News that Trump had “really altered the norms of public discourse in the discussion around Latinos.”

RELATED: Donald Trump Announces Presidential Bid By Trashing Mexico, Mexicans

Cepeda was not surprised by Trump’s appeal. “He is a perfect-storm moment right here. We are living in a moment when we are all feeling the effects of globalization, and that has meant shifting demographics and renewed focus on what it means to be American,” she said. “The stereotypes that Trump build his campaign on are longstanding archetypes, which is one reason they worked so well with his base.”

Cepeda believes that, absent changes in our political and media coverage, there will likely be further polarization around Latinos in the future. “Trump really opened a Pandora’s box,” she said.

2. Jorge Ramos ejected from Trump press conference (August 25, 2015)

Univision anchor Jorge Ramos knew that, if he waited to be called on at a Trump press conference, his turn might never come. So as soon as Trump began taking questions from reporters at a press conference in Dubuque, Iowa, one of Latin America’s most recognizable journalists stood and posed his question. He wanted to know what Trump’s plan was to deal with the 11 million undocumented people in the U.S.

“Excuse me, sit down. You weren’t called,” Mr. Trump responded. “Sit down. Sit down.” When Ramos persisted with his questions, Trump’s security escorted the news anchor from the room. “Go back to Univision,” Trump snapped.

Some observers questioned whether Ramos had crossed over into advocacy. But many Latinos and members of Hispanic media were incensed; the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) condemned Trump’s removing Ramos from his news conference.

Although Ramos was later allowed back into the room, this clash illustrated how Trump dealt with journalists in general and Latino journalists in particular. Trump had already cut off NBC/Telemundo’s José Díaz-Balart during another press conference, and would later call ABC’s Tom Llamas a “sleaze” on national television.

RELATED: Donald Trump Says Anchor Jorge Ramos Was 'Totally, Absolutely Out of Line'

Brandon Benavides, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), said that he and many of his colleagues were troubled by this incident.

“It is our job to ask questions, and as journalists we need to have access to the candidates,” he said. “We are asking questions and reporting for the communities we serve across the country.” Benavides noted that Trump has at times temporarily banned major media outlets, such as The Washington Post, from campaign events.

If nothing else, Trump helped make Ramos more widely known outside of Spanish-language media. The New Yorker dubbed him “the man who wouldn’t sit down,” and he earned himself a flattering profile in The New York Times Magazine.

3. Trump attacks a Mexican-American federal judge (May 27, 2016)

Until last summer, most Americans had never heard of Judge Gonzalo Curiel, a federal judge in the Southern District of San Diego. Born in Indiana, Curiel was a former federal prosecutor who had once helped send members of a Mexican drug cartel to prison. His judicial reputation was impeccable.

Enter Trump. Because Curiel was the judge assigned to preside over the lawsuits involving “Trump University,” he found himself in the GOP nominee's crosshairs. Among other statements, Trump told the Wall Street Journal that Curiel had “an absolute conflict” because he was “Mexican” and Trump planned to build a wall.

Trump repeated similar comments on the campaign trail, despite what Reuters termed the “Hispanic judge uproar.” Future Trump running mate Mike Pence called Trump’s remarks inappropriate, and House Speaker Paul Ryan ripped them as a “textbook definition of a racist comment.” Yet in the face of bipartisan outrage, Trump did not back down from his assertions.

RELATED: Latinos Blast Trump for His 'Mexican' Judge Comments

Pedro J. Torres-Díaz, president of the Hispanic National Bar Association, said that in 20 years of practice, he had never seen a candidate for public office questioning a judge’s impartiality based on race.

"We saw that as an attack not just on Mr. Curiel, but on the judiciary itself – and not just those of Mexican descent.” Torres-Diaz explained that the HNBA saw Trump’s comments as an attempt to undermine confidence and integrity of the federal judicial system.

“We called on Mr. Trump to apologize but as usual he has not done so,” Torres-Diaz told NBC News, pointing out that Curiel is an American citizen. “There was a time where people were deemed unable to do certain things because of ethnicity or race. Now we look back and call that racism. We cannot go back to that way of thinking.”

4. “Taco trucks on every corner” (September 1, 2016)

One of the most viral moments of the 2016 race occurred when MSNBC host Joy Reid asked Latinos for Trump founder Marco Gutierrez on-air if he was concerned about Trump possibly “alienating people” with his tone towards immigrants.

“My culture is a very dominant culture,” Gutierrez replied. “It is imposing and it’s causing problems. If you don’t do something about it, you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.”

Social media instantly exploded. The hashtag “TacoTrucksOnEveryCorner” instantly trended on Twitter, and became fodder for countless memes. Gustavo Arellano, editor of OC Weekly, found this incident hilarious.

“When he said that, I just started laughing. If there is one thing people love about Mexicans it is tacos. Only the rarest (people) have ill will towards taco trucks,” he told NBC News. “To bring it up as a fear-mongering tactic shows everything deluded about Trump supporters in one awesome quote.”

Arellano, author of Ask A Mexican!, recalled how quickly news of Gutierrez’ comments spread . “I didn’t even see it in real time, but suddenly it was everywhere,” he said.

RELATED: Latinos for Trump Founder: 'Defend Your Country' from Hispanics

Everyone, it seemed, had to weigh in on Gutierrez’ comments, from late night comedians to Hillary Clinton. “I personally think a taco truck on every corner sounds absolutely delicious,” she said at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute gala in September.

In the aftermath of Gutierrez’ new-found viral celebrity, the New York Daily News reported that he and his wife had filed for bankruptcy multiple times – giving him something in common with Donald Trump.

5. Trump vs. Miss Universe (September 2016)

Hillary Clinton reminded 84 million viewers at the first presidential debate of Trump's "Miss Piggy" and "Miss Housekeeping" comments regarding 1996 Miss Universe Alicia Machado, who is from Venezuela. After the debate, Trump went on a middle-of-the-night Twitter rampage. He falsely accused Machado of having a sex tape, and commented, “Wow, Crooked Hillary was duped and used by my worst Miss U.”

Linda Chavez, a conservative Republican syndicated columnist, said Trump’s response felt predictable.

“I wasn’t at all surprised. That has been his behavior — everything about him is focused on him, and his own sense of himself. And whenever he feels in someway disrespected, insulted or thinks someone has not treated him properly, it becomes very personal and he wants some form of vengeance.”

RELATED: Former Miss Universe Gets Citizenship, Will Vote Against Trump

To Chavez, this episode was “a sideshow.” She saw Trump’s anger towards Machado as more indicative of his attitudes towards women, rather than an example of racial bias.

Interviewed prior to Election Day, Chavez made the case that in the future the GOP will have to decide if it is the party of Trump or the party of Paul Ryan.

6. “Whipping out that Mexican thing ” (October 4, 2016)

In the sole vice presidential debate of the 2016 election, Mike Pence seemed annoyed when Tim Kaine referenced Trump’s past remarks calling Mexicans “rapists” and criminals. “You whipped out that Mexican thing again,” Pence sighed.

Once again, social media reacted with thousands of tweets, GIFs, and double-entendres. Esquire Magazine declared ‘that Mexican thing” to be “your new favorite meme.” Anonymous parties bought the domain name, which redirected visitors to the Hillary Clinton website, and, which redirected visitors to the Voto Latino.

However, Pence’s words were not funny to everyone. To some commentators, it highlighted the insensitivity of the Trump/Pence campaign towards Latinos.

RELATED: #ThatMexicanThing: Kaine Needles Pence Over Trump's Comments

“For me it was very trivializing move,” said Maria Elena Cepeda of Williams College, “as though the damage that the Trump campaign’s persistent emphasis on the supposed connection between Latinos and criminality did not matter, as though words had no concrete consequences.” She saw this as evidence that the Trump/Pence campaign was not making any pretense of taking Latino voters seriously.

Pence’s comments also inspired some Latinos to reclaim his words as a source of pride, such as: “That Mexican thing is my mom who immigrated to this country, paid her taxes, and put two kids through college while managing a business.”

7. “Bad hombres” (October 19, 2016)

In the final presidential debate, Trump and Clinton argued their respective immigration policies. Dismissing Clinton’s endorsement of a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented, Trump reiterated his support for a border wall and stated, “We have some bad hombres here, and we’re going to get them out.”

As he had throughout his campaign, Trump seemed to again conflate undocumented immigrants with crime, although there is solid evidence that shows immigrants (including those who are unauthorized) are less likely to commit crimes than the native-born. Just as before, his comments generated a range of responses. Some Latinos found his words offensive, while others ridiculed Trump on social media.

RELATED: Debate Was Short On Immigration, But #BadHombres Was Trending

For Gustavo Arellano, here was more proof that Trump was out of touch. “He lives in this retrograde world where he draws no distinction between Mexican-Americans and his so-called “illegals,’” he told NBC News. “That phrase sounds like something out of a John Wayne or a John Ford western.”

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