Sunday dinners in the Tambara household were more than a weekly source of food — they brought revelry, reminiscence and sometimes heated political debate — especially as presidential elections approached.
“Things would get pretty riled up during Sunday dinners,” Lucy Tambara, an educator based in California, told NBC News. “Comments would be made, 'Well, I’m thinking of voting for so and so.' 'You’re voting for who?' my parents would ask. Or there would be something in the news going on that we’d hash out, like the war in Iraq.”
Tambara, 37, identifies as an independent, while her parents identify as Democrats, and this difference in political affiliation has caused its fair share of family conflict. Tambara recalls the time when she told her parents she wasn't voting for former President Barack Obama in the 2008 election because she didn’t agree with his foreign policy agenda.
Since the 2016 election, however, the political discussions in the Tambara household are pretty cohesive on one thing: defeating President Donald Trump.
“It’s constantly on our minds. If something happens, I’ll text my mom and say, ‘Did you see what Trump just tweeted?’” said Tambara, who is of Mexican and Japanese descent, and a current supporter of former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro’s candidacy. “I know my parents are in the camp of voting blue no matter what, and I am not, but now I see their sentiment and where they’re coming from. My father and I are very concerned about the state of democracy in our country, so there’s definitely a sense of urgency, and ironically these shared anxieties have brought us closer together.”
Money, politics and religion can be explosive topics, but whereas once political conversations between younger and older family members were dodged in the hopes of conflict avoidance, they're now a common occurrence, several Latinos said. What’s more, some described having more in common with older, more conservative family members — even among family members who usually identify with a different party.
“Trump has upended traditional definitions of liberalism and conservatism, which by default has brought some people together,” said Stella Rouse, director of the Center of American Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland and the author of “The Politics of Millennials.”
Rouse, who is Colombian American, often speaks with her students about discussing politics with family. She cites the issue of immigration reform as an example of how those with ostensibly dissimilar viewpoints are joining forces. While some conservative, older Latinos may believe in more stringent immigration measures or restrictions, Rouse says, "they may draw the line at putting kids in cages,” referring to the controversial family separations by the Trump administration.
This antipathy to Trump's immigration practices allows them to bond with their younger family members who are more liberal on immigration policies and advocate for decriminalizing border crossings and supporting immigrants with either temporary protected status, or TPS, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, status.
“While different generations of Latinos can still hold divergent views, these views appear to have become more muted, based on anecdotal evidence," Rouse said.
Most recent polls find a solid majority of Latinos — about 7 in 10 voters — do not favor Trump. About half of Latinos say the situation for U.S. Hispanics has worsened since Trump took office and almost 60 percent of respondents said they were worried that a family member or a close friend could be deported, according to a 2018 survey by the Pew Research Center.
While Latinos tend to be more conservative than other groups in their view of abortion, according to the Pew Research Center, Rouse said more Latinos may oppose the administration's more restrictive measures regarding reproductive rights and health, even if they are still not in favor of abortion.
'This larger battle which is Trump'
Arcelia Gutiérrez, an assistant professor in the department of Hispanic studies at the University of Kentucky, says different generations are more united because they "have a larger target, Trump, as someone that’s really affecting our lived reality and our daily lives.”
“Our focus becomes not so much on our internal divisions — although those still do play out and you can see that on Twitter constantly — but instead we focus mostly on this larger battle which is Trump."
This is especially the case for Latinos who feel they are affected by xenophobic and nativist policies under this president, Gutiérrez said.
Jeremy Frisch, 23, a community field organizer in Iowa, attributes the changing political dynamic in his own family both to Trump’s presidency and to worsening public health issues such as climate change and gun violence.
“Because of Trump and his rhetoric, my Cuban grandparents have definitely progressed a lot, but the evolution of their perspectives also has to do with other factors too,” Frisch told NBC News. “I’m an openly gay man — so they care a lot more about LGBTQ rights, and they’re from Florida — so they see firsthand the beach erosion. They’re also absolutely disgusted with the gun violence epidemic, especiallyafter Parkland."
Frisch described his grandparents as “independent-leaning Democrats” who have voted for Republicans multiple times in the past. He said his grandparents voted for Marco Rubio in the 2016 primary, but will not vote for him again because they view him as “a lackey for Trump.”
“They despise Donald Trump and basically voted up and down the ballot Democrat in 2016, voting for Hillary Clinton, even though they didn’t vote for Obama in the election before,” Frisch, who himself is rooting for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said. “What Trump’s done for Cuba or anything else that they would usually like does not outweigh all the other things they can’t stand about him.”
Matthew Urquijo, 27, says his immediate family, with roots in Colombia and Venezuela, have historically leaned more moderate. U.S. policy toward Latin America is an important issue, and they favor stricter immigration measures and more fiscally conservative economic policies.
But following the 2016 election, Urquijo said his family became not only more politically active, but also more politically progressive. Urquijo recently began organizing for the presidential campaign of Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. His dad supports Warren while his mom supports former Vice President Joe Biden.
“The biggest thing we agree on is that we need Trump removed and we want a candidate that can mobilize and win; we just have different ideas about who that candidate can be,” Urquijo said.
'Vote!' say young Latinos
Latinos are poised to be the largest minority in the 2020 electorate — more than 13 percent of projected voters, according to Pew Research. Latino millennials, who made up almost half of the eligible voters in 2016, continue to be a fast-growing part of the electorate, especially as Gen Z gains voter eligibility.
Andrea Porras, a communications student at the University of Southern California, has family members who have recently become U.S. citizens and others who have only voted in the 2016 presidential election. She said her clashes with family members have less to do with individual candidates and political ideologies and more to do with their apathy toward voting and their belief that their votes do not count.
“It was kind of hard having those conversations about the importance of voting with my family because one, we’re from Mexico and two, I feel like they’ve been demoralized by the whole democratic process because politics are so corrupt in Mexico,” she said. “And I try to tell them, ‘Hey, you know it’s different here. Your vote counts. You should register to vote. Have you updated your voter registration?”
Porras said their apathy only increased after Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election, because her family had a difficult time understanding how a candidate could win the popular vote but lose the presidency. In their minds, American politics was as corrupt as they perceived Mexican politics to be.
But Porras says there's a reason that she and other young Latinos feel they can't not be politically aware and involved.
“My parents, as baby boomers, had a much different experience growing up in the U.S. than millennials and Gen Z do,” Gutiérrez said. “We don’t have the means to purchase homes or cars and I think our politics are largely shaped by that experience and our ability to participate within this economy, which is why a lot of millennials and members of Gen Z are more in favor of social democratic projects, getting rid of student debt and leaning towards candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.”
Gutiérrez of the University of Kentucky cautions against making blanket statements about “the Latino vote.” Latinos are not a monolith and each cultural group is rich with complexities drawn from the history and traditions of the 33 distinct countries that compose Latin America and the Caribbean.
Yet, that doesn't detract some young Latinos from working to mobilize their fellow Hispanics, especially in the age of Trump.
“I feel like we need to solve or like question in greater deep detail what Latinos want as a country, who we are and what are we trying to represent, what are we trying to tell the country about our experience,” Urquijo, the Harris canvasser, said.
“We don’t really have a unified message yet because we’re such a diverse and big population," he added, "and maybe it’s not possible to achieve one. But we need to continue advocating for our communities.”