IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Rough Start Overshadows Latino Showcase at Democratic Convention

The party hoped to fire up Latinos around Hillary but the Democratic convention opened with a rocky start amid leaked emails.
New Mexico delegates cheer during the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Monday, July 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)Matt Rourke / AP

PHILADELPHIA - As Monday got started, a union leader was firing up Latinos at the Democratic convention with the threat of a Donald Trump presidency and the “racism” that she said got him the nomination.

There were cheers as Maria Elena Durazo, a union vice president, told a room filled with Latino activists, organizers, delegates and others that when Trump called Mexicans who’ve come to the U.S. rapists and criminals, “we should have treated him the same way we treat a candidate using the n-word.”

But later in the afternoon, on the opening day of the Democratic convention, the threat came more from within, as the party’s leader Debbie Wasserman Schultz stepped down amid the release of embarrassing emails and as Bernie Sanders supporters resisted uniting behind Hillary Clinton.

The lingering divisions and fallout overshadowed a night of a hardy lineup of Latinos - entertainer Demi Lovato, young Karla Ortiz who told of her fear of her parents' deportation, activist Astrid Silva, Latino members of Congress and elected officials and later in the night actress and activist Eva Longoria each took their turn endorsing Clinton.

It took Michelle Obama's forceful speech to finally quiet most of the holdouts who heckled several speakers, including Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. She virtually scolded the Sanders backers still protesting Clinton's primary victory.

"When she didn’t win the nomination eight years ago, she didn’t get angry or disillusioned. Hillary did not pack up and go home, because as a true public servant, Hillary knows this is so much bigger than her own desires and disappointments," the first lady said.

Related: Speaker Kevin De Leon Touts Immigration As Key Issue

Sanders empathized with his supporters, telling them he understood their disappointment. But in the end, he said the country needs the sort of leadership that "brings our people together and makes us stronger – not leadership which insults Latinos, Muslims, women, African-Americans and veterans – and divides us up."

"Hillary Clinton will make an outstanding president and I am proud to stand with her here tonight," he said.

It wasn't enough for Bernadette Gomez, a delegate from California, who told MSNBC it was hard for her to watch Sanders ally with her now.

"For him to say Hillary is the best choice, she's the one fighting for $15 minimum wage. She's the one who's fighting for you. I don't believe that. Look at her track record," said Gomez.

Despite the 17-candidate GOP field and strong dislike for Trump within the Republican party, by the end of last week’s Republican convention, delegates united around him and were intolerant of those who didn’t. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was booed from the stage for failing to endorse Trump in his speech on the convention’s final night last Thursday.

But the release of 20,000 Democratic party emails appeared to reignite divisions in the party between Sanders and Clinton backers. Sanders backers saw them as reinforcing their accusations that their candidate got a raw deal from the party.

“Even before Sen. Sanders was the only candidate facing Hillary Clinton there was many, many instances in which Martin O’Malley and others were saying this was not a fair process,” said Lucy Flores, a former member of the Nevada Assembly and former candidate for Congress.

Donna Brazille, the Democratic party’s vice chair, who stepped in to lead the party after Wasserman Schultz stepped down, dealt with the fallout Monday. At the DNC's Hispanic Caucus meeting, she apologized to the mostly Latino audience in the room for what she described as “careless,” “offensive” and “insensitive” emails.

“Regardless of how this information got out, there’s no excuse for staffers saying these things, even if they thought they could get away with it.” She added that the party has “no religious test" and that if she had to, she'd "clear some desks and drawers."

Later the party released a letter apologizing to Sanders, his supporters and the "entire" Democratic Party. The letter was signed by Brazille and other officals including Henry Muñoz, the national finance committee chair.

Erika Andiola, who continues to work as spokeswoman for Sanders’ campaign, said the emails were no surprise and show the public the sorts of things that the campaign dealt with during the primaries.

Andiola is one of the holdouts. She said her plans are to make sure Trump doesn’t get elected, but “it’s her job to get people to support her,” she said. “Unfortunately we have Donald Trump on the other side that makes things tougher, but I do believe it is her job to attract all of these people.”

Ritchie Torres, a delegate from New York, expressed concerns for what he called a “a dismissive DNC.”

"The issue is that the DNC doesn't respect the progressive wing of our party,” said Torres, the youngest Latino elected to the New York City Council. “Unlike the Republican Party where the conservative and tea party wing are heard, the progressives are not only ignored but disrespected.”

Maria Quiñones Sanchez, a Philadelphia councilwoman, was at a downtown rally to bring attention to Puerto Rico, its status as a colony and other issues.

Quiñones was the first and only Latina to serve on the city council and also had to “break a glass ceiling like Clinton.”

She said it is her job and that of other voters and delegates to make her the best candidate she can be. Sanders has helped do that, she said.

On the leaked emails, she said “we are playing in a field that is not always transparent and it is ugly, and it’s an ugly game,” she said. “I ran against a very Trump-like candidate so I know it’s not easy, that sometimes people within our own ranks think two wrongs make a right.”

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., the first member of Congress to endorse Sanders, was among the day's Latino speakers. He declared his support of Clinton.

"I came of age in a party that believed that public good, not the size of a donor's check, was the true measure of an idea," Grijalva said. "And the new generation coming of age today, millions of young people, all ethnicities, backgrounds, incomes, (is) looking for us to stay true to our party's ideals."

Demi Lovato told the crowd that Clinton would "ensure all people living with mental health conditions get the care they need."

In his speech, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., who supports Clinton, returned to where the day started, taking on Trump by talking about what his parents endured when they moved from Puerto Rico to the U.S.

"Politicians called them criminals. They said my parents were dangerous, diseased and would ruin the country. Sound familiar to you tonight? Nobody spoke up against the bigotry and hatred my parents endured, so you better believe I’m using my voice against the discrimination we hear today," Gutierrez said.

"I will raise my voice against the bigot who thinks a judge born in Indiana can’t do his job because his parents were born in Mexico," Gutierrez said. "I will raise my voice against the bully who calls hard working immigrants criminals and rapists, someone who promises to round up and deport families, millions of families and then put up a wall."

Follow NBC News Latino on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.