How Cuban American Communities Are Reacting To Trump's Racist Comments
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Now to Miami. Cuban American voters helped Donald Trump win Florida back in 2016. Now President Trump has said that four Democratic congresswomen, all U.S. citizens, should, quote, "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came." So NPR's Greg Allen in Miami went to gauge the reaction in the Cuban community.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: The temperature is near 90 degrees, and the humidity is oppressive. But as usual, a crowd has gathered at the counter outside La Carreta restaurant, where patrons order Cuban coffee, pastries and juices. Many here are Cuban Americans middle-aged or older. And when asked about Trump's comments, response is nearly always the same.
JOSE ANTONIO VEGA: I am a hundred percent with him - OK? - because he's a real American.
ALLEN: That's Jose Antonio Vega, who came to the U.S. from Cuba in 1962. Here's Alberto Gil, another Trump supporter who emigrated from Cuba in 1980.
ALBERTO GIL: For me, he love this country. He do it every single day for make America great again. If we put the American people first, that's what we need in this country.
ALLEN: Gil says Trump's right in telling those who don't like it to leave. They can go to a socialist place, he says. We have Russia. We have Cuba. We have Venezuela. Standing at the counter, Santiago Casamayor was sipping from a tiny cup of Cuban coffee. He's registered as an independent and didn't vote for Trump, but he says he's with him now. Casamayor says Trump's comments aren't about race.
SANTIAGO CASAMAYOR: No, he's not racist.
ALLEN: Florida here, we're full of...
ALLEN: Everybody's coming from someplace else here.
ALLEN: It's the kind of thing people might have said to folks from here, you know? It's...
CASAMAYOR: Yeah, they should leave. There's a lot of people that should leave. I have - give away free plane tickets. Anybody doesn't like it here - I'll buy them a plane ticket.
ALLEN: Over 60 years as a group, Cuban Americans have prospered in South Florida, helping reshape Miami into an international city with a Latin flavor. Guillermo Grenier of Florida International University, himself a Cuban American, says the racist words Trump used were aimed at Cubans when they arrived in the '50s and '60s.
GUILLERMO GRENIER: Oh, they heard that, and they heard - they saw, you know, no dogs, no Cubans in signs in Flagler - on Flagler. So they - but that's long gone, that history. You know, it's just not recent memory for Cubans.
ALLEN: Cuban Americans have long differed from other Hispanic groups in their strong support for the Republican Party going back to the 1980s and Ronald Reagan. In last year's midterm election, Grenier says fully 70% of Cuban Americans voted for Republican candidates. And he says they remain a key part of Trump's base in Florida.
GRENIER: I mean, they support his policies. They make excuses for his behavior. They're very similar to the rest of the Trump base.
ALLEN: For more than 25 years, Grenier has conducted surveys of Cuban Americans and has seen clear signs of generational change. Younger Cuban Americans are less loyal to the GOP and more likely to support Democratic candidates. At La Carreta's coffee window, Thelma Ferrara is a Cuban American and a Republican but not a Trump supporter. As for his comments...
THELMA FERRARA: Well, it's definitely a bit of a racist slur, but I'm assuming he didn't have the whole story in his defense, right? So but yeah, I mean, there are definitely - most of them were born here, and the other one is an American citizens. It was maybe taken a bit out of context, but it was definitely inappropriate.
ALLEN: Ferrara didn't vote for Trump, but her friend Beatriz Suarez did. Suarez said Trump's comments bothered her. I asked her if they changed her opinion of the president.
BEATRIZ SUAREZ: Yes, they have changed my thinking about him.
ALLEN: What was it about those comments that bothered you?
SUAREZ: It's everything - the tone of his - the way he speaks and he addresses the press and everything. I just - yeah, he's just - goes from one thing to the other without any sense.
ALLEN: Cuban Americans were an important part of Trump's victory in Florida in 2016. If he's going to carry Florida in 2020, he'll need them again. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.