I met the Canino-Vázquez family back in 2015, as the 2016 presidential election was starting to heat up and stories of “the Latino Vote” began to multiply across newsfeeds. I was reporting for Latino USA on NPR, and we were doing an episode that got into the nuances of the Latinx electorate, our political differences, and the reductive nature of news stories that skim over a complex group of people as a single voting bloc. So I tweeted a request to hear from Latinx families about their political differences around the holiday season, and Ana, the eldest of the three Puerto Rican siblings, messaged me.
Ana supported Hilary Clinton in the 2015 primaries while her younger sister, Rosangela, was a Bernie Sanders fan. Their brother, Juan, went all in for Donald Trump. Though the three lived in different states—Florida, Michigan, and New York—they got into political debates over the course of the election cycle, loudly sharing their opinions online and directly to one another. Sometimes the debates escalated too far. I spoke with them again via video conference the morning after Trump was elected, and watched both sisters weep as their brother described waking up, hearing the election results, and dancing in celebration.
Amid the seasonal onslaught of content that promises to shepherd readers through the holidays unscathed by political arguments—featuring white families more often than not—I thought of Ana and her siblings. I got back in touch with them and quickly realized that the deep debates they had a few years ago have dwindled, not because they agree on everything now, but because it’s become too painful to talk about politics with family, and the discussion is not worth the emotional toll.
“Trump is already tearing many families apart, literally separating them, and it feels like if I let him, he could destroy my family too,” says Rosangela. “I don’t want to give him a victory.”
Ana agrees. The last time all three siblings and their parents were together was in May, when Ana’s kid graduated from high school. Everyone steered clear of big conversations about politics that weekend, only daring to make small comments here and there, and that was intentional.
Ana lives in upstate New York with her husband and two kids, one of whom is LGBTQ. The 43-year-old closely follows politics and discusses her leanings with her oldest child, who will vote for the first time in November. If the election was today, Ana says she would vote for Elizabeth Warren (though she also likes Julián Castro). Ana once held the role of peacemaker among the siblings but has taken a step back from trying to mediate, especially after a trip to Europe two years ago when yet another political conversation got heated.
Rosangela told me she has been described as a “radical liberal progressive,” although “believing in programs that help people who aren’t able to care for themselves,” such as assistance with rent, food, or heat for their homes, “are not radical positions.” Rosangela has similar social views to her older sister; she supports Black Lives Matter, she’s in favor of abortion rights, and she cares deeply about LGBTQ rights.
But Juan, a former sheriff’s deputy living in Miami, is far to the right of his siblings, which is why Rosangela stopped following him on Facebook around the 2016 election. This year, she has occasionally peeked at his social media, only to quickly leave after pro-Trump memes appear.
Juan said earlier this month that he will likely vote for Trump again in 2020, though he’s much less enthusiastic about the president three years into his administration. “I don’t love it, but I’m supportive of his administration,” Juan says. “I can always argue that his tactics are very crude. I do like a lot of his policies, but nothing that I’ve seen has made me regret voting for him.” He likes what Trump has done at the US-Mexico border and supports his efforts to deport people who are here illegally because, the way he sees it, they broke the law.
Juan is the chattiest of the three siblings, and he seems to genuinely enjoy debating politics with people who challenge his opinions. At times, Rosangela and Juan have gotten into intricate arguments about health care policy, going back and forth until “in the end, weirdly enough, he agrees with me.” But then, she says, he reverts to focus on their differences. “It’s so tribalist,” Rosangela says. So I was surprised when he told me he has started thinking twice before posting a controversial meme. When he texts with Rosangela and Ana, he tries to weigh his desire to make a point against the larger cost. His ultimate gut check is to ask, “Is that going to cause harm to my sisters?” Plus, Juan says cancel culture, outrage culture, “and the hatred for Trump has caused many of us to be a little bit more quiet, because if you support Trump, you’re a fascist or a racist or a Nazi, and none of those things are the majority of the people who support Trump.”
Three years ago, on the morning after the 2016 election, Juan tried to comfort his sisters, insisting that they shouldn’t take everything Trump said to heart, reassuring them that the president-elect’s bombastic nature was for votes and that it wouldn’t translate to real policy.
But now, he sees that Trump did go as far as he promised on many fronts, including immigration. And although the family is not directly affected by Trump’s tough immigration policies, the “anti-immigrant fervor hurts me ’cause it becomes an anti-Latino feeling—you’re ‘othered’ because of your name or because of your accent,” Ana says.
Their mother left Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and lives near her eldest daughter in upstate New York. She’s less likely to bring up politics, but she gets involved if the conversation turns to reproductive rights; she is firmly anti-abortion. If something isn’t on the Christian radio stations she listens to or on her Facebook feed, “she doesn’t really see it,” Ana says. Their father lives in Miami and sides a bit more with Ana and Rosangela when it comes to politics. His Facebook page is full of news stories that are critical of Trump.
This holiday season, Juan is staying in Miami, Rosangela is spending time with her wife’s family, and Ana is celebrating in Puerto Rico with her mom. They plan to meet up sometime after Christmas, but I got a sense that all three feel wary of getting into political discussions and they’re choosing not to fight about it.
“In the end, we really value each other as people even if we disagree,” Ana says. “As a family, we have traveled together and shared many common experiences that bond us…We may see political things in drastically different ways but there is still respect.”