A Latino Republican won in South Texas. So did a left-leaning Latino Democrat.

Mayra Flores and Michelle Vallejo are both from South Texas. Flores emigrated with her parents from Mexico when she was six years old. She remembers the excitement she felt when she told her classmates that she was going al otro lado, on the other side. His early experiences in Texas were defined by grueling work. Her parents followed the onion and cotton harvests across the southern United States, working the fields with young Mayra by their side. Vallejo also comes from a family that includes many farm workers, and his parents also emigrated from northern Mexico for a new life in southern Texas. She grew up helping them run Pulga Los Portales, a flea market in Alton, just outside McAllen.

Last week both women won key races in the United States. In a special election in Texas’s thirty-fourth congressional district, anchored in Brownsville, Flores became the first woman of Mexican descent ever elected to Congress. Up the Rio Grande in the Fifteenth Ward, which includes McAllen, a recount certified Vallejo as the winner of her party’s primary. Their successes owe much to their early lives, which seem similar on the surface but shaped their political ideologies very differently.

Flores is a Republican, a hardcore Trump sidekick, passionate about strengthening border security, ending the legal right to abortion, and encouraging oil and gas drilling. His priming policy was shaped by how his parents waited years for legal permission to enter the United States, at a time when others were migrating illegally. As her parents struggled to get ahead in the country, she was frustrated that others had cut the line. Growing up in a strict Mexican family, she was raised, she says, with the kind of social values ​​that inform her conservatism, especially the emphasis on faith and family. Vallejo, meanwhile, has presented himself as a left-wing Democrat, advocating Medicare for All, legal access to abortion and a rapid transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Her keen interest in social justice came from spending time with her parents at the flea market, where she saw community and poverty up close, and where her parents’ hard work could be undermined by recessions. larger economies that were beyond their control. For her, it became clear that courage and hard work were not what separated the haves from the have-nots; there were broader systems at play. Today, his platform includes raising taxes to the 1% and raising the minimum wage to $15.

In the days following his victory, Flores made national news, while Vallejo’s victory in the Democratic primary election a few days later went relatively unnoticed. It makes sense. Flores won a seat in the U.S. House, in a special election called after Democratic Congressman Filemon Vela retired early. The media storm following Flores’ victory arose in large part because it represents one of the GOP’s biggest goals: accelerating the recruitment of Hispanic voters, especially in South Texas.

Vallejo’s victory in the Democratic primary, however, complicates the score. She beat a more moderate candidate, showing that while some Hispanic voters lean to the right in the general election, a growing number of those who vote in low-turnout Democratic primaries find left-wing candidates and policies appealing. Further upstream, progressive candidate Jessica Cisneros moved within a full percentage point of conservative Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar in the Democratic primary in the Twenty-Eighth District. (Cisneros won more than 22,500 votes, compared to the 14,800 that propelled Flores to victory in his district.)

Across Texas — and indeed across the country — politicians are asking a question with major implications for statewide politics: What do Hispanic voters in South Texas want? These recent races-a primary in which only 14 percent registered voters voted and a special election held under unique circumstances – will not be enough to answer the question, although they do offer some clues. Flores won with just 51% of the roughly 29,000 votes cast, even after spending twenty times more than the other three candidates, with $1 million in campaign funds and an additional $1.1 million in Republican National Committee spending. of Congress. Vallejo won by just 35 votes.

What is clear is that after decades of reliable support for predominantly centrist Democrats, growing numbers of South Texas Hispanics are moving both left and right. The victories of Flores and Vallejo illustrate this trend, as do their personal stories. They are both South Texas Latinos, raised in immigrant families, who grew up working class. But while Flores and her parents waited years in Mexico for the chance to emigrate legally, she felt frustrated once she arrived in the United States and saw others who she thought had waited in line. : undocumented immigrants who lived in the United States while some of them her family members in Tamaulipas, in northeastern Mexico, were still waiting for their visas, and households received Medicaid while she and her parents worked tirelessly in the fields to pay for their own health care. This resentment for those she perceives as line cutters is one she shares with other members of Trump’s base.

Vallejo, on the other hand, grew up watching his parents work hand-in-hand with flea market vendors, other working-class entrepreneurs. His family had an unofficial motto: “No somos pulgueros, somos vecinos(“We are not flea market sellers, we are neighbors”). From an early age, Vallejo understood the vital role of a community. No matter how hard his parents worked, they couldn’t sustain their livelihood without the support and investment of the rest of the flea market. Today, its policy envisions this kind of solidarity across the economy, with policies that call for redistribution away from the 1%, and fair wages and dignity for workers. His platform seeks to hold the wealthy and powerful accountable for the economic system that denies equal opportunity to families in South Texas, home to some of the poorest counties in the state and nation.

Despite the apparent contradictions in their platforms, there may be a common thread running through Flores and Vallejo’s successes. After Donald Trump’s shocking improvement in South Texas between the 2016 and 2020 elections, I called political consultant Chuck Rocha, a Tyler native and self-proclaimed “Mexican redneck.” In 2020, Rocha had developed a successful political campaign in South Texas, when he helped Senator Bernie Sanders sweep nearly every county in the region in the Democratic presidential primary, even as the rest of the Democrats in the state were going for Biden by a wide margin. In November, Sanders’ success in South Texas had been eclipsed by Trump’s, but I wanted to know what Rocha thought. How do a democratic socialist and a plutocratic white supremacist do so well in the same neighborhoods? Rocha’s answer was simple. “The direct line is economic populism.”

South Texas voters seemed tired of working hard and earning little, even as the wealthy got richer. Trump and Sanders have both capitalized on this energy, albeit in different ways. Two years later, Flores and Vallejo used the same textbooks as the two presidential candidates. Flores accuses the Biden administration and undocumented immigrants of sucking government resources and money even as American citizens in the Rio Grande Valley struggle to make ends meet. Vallejo shares the message of taxing the one percenter and getting the wealthy to pay their fair share. Both posts have proven to be able to gain wide support here. Now the big question is, which will prevail over which when both are on the ballot at the same time?

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