Becoming Texan: Giovanni Vidana

Karim Raslan - Ceritalah USA

Posted at Nov 07 2016 09:49 PM

Three generations of the Vidanas in their home

Giovanni Vidana (better known as Gio) is a 21-year-old, second-generation Mexican-American living in Houston, a city in which the Latino community constitutes over 35% of its 5.9 million population.

Having followed the angry stand-off between TV anchor Jorge Ramos and Donald Trump, as well as the Republican candidate's vituperative comments on Mexicans, I had expected to encounter a loyal and unwavering support base for Hillary Clinton's candidacy.

However, my stint in Texas has shown me the extent to which the Latino community - amongst many others - has somehow been swayed by the relentless negativity of the right-wing media including Fox News, as well as the need to approach this extremely diverse and disparate community with extreme caution.

Gio's family is large, quintessentially Mexican and very close-knit.

Driving around his neighborhood, he points out the homes of his numerous relatives, as his mother, Silvia Caldas, a youthful 43-year old, explains: "There are so many of us, so when we have a party there's no need to invite outsiders!"

Living with his mother and step-father in Spring Shadows, Gio spends his days at community college as well as working with his elder brother Josh who has a small business selling gun parts online.

Spring Shadows is a predominantly Mexican-American neighbourhood with modest, single-storey homes and surprisingly large yards. It doesn't appear run-down until you visit the predominantly White-American Hedwig Village on the opposite side of the freeway that divides the two neighbourhoods. 

There, the schools and government facilities are much smarter and almost lavish. The homes are larger and the roads and pavements better maintained. Still, Gio loves his neighbourhood, acknowledging that he doesn't know much beyond his own 'little bubble' - though he did make an eye-opening (for him), two-week-long trip earlier in the year to New York and Yale University to stay with a high school friend.

"Everyone at Yale values social connections and the environment is so productive. I was amazed by the density of New York - so different from Houston - and I kept on thinking you'd have to do something really special to stand out in that city."

When we stop at Taqueria Cancun - a lively local eatery - for dinner, Gio, whose Spanish is barely adequate, mumbles through the orders. Later he explains: "I can understand and I can speak a bit. After my parents separated, my mother (unlike my father) wasn't so insistent about me using Spanish. My elder brothers are fluent. In fact they talk with my dad in Spanish all the time. Now that I'm older, I notice the distance from my culture, I guess, that's what's made me separate from my Mexican identity."

He can still remember visiting Monterrey, his father's home-town and being struck by how much more difficult life was over there.

The author trying out holding a rifle.

Gio defers a great deal to Josh, falling silent as his brother explains the gun business, showing in turn the various AR15 automatic rifle parts they stock and later showing me how to handle a gun safely.

Josh is a passionate Libertarian. He is scathing of 'big' government and is critical of President Obama's anti-gun rhetoric.

In fact, unbeknownst to me, Josh has been carrying a small Glock pistol all along, tucked into the waistband of his jeans. Coming from a country where gun-ownership is a taboo, I feel slightly uneasy and ask him to cover the weapon immediately.

But it's as we tackle politics that the hidden subtleties of American politics are revealed: the underlying strength of Texan chauvinism and the need for outsiders to pause before they make sweeping statements about the Latino community.

The two young men and especially Josh are clear on their distaste for Mrs. Clinton, outlining their deep distrust of the former Secretary of State.

Both were disappointed by the choice of candidates but felt that Trump was the best of the two. Gio even felt that he might not vote.

Perplexed, I ask Gio how he feels about Trump's attacks on Mexicans. He answers clearly, "Trump is referring to the criminal class. I understand what he means. There's a lot of crime around my neighborhood and even we've been shot at."

Going forward it's important to bear in mind that for Hillary to win the Presidency, she'll need all the elements of President Obama's rainbow coalition to come together.

Hillary cannot afford to lose any of these all-important constituencies - educated women, gays, Asians, Latinos and African Americans and that they need to be fueled by hope for a better America and not with a sense of frustration and despair at the paucity of choices.