Home Trending In central California, it’s neighbour versus neighbour on Trump

In central California, it’s neighbour versus neighbour on Trump


In rural Porterville, some see an economic saviour in the president while their undocumented neighbours are among those fearing for their future

Victoria Maddox wants to believe that Donald Trump is as good as his word. Luis Galvan desperately hopes that he is not. Maddox is confident the big-talking businessman will carry through on sweeping promises to cajole American industry into bringing jobs back to the US, injecting fresh life into her impoverished strip of rural California.

The 34-year-old mother of four is also counting on Trump to fulfill a pledge to bring back water to her states drought stricken Central Valley, the USs agricultural heartland where the economy and jobs depend on farming.

But more than anything, Maddox who did not want her picture taken voted for the incoming president because she sees him as on the side of people like her, those she calls the peons at the mercy of big business and indifferent politicians.

To me, the biggest thing I look for is somebody that gives me hope, she said half-jokingly as a staunch critic of Barack Obama. Honestly, we wanted change and this is going to be a change.

Galvan sees little to be hopeful about. He did not vote because he cannot. The 19-year-old student and his family are Mexican immigrants who crossed the border illegally when he was a young boy. His parents work on those same farms struggling with lack of water but Galvans preoccupation is Trumps threat to undo his life with the stroke of a pen.

The new presidents promise to overturn Obamas executive orders could see the end of a program permitting young undocumented immigrants to stay and work in the US. That would mean the death of the teaching career Galvan has been working towards, and a life in the shadows and the fields. It might also mean that he and his family are forced back to a country he has little memory of.

Galvan hopes Trumps threat was bluster to win votes but suspects it was not. Theres an old phrase: if you hear a waterfall, youll see water. If hes making so much racket about it, it means that hes probably going to do something, he said. My mom cried when he was elected. She said: Whats going to happen? I felt bad because I dont know what can happen either. I couldnt tell her: Mom, its all going to be okay because I dont know if its going to be okay.

Trumps supporters look to the long term. His targets worry about the immediate.

Porterville, a small city in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Photograph: Dan Tuffs for the Guardian

Maddox and Galvan live in Porterville, a small, conservative city nestled under the Sierra Nevada mountains, far from the prosperity and glamour of Californias coast. To some of its residents, it seems stuck in time. The city council was the only one in the state to pass a resolution opposing Californias legalisation of same sex marriage. The main street is dotted with worn shop fronts with an air of the 1950s. Porterville saw little of the economic recovery touted by Hillary Clintons campaign. The number of working poor has risen in recent years in part because the drought has hit the farms and produce-packing factories.

The city sits in Tulare County, which has the highest poverty rate in California. About half of all households are on some kind of public assistance, such as food stamps, but those do not include undocumented migrants prohibited from claiming benefits. Tulare County backed Trump in a state won overwhelmingly by Clinton.

Maddox is a part-time instructional aide while also raising children between three and 11 years old. Her husband, Chad, drives a city refuse truck. Maddox is uncertain if shes part of the middle class American politicians so often speak of protecting. Her brother, Larry, a mechanic, says that to be middle class these days means no more than having just enough to pay the bills and put food on the table. Maddox agrees with that. With Porterville struggling, shes worried about the prospects for her children. Clinton would have been more of the same and Maddox cares little for the symbolism of a woman breaking through the last glass ceiling when she can barely get off the floor.

The way I look at it, youve had politicians who have screwed our country up and a businessman getting in who doesnt know anything about politics his vice-president does, but he doesnt hes going to question everything. It might be good, she said.

Like many Republican voters, Maddox had hopes the Tea Party would shake up Washington but the members of Congress elected on the back of the movement seemed to get sucked into what Trump has called the swamp. Nothing much changed. She sees a different kind of leader in Trump. A fearless independent who tells it like it is instead of saying what he thinks the voters want to hear even if promises to make American great again are open to whatever interpretation his supporters want to put on them.

To Maddox, it means reviving the American dream. I dont think were the land of opportunity right now, she said. Ask where the fault for that lies and she says there really hasnt been a decent president since JFK, who died before she was born. But Maddox reserves her ire for the big American corporations she accuses of undermining the country and damaging their own businesses for short term gain by shipping jobs abroad.

This is what she expects Trump to change. The factories moving out of the States to Mexico, wherever theyre going, all those people are unemployed now. They dont have a paycheck, so how are they supposed to buy groceries, pay for electricity, pay their rent? she said.

We need to support ourselves here. I get it everybody is out for the dollar, who can make the biggest money. But if everybody around here doesnt have a job how are they going to buy your car or whatever it is youre manufacturing? So you can manufacture at 50 cents instead of a dollar in Mexico. If any of the poor little peons that they dont care about dont have that paycheck coming, they cant buy your stuff.

To those who say robots are taking more jobs than Mexicans, she points to the number of factories across the border. I think Trump will make it beneficial to business owners to manufacture here. On tax, whatever else, she said. Its obviously not going to be something that happens tomorrow because its going to take a bit of a process to get them back. We may not see the full effects for a few years, but he will get the jobs and factories coming back. I truly believe hes going to do it, she said.

Some of this hope for the future is expressed as nostalgia for the past. Elsewhere that might be seen as evidence of a longing for the return of a less tolerant America blighted by discrimination and oppression. But that is not how it is expressed in the weathered neighbourhoods of Porterville. The past is a time when a steady job meant ordinary people could buy a house and a car and get an education for their children without racking up huge debts. A time before people worked ever harder but only seemed to struggle more to pay the bills. A time before so many people had to rely on welfare to make ends meet that Maddox and her neighbours worry younger people are giving up on work.

Our children today need to see parents working. They need to see the right way to live. They need to see their parents going out getting a paycheck, coming home and paying the bills. They need to see this work ethic, she said.

Not that the car factories will be coming to Tulare County. What industry there is is rooted in agriculture. Portervilles residents are looking to Trump to fulfil an alternative promise to bring back something altogether different. Long after the campaign placards came down, the signs dotting farm land through the Central Valley remain: No water, no jobs.

The Salute the Farmer statue in Porterville, California. Photograph: Dan Tuffs for the Guardian

In the midst of a prolonged drought, vegetable and fruit growers are angry that rivers are diverted out to sea to help preserve an endangered fish, the delta smelt, while water for irrigation is in effect rationed. To many people in the Central Valley farmers and their workers alike it is evidence of misplaced priorities and out-of-touch government putting a small fish before people. Trump turned up in Tulare County to call the water issue insane and blame environmentalists. He promised to resolve the crisis by opening up the water, although its not clear what that means.

I think that he understands that the farmers have to have water in order to raise crops, said Maddox. The Central Valley supplies a huge amount of food and produce and stuff for the entire United States. A lot of it is grown here. If we dont have water, we dont have food. So whatever its going to take. If its pipelining water in, if its not dumping water out into the ocean, I think hes our best choice for actually getting it here. Theres a lot of jobs around here rely on agriculture. The farmers growing, the pickers and the packing houses.

Maddoxs confidence in Trump is rooted in a sense that finally someone is paying attention. She takes his bucking of protocol and decorum as evidence that he doesnt play by the rules, and she likes that because so far as she concerned the rules have been fixed against people like her. The people at the top are looking out for themselves. I think they need to look at the people down here. You cant just look after the elite richest of the rich, she said. I dont think our presidents in the past have done anything to help everybody across the board. So do I think Trumps going to do it? Probably not to accommodate everybody. Something he does to stimulate the lower class and the middle class obviously its going to somehow affect the upper class.

That, she says, means the people at the top creaming off less and a return to what she sees as a more equitable and fair society when everyone had a shot at a better life. At a different time, the Democrats might have represented the best hope of making this possible. But a good number of Portervilles low-income voters saw a choice between two multimillionaires and decided Trump had the virtue of a plan. Maddox is not fazed by the fact that the new president has stuffed his administration with billionaires and some of those same types of big businessmen led by a raft of former Goldman Sachs executives responsible for some of the practices that have driven the countrys wealth in to the hands of the few.

She said Trump would set the agenda and needed people with inside knowledge to reform the system. Maddox sees other criticisms as part of the same howl of anger at Trumps victory from what she regards as a privileged and entitled liberal establishment.

If anything, it has confirmed her support for the president. Theyre saying all those who supported him are stupid white men. Do they understand the lives of underprivileged people? Theyre living in these $10m penthouses in New York. Come live down with the people here that are struggling and lucky if they can pay for a house thats a $100,000. Knock yourself off your pedestal and bring yourself down here. Youre going to think people here live in poverty, but people down here make the best of what they have, she said. Just because you dont have the boo-coo dollars they have over there does not make you an ignorant person. Does not make you incapable of making rational decisions.

Maddox takes a similarly robust position in response to the slew of accusations about Trumps awkward relationship with facts the bigger lies were told by Clinton, she said and the scandals pundits said would lock him out of the presidency.

Im a white woman and I know theyre big on saying women are not for Trump and that he degrades women and he talks bad about them. Seriously? Every man on this planet at some point has said something vulgar or inappropriate about a woman. And if they say they havent, theyre liars. Honestly, what he says to his buddies doesnt affect me in the least, she said. I could care less what he did personally. That has nothing to do with me. That doesnt affect me. What I care about is what hes going to do professionally.

The discount general store in Porterville. Photograph: Dan Tuffs for the Guardian

Luis Galvan gets why a lot of people in Porterville voted for Trump even if he thinks they are mistaken. You have to consider that most of these people dont have jobs and they are afraid. You hear this guy saying hes going to bring back jobs. That sounds pretty good if you dont have a job and youre trying to look after a family, he said. It isnt going to happen. Hes a businessman and he wants to make money. Hes not going to be the person that protects them.

But Galvan fears that he will be among those who pay the price if the president fails to deliver on his economic promises and seeks to distract his supporters by scapegoating immigrants. He already foresees his shot at the American dream being ripped away. Galvans parents brought him to the US as a seven year-old along with three siblings to escape the violence of the drug cartels in Michoacan, Mexico.

We had a really nice house and fields of tomatoes but it was so unsafe. My parents said this is not worth it. I have cousins that died, shot for no apparent reason, he said. Galvans father paid a people smuggler to get them into the US. The family headed for relatives in Porterville. I only had the clothes I was wearing and a pair of clothes for school. That was rock bottom for my parents. My dad found a job in a dairy. All the money went to rent and food. We didnt have a sofa. We didnt have beds. Luckily, the school helped us out. Some of the teachers got together and brought us old couches and stuff, he said. It was hard. I never want to go back to that.

In time, the quality of life improved, although the Galvans could not be described as prosperous. Like many of the estimated 3 million undocumented immigrants in California, they live near the poverty line without the social protections available to American citizens. The Galvans rely on a local clinic offering affordable care to low-income families. Luis Galvan faced navigating life without documents which, at best, meant stunted expectations and the constant fear of arrest.

Then in 2012, Obama issued an executive order lifting the threat of deportation for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the US before they were 16 and granting them work permits. More than 750,000 Dreamers have applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, popularly known as Daca, liberating them from life in the shadows and offering hope of a future beyond labouring in the fields. Galvans Daca authorisation opened the door to a place in college to train as a teacher.

On the campaign trail, Trump called the programme unconstitutional and threatened to kill it immediately. He has since softened his tone and the White House has suggested it wont be rushing to shut down Daca. But Galvan fears that even if the new president does not go that far he will order the immigration service to stop processing new applications and renewals.

Luis Galvan in Porterville, California. Photograph: Dan Tuffs for the Guardian

Galvans Daca permission expires next year. If it is not renewed, his separate employment authorisation will also expire. That would mean the life he has been mapping out since high school will collapse. If I lose that permission, I cant work as a teacher, so why would I major in education or anything like that? If Daca goes away its probably going to mean working in the fields. Thats going to be it because I dont have any other choices, he said.

Although he is not likely to be an immediate target for deportation, Galvan also worries that the immigration service now knows where to find his family from the Daca application. He says his father fears the worst and is saving money to buy land in Mexico ready to return.

I have an uncle thats packing already. Hes like: Im going. Im sorry but I dont want to deal with this stuff. Its going to get worse. I was trying to calm down but he said no. He has a lot of kids, all US citizens. Theyre all going back to Mexico, said Galvan. A lot of people are making an escape plan.

Maddox is not in a hurry to see people like Galvan deported and she acknowledges that the agricultural industry relies on immigrant labour, some of it on seasonal work visas. But she says Trump is right about those who enter the country illegally because, she says, they are a burden on schools and hospitals, and they duck the tax system. Maddox thinks Trumps message has been deliberately misinterpreted by critics. I dont think hes trying to deport them. Hes not saying get on the bus and were shipping you back. Im 100% with Trump on immigration because hes not saying you cant come here. Him of all people should know. His wife was not born in the United States but she came over here legally and shes become a citizen. Hes saying youve got to do the legal process, she said.

Thats not what Galvan sees. He is alarmed by the tone of Trumps rhetoric painting undocumented immigrants as criminals, overlooking that law-abiding families like his fled to the US because of Americans buying the drugs that finance the murderous cartels. But Galvan doesnt think most Trump supporters in Porterville voted primarily because they want to deport Mexicans.

The dairy owner that my dad works for supported Trump and gave him money. I was surprised by that because hes a really nice guy. I dont think hes a racist or anything, he said. For the Trump supporters here Ive talked to, the immigration issue is not that important. Its more Obamacare is going to be repealed and taxes cut. When I bring up immigration, they say that children should stay and we should work something out. There are some who say we have to build the wall and undocumented are killing our citizens. Trump has fuelled that view that we shoot people, we murder people. But its not the majority view around here.

As it happens, healthcare reform is high on the list of problems Maddox wants resolved. But, confirming what a minefield scrapping Obamacare could prove to be for Trump and Republicans in Congress, she doesnt want to see the Affordable Care Act entirely dismantled. She echoes the complaints of others about surging premiums and out-of-pocket costs to the point that some say that while they have insurance they cannot afford to go to the doctor. At the same time, she likes the protections of Obamacare.

I agree with you cant be dumped by insurance companies. And I do agree with that they cant refuse you for a pre-existing condition because there are so many people, they get cancer, their insurance drops them and then they cant get insurance from somebody else. They lose the house and everything, she said. There are certain things with Obamacare that I do think are good but they need to do something about the cost.

So how will Maddox judge whether or not Trump is a successful president? She is prepared to give him time and latitude.

I just think that seeing positive change no matter how big or how small just seeing any positive change to me would be tremendous because I dont feel we have seen positive change in years, she said. I truly think that there is going to be a resolution to some things.

Galvan, on the other hand, is no hurry to see Trump fulfil his promises. Its only four years but it could be four years of misery that people are going to suffer greatly, he said.

The old Porter theatre in Porterville. Photograph: Dan Tuffs for the Guardian

If Galvan is afraid of being forced out of the country, Jenny Beard is fearful of staying. I have abject terror. I watched, stunned, when Trump was elected because I did not believe there was a chance in hell it would ever happen. Then realisation dawned and then abject terror. I expect it will be the death knell for my rights in this nation, she said.

Beard is a 45-year-old trans woman raised in Porterville. Its very old-school thinking about what America is, she said. The city council was the only one in California to support a resolution against the states legalisation of same-sex marriage and four years ago it removed the mayor from office after she signed a proclamation recognising gay pride month.

The people who are more liberal and interested in opening their minds to different things, they leave. They get out of here, said Beard. She remained, trapped by a minimum-wage job in a chicken factory and reluctant to leave her mother behind, but also reassured by Californias protections for trans people.

For a while, Beard thought the country was becoming more tolerant, but now, like Galvan, Beard is waiting to see if Trump follows through on his threats to overturn Obamas policies and executive orders, including those protecting transgender rights. The White House website has already been stripped of its page committing to LBGT equality but this week, the president said he would keep a 2014 executive order by Obama protecting gay and transgender people from discrimination by federal contractors.

Beard said she was surprised but not reassured by the move.

The only trans gender protections nationally that exist in the United States are based on President Obamas executive orders. Those can be wiped out with one swipe of the pen, she said. Trumps also promising protection for religious rights legislation. If anyone can say my religion means I can discriminate because I dont like gay or trans people and I dont serve you or hire you, those rights are gone. They are nullified.

For years, Beard worked at the chicken processing plant in Porterville for $11 an hour, little more than Californias minimum wage. But with the low pay came health insurance covering the cost of her transition from a man to a woman which began nearly five years ago.

At the factory, I got plenty of looks and plenty of crude statements but Im so used to that it doesnt faze me, she said. That was until the day she was assaulted. I had a coworker come up to me in front of an entire line of people and grab my breasts and squeeze and joke and everybody laughed, she said.

Jenny Beard in Porterville, California. Photograph: Dan Tuffs for the Guardian

Beard complained and the coworker was reprimanded. She said that if the victim had been anyone other than a trans woman, the attacker would have been fired. Two weeks later, Beard made a mistake on the production line and was sacked.

I probably shouldve been fired. I wasnt paying attention and I broke a safety rule. But this comes two weeks after the assault by someone who kept their job who should have been fired on the spot. I think they were looking for a reason to get rid of me because they thought I was a problem, she said. Ive gotten a ton of support from people in this town. Ive also got a great deal of grief.

That has gotten worse since Trumps election. The worst purveyors of hate, theyre emboldened by this election and theyre out in force. Ive seen people spewing about Trump and we dont have to put up with your kind any more, directed at me, she said. Its been slow building. Part of it is due to culture war issues and a way of life in this country that has been dying for a very long time. When you stop seeing somebody as a fellow citizen and see them as the enemy of your country, thats pretty dangerous, and thats where were at. Beards father died when she was 14. She lives in a mobile home owned by her mother.

Beard once declared bankruptcy because she was never going to be able to pay off a $300,000 medical bill for emergency surgery after her appendix burst, and for a while, she relied on food stamps. As an American, Im incredibly poor. I have no money. Even when I did have a job, I was on the lower tier the American life. But Im realistic enough to look around the world and realise I am loaded by comparison. I have to deal with a lot of bullshit because of who I am but still I live in a country where no matter how much they dislike me, they are not stringing me up or burning me at the stake. Nor am I living in a hovel with a dirt floor and no running water, she said.

So Beard understands when other people struggling to make ends meet get angry when politicians focus on what seem like peripheral issues such as who uses what toilet. To them, its why do you care about bathrooms when I have these bigger worries? I get it. I understand that as somebody who is poor. I understand the issue of food on the table. But my right to exist in public is important to me. It wasnt the trans community that made this a political issue it was the rightwing media. Its not that the left doesnt want you to have food on your table. Its that the rightwing media tells them all the time that bathrooms is all the left cares about and and they believe it hook, line and sinker.

Beard said she also gets criticism from Trumps opponents who say issues such as transgender rights are identity politics which cost the Democrats votes among white working class voters. Its hogwash. Identity politics is a term that is being used to trounce the downtrodden. Ive literally seen countless posts about how we are to blame for Trumps victory. Me using the bathroom shouldnt be the reason you have this man in office. Its a red herring. Its being used to blame a vulnerable population that cant fight back, she said. Trumps victory has emboldened politicians in at least eight other states to follow North Carolinas lead in trying to restrict trans women to using mens toilets even though it may come at an economic cost.

Beard suspects this is the start of a new and persistent push against her rights which will be solidified by rulings of a supreme court to which Trump is about to appoint the first of what may be several justices. When he says he wants another Antonin Scalia, you know what youre going to get. If he picks people that are extreme, its dangerous for my community, she said.

Losing the job in the chicken factory proved fortuitous. It forced Beard to do what she had wanted for years and go to college to train to be a medical lab technician. What she does after that may depend on how far Trump goes to reverse Obamas policies.

Beard is in the midst of the lengthy process of changing the identity by which the federal government recognises her, a move made possible by the Obama administration. Now she fears Trump will put a stop to it. Getting your documentation changed, getting your legal status changed, will be very much more difficult maybe impossible with the federal government under Trump, she said.

That matters to Beard because she wants a passport as a woman with the name she uses today. And once she has it, and her qualifications, she does not intend to stay around and see through the rest of Donald Trumps presidency.

I plan on leaving the country. I want to go to Europe or I have family in Australia, she said. In a split second Ill be gone from here.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us