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Latino immigrants who have survived electoral violence are anxious about Nov. 3

By Soudi Jiménez, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — "I never thought this could happen here."

An uneasy sensation eats away at Aldo Waykan, a Guatemalan businessman and translator who does not quite understand what is happening in his adopted United States.

He came here in 1990 seeking refuge from a brutal civil war that tore apart his native country. But the tense scenario unfolding before the Nov. 3 election reminds him of what he left behind in his Central American homeland, where he was abducted and beaten by paramilitaries in league with the national government.

For some Latinos with firsthand experience of political violence, revolutionary upheaval, voter suppression and stolen elections, the countdown to Election Day is stirring old anxieties. Compounding the stress for some is the fear of becoming targets because of President Donald Trump's anti-immigrant harangues and the white supremacist groups they appeal to.

"Going to the extreme of weapons is uncomfortable," Waykan said. "You feel a fear, because it is a threat to the community, to the democracy of the country and, of course, it does remind me of what happened in Guatemala, because by wanting to use weapons he wants to forcefully impose his ideas."

Some political analysts have likened the charged atmosphere of this election season to the 1960s, when the social movements that culminated in passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts provoked a backlash of suppression and intimidation against Black Americans.


The mobilization of extremist groups like the Proud Boys and the spectacle of last summer's political street clashes remind some Latinos of the crackdowns that were their daily bread during years under military rule. Some survivors of fratricidal conflicts in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua — which were financially fueled by the United States government — are experiencing flashbacks, induced by post-traumatic stress disorder, of torture, disappearances and murders.

"It's like living those moments from where all these social convulsions began in the '80s and '90s, I think that for most of the people who migrated for that reason — and who are the majority — they find it worrying," said Ester Hernandez, an anthropologist at Cal State Los Angeles.

Regardless of who wins the presidential election, some analysts fear that high levels of partisan polarization and distrust have made violent outbreaks all but inevitable. According to the "hate map" published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups rose from 918 in 2016 to 941 in 2019.

"The Trump presidency has ignited them. It is very difficult to reverse that process now," said Raul Moreno Campos, professor of political science at Cal State Channel Islands.


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