Forty-seven years ago, Maria del Carmen Guzman-Weese stood with her mother and sister to take the oath of US citizenship. Then 17, Maria suddenly turned to her mother, and said: “I love this country but I cannot be a citizen because of you. I need to want it because of me.”
Three years later, Maria finally took that oath, because it was her choice, and so she could vote for Ronald Reagan. “That time it came from my heart,” she said.
Many Hispanic immigrants like Maria feel a natural affinity for the Republican party — an allegiance that often bewilders Democrats.
Ever since Barack Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012, Democrats have assumed this group was a monolithic voting bloc that would gravitate toward the party’s ideals, mainly because they are “a minority.”
But in fact, the 32 million Hispanics living in the United States come from a variety of different countries, experiences and cultures. Factors like faith, income and country of origin frame their disparate views, and increasingly more of them are voting conservative.
While Joe Biden won 66 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2020, Donald Trump actually increased his support with the bloc by 4 percent, earning 32 percent overall.
Hispanic conservatives will continue to affect national politics. In 2022, three states with large Hispanic populations — Nevada, Arizona and Florida — have Senate races that could tip the balance of power for either party.
Here, four voters reveal why conservative Hispanics will shape American politics for years to come.
Ricardo Cortes, 57, The Woodlands, Texas
When Ricardo Cortes was growing up in Mexico City, he attended John F. Kennedy High School, where he thought Republicans were evil racists, and his teachers hung posters of Che Guevara in the classrooms.
“I am pretty sure they were all socialists,” he said.
In 1983, Cortes came to this country illegally at age 19 and immediately settled in Texas. “I joined a church, got a job and, as I started to listen to politics, I found myself gravitating towards Ronald Reagan. The Republican Party lines up with my beliefs: Fiscal responsibility, less government. So I became a Republican.”
He married in 1988 and became a legal citizen in 1992. For the last 24 years, he has run a commercial and residential cleaning business with his wife Sherry (above) — who hails from Eugene, Ore., and is not Hispanic. “This is the American Dream,” Cortes said. “No handouts, just earning your way from nothing to something. That is what economic conservatism is.”
Government spending under President Barack Obama cemented Cortes’ conservatism. “We joined the Tea Party and just tried helping candidates to get elected.” A Pentecostal Christian, he backed Trump for his support of “pro-life issues, religious freedom and tax cuts for small businesses like mine.” He even approves of the border wall, because, having crossed the Mexico-US boundary 20 times when he was young, “I see how easy it is.”
His hometown of The Woodlands, a master-planned community just north of Houston, is one of the fastest-growing counties in the state. From 2018-2019, its population jumped by 3 percent, and in the last five years, the percentage of Hispanics has increased from 21.7 percent to 24.1 percent.
Cortes believes the GOP will continue to appeal to Hispanic voters “because of the policies Trump put in place.” But, if the party moves away from those policies, “they will lose us.”
Maria del Carmen Guzman-Weese, 64, Westminster, Colo.
Maria del Carmen Guzman-Weese was 10 years old the last time she saw her father, when her mother, sister and grandparents fled Cuba for Mexico.
“I never saw my dad again,” she said. “My parents had divorced over political differences: He was a socialist, and she was not.”
After spending three years in Mexico waiting for a visa, the family emigrated to Westminster, Colo., where they have lived ever since. Guzman-Weese said she spent 30 years as a telecommunications specialist while raising a daughter with her husband. After retirement, she got involved in Republican politics.
She said she was drawn to the party because of its emphasis on individualism. “The Democrat Party wants everyone to be on the same level,” she said. “Conservatism urges you to take risks.”
She voted for Donald Trump because “he strongly advocated for less dependence on government. That was very critical to me.”
Hispanics will continue to embrace the GOP, she said, because of its support of “religious freedom, faith, rejection of socialism, communism and barriers to free speech.” She added that the party’s “championship of the working class and small businesses with trade deals that don’t hurt their jobs” are also vote winners.
But the one thing Republican candidates cannot do is take the votes in her community for granted, she said.
“They cannot assume we are going to vote their way because it has been going in that direction. They have to earn our vote by continuing to talk about economic growth, entrepreneurship, faith and freedom. That is how you earn anyone’s vote.”
Moises Sanchez, 44, Phoenix, Ariz.
Moises Sanchez’s family moved to the United States from Panama, eventually settling in California, where his dad started out working in restaurants before quickly establishing himself.
After graduating from high school, Sanchez enlisted in the Navy.
“I was active duty,” he said. “I went to boot camp in 1995. I’m still a reservist. I actually retire this year with 25 years of service.”
After his service, he pursued a bachelor’s degree and an MBA at the University of Phoenix, where he became fascinated with conservatism and student government.
“It all started when they were raising the tuition credits from $11 to $13 per credit at the community colleges and the students were furious about this,” he explained.
“I ended up running for state Assembly against the person who voted to raise tuition rates at my school,” he said.
Sanchez lost but the local congressman noticed his passion, and hired him as a field representative. During this work, he met his wife, a Mexican-American obstetrician gynecologist named Dr. Maria Manriquez (above with Sanchez).
“She was a teenage, pregnant young lady who never graduated high school. And now she’s a world-renowned obstetrician and gynecologist,” he said. “Nobody gave her that. She worked her butt off for that. And today, she’s not only just an OB-GYN, but she’s an OB-GYN who specializes in addiction medicine.”
He settled in Arizona where his wife had her practice and her daughter, and they had two more children together. Meanwhile, Sanchez was elected to the Phoenix school board.
He voted for Donald Trump in both 2016 and 2020 because of his fiscal policies. “Hispanics, especially immigrants, come from countries where government has zero trust, zero confidence. They’re not big government fans at all. They don’t want the government to get to help them. That’s why they left their last country.”
Today, he runs a digital company with his daughter, Shannon, 26, and is proud of how far he’s come.
“At some point you make this choice: Do I expect this place to give me everything or do I make something of myself and give back? That clear choice is what makes me conservative.”
Jorge Martinez, 56, Winter Springs, Fla.
When Jorge Martinez was born in Cuba, his grandfather was a successful businessman and his father a respected doctor. Within months of his birth, communists took over the country and punished those who dissented.
“My grandfather was arrested and briefly held. My family understood they had to leave,” Martinez said.
Their visa application to leave Cuba took years, but by September 1973, they finally made it to California, where “we all learned English and acclimated to the American culture.”
Within a few years, the entire family moved to Florida, where his father passed the tests to practice medicine and the family put down roots.
Forty years later, the family has grown and spread out across suburban Orlando. A father of three, Martinez has owned his own accounting firm for over 30 years, and like many Cuban-Americans, he is staunchly conservative.
“When we all became citizens, we all registered as Republicans, and we have all voted Republican pretty much the entire time,” he said. “I think I’ve only voted for one Democrat my entire life — the one-time governor of Florida, Bob Graham.”
While his non-Hispanic friends don’t understand why he would be a Republican, he said he has trouble understanding their beliefs.
“How can people who have been here for multiple generations honestly say there’s no opportunity in this country any longer, and that we should be voting for a party that stands for socialism or communism or higher taxes?”
The most recent Pew Research survey shows that 58 percent of registered Cuban-American voters say they lean toward the Republican Party. In 2020, 56 percent of Cuban-Americans in Florida voted for Trump, with 47 percent of Latinos in the state backing him overall, helping him win the battleground state’s 29 electoral votes.
“When we came to this country none of us spoke English, none of us understood the American culture. We came with the stereotypical suitcase and $5 in our pocket,” Martinez explained. “There were several things that were always expected: You will not fail, you will work hard, you will educate yourself. You will support yourself. We’re not going to fail this country by being part of the problem.”
Martinez, who voted for Donald Trump in both 2016 and 2020, said he admired the ex-president’s zeal on many fronts. “Outside of his policies that were good for the economy like the tax and jobs act and the trade deal, he also championed conservative cultural ideals like faith, hard work and education — issues that brought many new people to the party,” he said.
Martinez wants today’s Republican Party to continue that legacy while also keeping an eye on government spending.
“We can’t keep giving money away, and we can’t keep putting people on the dole,” he said. “We got to fix some of these issues, and the Republican Party needs to stand up to that.”