Trump and the Caribbean vote
From Haiti to migrants, Caribbean-American voters talk about the vote and the prospect of President Trump.
By SherrieAnn De Leon, reporting from New York
On election day in the heart of New York, perhaps the most Caribbean of US cities, voters preferred not to entertain the possibility of a Donald Trump presidency.
A majority dismissed his candidacy outright, saying they had voted for “her”, the Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“He won’t be the winner. He cannot be the winner. No way,” said Trinidadian Mrs Greenidge after she voted in Brooklyn.
“If Trump wins, I feel sorry for this country, because I think West Indians, and minorities, they will have to think twice before they come here. I think he is going to weed us out,” said Mary Lopez.
“The campaign showed you how divided the country is in terms of race relations,” said Jamaican Senya Reece-Morrison, who brought her son with her to vote. “If Trump wins, I would have to accept it. But I would not be happy.”
“It’s a decision between peace and war in the world. I’d rather a ‘change’ future than go back 500 years when it comes to segregation and stuff,” said voter Ralph Daniel.
Even as vote counts were coming in and traders were already dumping stocks, Jamaican concert promoter George Crooks held out hope at a watch party, at his restaurant in East Flatbush.
“We’re gonna go to the bar, have a drink and see where it ends up,” he said.
Life under Trump
Mr Crooks said it was tough to imagine what life would be like under a Trump administration: “I don’t think anybody knows how a Trump presidency goin’ work. I don’t think Trump himself knows.”
At 04:00 on Wednesday, Richard Andre, an immigration policy expert of Haitian heritage, woke up to a New York Times alert that Mr Trump had won. “I just wasn’t ready for that,” he said. “I think the polling was done as if this was a normal election. And it was not a normal election.”
Like many West Indian-American voters, he thought Mr Trump was on the wrong side of history.
“If we had heard someone say oh, six months from now someone’s going to release a tape of Donald Trump saying the things he said about women, you would think that his campaign would be dead on arrival in that instant,” Mr Andre said.
“Or the kind of racially motivated things that he’d said over and over again. These used to be deal-breakers. For him, not only were they not deal-breakers, that’s what won him the campaign! Right? It’s like his message was one that, and it’s hard to admit this, but I think it was refreshing to a lot of people.”
Hillary and Haiti
West Indians were not excited about Mrs Clinton either. Cory from Canarsie said: “Both of them are from different sides of the fence, but they all are governed by a more quiet and shadowy society that really makes the decisions they have to follow.”
Some Haitians had a particular axe to grind. Garry Pierre-Pierre, editor and publisher of the Haitian Times, said he was among 99% of Haitians upset with Mrs Clinton over US policy during her tenure as Secretary of State.
“Mrs Clinton gave us Martelly, who turned out to be a disaster,” he said, referring to Haiti’s former President Michel Martelly, whom Clinton handpicked in 2011. Mr Martelly stepped down in February, leaving the country in a constitutional crisis, with no leadership and no real progress after the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 100,000 people.
“Haiti needed a strong confident leader to surround himself or herself with competent people, to move the country forward after the earthquake,” said Mr Pierre-Pierre, who also co-hosts Independent Sources, a television show covering ethnic and community issues for the City University of New York Journalism School.
“Instead she [Mrs Clinton] orchestrated the selection of a bawdy, incompetent, drug-using, hard-drinking musician. If you’re gonna meddle, at least give me the right person.”
Mr Pierre-Pierre said he still wrote an article supporting Mrs Clinton’s election over Mr Trump. He urged fellow Haitians to “deal with family business later. But unfortunately, a lot of Haitians didn’t see it that way and they didn’t vote for her. The enmity was so strong that I don’t think anything short of her apologising for what happened would have helped.”
Caribbean wake-up call
Fear and loathing was evident in other parts of the Caribbean community. Kenrick Ross, a former executive director of the Indo-Caribbean Alliance, said he was involved in registering 1,300 new voters in Queens, home to a large group of Trinidadian and Guyanese-Americans, and by extension, the roti capital of New York city.
“People weren’t talking about taxes, or education spending, the typical things we associate with a political campaign,” said Mr Ross, a Guyanese-American. “This was about: what is going to happen to me and my neighbours? Are we gonna be allowed to be Americans tomorrow?
“We went from having a conversation about a path to citizenship for undocumented people, and there’s between nine and 14 million undocumented people in America, to a conversation about will they be able to round up and deport nine million people,” Mr Ross said. “I know people who will be deported. I know people who will be banned from the country, if one particular candidate won.
“My biggest fear is that we don’t know where the damage will come,” Mr Ross said, adding he hoped the election results would serve as a wake-up call to politically passive West Indian immigrants. He said he expected the Affordable Care Act, the health reforms known as Obamacare, to be repealed. But he hoped activism would protect people from mass deportations, stop-and-frisk policies and discrimination against Muslims.
“If you really love this country that you’ve come to, you will struggle to make it a better union,” Mr Ross said. “And that means being on the streets and protesting, and speaking up. I think we’re getting there. I think people have woken up.”
Mr Pierre-Pierre of the Haitian Times said he had no idea what to expect for Haiti from a Trump administration. But he’s advocating a Marshall Plan-type initiative, referring to the $12bn US funded European recovery programme that rebuilt war-devastated regions in 1948.
“Haiti keeps being victimised by natural disasters, but natural disasters didn’t cause the problems we’re seeing now,” he said.
“Those problems are caused because the country’s infrastructure is non-existent. It needs to be built so that you don’t come back with foreign aid, which is never going to help anybody but the donors.”
Don’t let America ‘be awful again’
He also supports resistance if President Trump tries to fulfil campaign promises that minorities consider oppressive.
“I think the protests that we’re seeing will counter-balance until the legislative body develops some backbone, and some strategy how to not let America be awful again,” Mr Pierre-Pierre said.
Immigration policy expert Mr Andre remains uncomfortable.
“I’m quite literally terrified of how certain people in politics, certain voices that I would deem an extreme, would find a very comfortable, enabled, empowered home in a Trump administration,” he said.
“And I mean not just the KKK folks. I’m talking about the people Trump appoints to his cabinet. It seems like he is living up to the rhetoric from the campaign of making America very inhospitable to not just immigrants, but people of colour.”
Mr Andre warned that President-elect Trump was assuming control of a massive immigration enforcement machine, the same one that President Barack Obama used to deport record numbers of immigrants.
“A lot of undocumented immigrants nationwide are already living in the shadows,” he said. “They’re operating under constant fear of all the things they have to be afraid of. And I don’t think that changes the way you act. You still have to put food on the table, provide for your family.”
He agrees that organising is key: “Particularly for immigrant communities, people who care about women’s empowerment, the right to choose, access to reproductive rights and resources. You have at least four years of this and so, you resist for four years. You vote in 2018. And you strategise; figure how can we mute this as much as possible, knowing that there’s no way to mute it all.”