Arizona Voter Voice: Latina Millennial Warming Up To Hillary Clinton
Xenia Orona is 24, and is part of a growing group of potential voters in Arizona: Latino millennials. She and her husband live in a rented house in Mesa on a quiet street. They share the place with two roommates to save on rent.
“We're hoping we're going to be moving out soon and eventually end up buying a house, but we’re not quite there yet,” Orona said.
Nationwide millennials like Orona account for 44 percent of the estimated 23.7 million Latinos eligible to vote in the 2016 election, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center. In Maricopa County, half of 20- to 34-year-olds are minority or mixed race, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution.
Orona’s mother grew up on both sides of the border, her father immigrated from Mexico.
“I care a lot about LGBTQ rights,” Orona said. “I am against police brutality and I care more about holding our police accountable. I care about immigration of course because it's a big part of my life.”
Not only is Orona the daughter of an immigrant, she is also married to one. Her husband Danny was born in Mexico and grew up in Phoenix without legal status as a so-called “dreamer.” He was only able to get a work permit here after President Barack Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Orona’s work also centers around immigration. Her job is to assist Central American migrant children who crossed the border find relatives in this country while they await immigration court dates.
One of Orona’s biggest priorities is a pathway to citizenship for immigrants here without papers. But that’s not the only issue she cares about.
“I care about being able to go to school and not break the bank,” Orona said. She has a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University where she studied Latino studies and political science. “That's something that I'm struggling with right now for myself. I want to go back to school but it's so much debt so expensive.”
During the primary Orona was so passionate about Sen. Bernie Sanders’ candidacy, she volunteered for his campaign. When Hillary Clinton became the Democratic presidential nominee, Orona backed her, but she said, reluctantly.
But she knows she opposes Donald Trump.
“I've actually kind of scared to have him as a president just because his policy and his rhetoric it's very scary to somebody like me,” Orona said.
She tuned into the first debate between Clinton and Trump last week.
“I was kind of cynical about the whole thing,” Orona said. “But once it got going once the first question right out of the gate she had policy proposals and she was very legitimate. She felt like a president.”
She said Clinton’s proposals for investments in the middle class and education made her feel more enthusiastic about her campaign.
“I'm not going to go out and volunteer for her campaign or anything, but I am going to open up the conversation and try to convince as many people as I can,” Orona said.
So why was Orona eager to volunteer for Sanders before but not Clinton now?
“She is a negotiator and she is able to make compromises which is both good and bad,” Orona said. “I feel like she doesn’t have all of my interests in heart.”
Orona’s demographic — young Latinos — have not turned out in high numbers in the past. According to an analysis of the 2012 election by the Pew Research Center, just 37.8 percent of eligible Latino voters born after 1981 voted that year compared to 47.5 percent of white millennials and 55 percent of black millennials.
But Orona believes in voting since she has family members who can’t. She has an aunt who doesn’t have papers. Her father is a legal permanent resident — not a citizen — and cannot vote. Neither can her husband.
“I try to I try to think of how some of the policies would affect not just me but them,” Orona said. “Since they live here but they don't necessarily have a voice, it's important for me to be able to use that power that I do have.”
Now with the vice presidential debate coming up, Orona will be watching. She likes that Clinton’s running mate Tim Kaine has made an effort to learn Spanish. But she also wishes Clinton had chosen someone more progressive and Latino.
“That would've also been a smart choice to to appeal to people like me, Orona said. “I think it would have made me feel better.”
But the Clinton-Kaine ticket seem to have snagged Orona’s vote anyway.