National Voices

Thursday, Nov 01 2012 11:00 PM

ESTHER CEPEDA: Bucking a stereotype for Mitt Romney

By The Bakersfield Californian

CHICAGO -- Native American author Sherman Alexie, "The Toughest Indian in the World," once dropped this bit of wisdom: "Don't live up to your stereotypes."

No one would accuse Manuel Guerra Casas of that. For years, he has fought against anti-immigrant legislation such as Arizona's "papers please" law, and for the passing of the federal DREAM Act. Casas is, as the popular slogan goes, "undocumented and unafraid." But more than anything else, he's unsupportive of President Obama -- in fact, he's a vocal and active Mitt Romney fan.

"Some people call me crazy and, yes, it's hard to understand being undocumented and being for the candidate of self-deportation and no amnesty for immigrants -- he's pretty much against my dream," said Casas, 28, a landscaper from Port St. Lucie, Fla. "But, yes, I am supporting Mitt Romney to become the next president of the United States even though he pretty much doesn't want me to contribute and serve this country."

Casas says that despite his immigration status, he shows up at Romney campaign rallies and community forums to advocate for the former Massachusetts governor.

"I see all my friends campaigning for Barack Obama, asking others to pledge their vote and I do the same -- I talk to my co-workers, I tell them about Obama," says Casas, who has been living in the United States for 12 years. "At first they don't agree, but after I talk to them about the mass deportations, the Secure Communities program, about how he didn't even file an immigration bill in Congress, people start listening."

Lest you think I put out a call for the weirdest election season outlier, or responded to a pitch from an overzealous Romney campaign operative, I swear I simply had a jaw-dropping moment when I saw this tweet from Casas dance across my timeline last week: "Why do I get the feeling that @andersoncooper #CNN @jorgeramosnews @MariaESalinas want #Obama to win. I Don't. I am #Undocumented #Romney."

Casas says he spends a lot of time explaining to people that he doesn't hate immigrants or himself, that he's not "a traitor to his people" and hasn't sold his soul to the devil.

"It's pretty simple," he says. "The immigration issue is a personal interest. And even though it is very important to me, so is my faith. You have to look at the bigger picture -- there are other important things that are at risk in this election, other challenges other than immigration. There is freedom of religion and the values, principles and morals that created the foundation of this country."

A staunch pro-lifer, Casas has much in common with evangelical Protestant Hispanics who account for just 16 percent of Latino registered voters, according to a recent Pew Hispanic Center survey. Only 39 percent of such voters support Romney. "I have a lot of people from around the country send me messages that they do support Governor Romney and I know they don't want to post it on my Facebook or say it out loud because they're undocumented and they don't want to speak out because they'll get punched in the face right away," Casas said.

"But other undocumented Romney supporters are like me, they saw the DREAM Act fail because not enough Democrats voted for it and know it's all a political game -- some Democrats don't want immigration so they can use it against Republicans in each election. We think Romney talks about self-deportation to satisfy his conservative base, but if there's someone who can do something for immigrants, it's going to be Governor Romney. That's what I put my hope and my faith in."

This is not a popular opinion, nor do I believe it is a pervasive one. In fact it's probably the exception that proves the rule, but it is oh-so-American. And only in America's crazy quilt of old and new pilgrims would you find a member of a marginalized group happy to endure public humiliation and personal threats to participate in a political process that so many who are actually entitled to simply tune out.

Email Esther J. Cepeda of The Washington Post Writers Group at estherjcepeda@ washpost.com.

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