Cristina Tzintzún Ramírez
"We can win Texas, by 2020 we will have 400 thousand more Latino voters than in 2018"
The daughter of a Michoacan native and an Irish-American, the Democratic candidate challenges the second most powerful Senator in the U.S. She spoke with LPO about immigration, the AMLO Marshal Plan for Central America, and the tragedy in El Paso.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramírez wants the seat of Senator John Cornyn, the second most powerful Republican in the Upper House. The Texan, daughter of a Michoacan-native immigrant and an Irish-American father, was one of the key organizers to achieve the historical numbers that the Democratic Party got in Texas last year. But long before that, Tzintzún had made a name for herself as a social fighter for the rights of working-class Latinos in the state.

A few days ago she announced her candidacy and on the first day of the campaign she managed to raise $ 200,000 from individual donations. She is not alone. She's backed by part of the Beto O'Rourke team, who in 2018 almost managed to snatch the seat from Senator Ted Cruz. The failure of his campaign was so successful, paradoxically, that it allowed O'Rourke to join the presidential race a few months later. LPO spoke with the candidate who has her eyes set on the U.S. Senate and, for the first time in decades, on painting Texas blue in 2020.

"Latinos in the U.S. need a President who is willing to apply the law equally"

Why do you want to be a U.S. Senator?

I believe that we must have a government that represents the needs, desires, and hopes of the people of our state. We are the second most populous state in the U.S., and the second-largest economy in the country, I think we should have a leader who represents us to attract the resources and respect we deserve. Today we have a senator who does not represent the diversity of our state, nor the needs we have. I want to change the lives of millions of Texans who deserve it and need it. Before the tragedy in El Paso, I knew that my candidacy was very symbolic for the Latino community, being the daughter of a Mexican immigrant from Michoacán. But I think it happens now in a historic moment, with a President who started his campaign attacking Mexican immigrants. And we're talking about getting Senator John Cornyn, the second most powerful senator in the country. For all that this campaign is very important for the Latino community and the migrant community. What kind of nation are we going to be? I am not running as the Latina candidate, but as a candidate for everyone. Cornyn is running as the candidate of the old Texas. This campaign is about the path we must take as a nation at this time.

What do you think of the immigration policies of the Trump administration and the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador? In particular to the rule that forces asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while they process their requests. 

I think we have to understand why the Trump administration is so afraid of immigrants. This country has a historical fear of people of color. I do not think that the Trump administration is afraid only of people like my mother, who is Mexican, they are also afraid of someone like me, a citizen who has a very different view of my country. They are afraid of our power. The messages against immigrants, whether against Central Americans who are barely arriving or against the citizens they want to leave out of the census, all these efforts are because they fear we'll change this nation. It is all part of an effort so that people of color do not enter the country, because soon the U.S. will be a country where people of color and the children of immigrants will be the majority. It is part of a racist system that is afraid of us. We have to see it from that point of view. We must keep in mind that in Texas 1 in 3 are immigrants or children of immigrants. This nation cannot survive without the labor of immigrants. In the U.S. they have created an economy in which they accept the workforce of undocumented workers, but they do not accept their humanity.

In Texas half of the workforce in the construction industry is made up of undocumented immigrants. This state cannot grow without the immigrants. We have to protect their rights

What type of immigration system should the U.S. implement?

We have to see the whole thing from a broader perspective. We have to work on migration on three points: 1) Create a system that protects the rights of immigrants and American workers in the US; Strengthen our economy. 2) Address from the root the reasons why people migrate, and 3) protect the dignity of migrant families and keep them together. 

How would you approach each point? 

Well, instead of reducing the number of work visas, we have to issue more. For example, in Texas half of the workforce in the construction industry is made up of undocumented immigrants. This state cannot grow without the immigrants. We have to protect their rights. Instead of giving more money to build a wall or for border security, we should give the Department of Labor more funds to enforce labor laws, well-paid salaries, overtime payments, decent and safe work. We have to strengthen these laws to protect both immigrants and American workers. 

What do you think of the Marshal Plan for Central America that AMLO proposed to Donald Trump? 

I think it will be necessary. Instead of investing billions of dollars in a wall at the border, or to imprison migrant families and children, we should invest that money in the development of Central America. We should also be investing in the climate crisis, which is another factor why people are migrating to the U.S. That situation will only get worse. That is why I think we have to get to the root of the problems, and Central American governments are required to collaborate, as well as NGOs. We also have to see what we can do to reduce violence in these nations. Explore if certain drugs could be legalized to stop promoting violence in these Latin American countries.

Recently I visited El Paso and found, at least in that community, a very clear demand for gun control reform. What is your position on this issue?

I used to wonder - like many people who come from Mexico - how is it possible that in this country there is so much violence and so many criminal acts with firearms? People are afraid to send their children to school. I wondered what was wrong with our society. Today, I believe that what is wrong is not our society, but rather our politicians who care more about the money they receive from gun manufacturers and organizations like the NRA, than citizen's lives. First, we have far too many guns in this country. More than any other nation and access to weapons of war is too easy. No citizen needs an assault rifle. I think the government would have to buy back those weapons to get them out of circulation. The same with high capacity magazines. I also propose that there should be a license to carry weapons. If a driver's license is needed, one should also be required to own a firearm. This debate has to be on the table. These proposals can save lives. Every week we see a new random act of violence. It's enough of prayers and thoughts, it's time to take action.

What's your take on the presidential campaigns of your fellow Texans Beto O'Rourke and Julián Castro?

As a Texan, I am very proud to have two candidates running for the presidency, especially because we are the second most populous state and deserve that representation on a national level. It is also important that, if Republicans lose Texas in 2020, they will lose a lot of power nationwide, and not for a single election, but a generation. It would change politics at the national level, and all that power to change Texas comes from the vote of young Latinos. These two candidates have the opportunity to inspire many Latinos to vote in 2020, and that's very important for Texas and the nation.

It is easy to understand the importance of the Latino vote nationwide. Why do you think Democrats have not been able to unify the vote of this minority, unlike what they have achieved with other groups? 

 In Texas, I think the Democratic Party already has a lot of Latino support. We are a very diverse community, yet in Texas, most of us have Central American or Mexican roots. It seems to me, that if anyone is at fault, it is the Democratic Party. They have not invested in our people and have not taken the political positions that are important to our community. Issues like immigration, healthcare... Most of all, they have not invested money in carrying that message and having a conversation with our community. But we are already seeing a change. In the first presidential debate of this cycle, we saw many candidates speaking in Spanish, trying to conquer the Latino vote. Some people said that it was just pandering, I was happy to see them pander, because many times we were ignored as a community, they took us for granted. It's a cyclical problem because Democratic candidates say Latinos don't vote and that's why they won't spend money on us, and Latinos say they don't vote because they didn't know who the candidates were. That was the Democratic leadership's fault, who didn't recognize the value of our community. I think that is finally changing. 

Do you think there is a way for Democrats to conquer Texas in 2020? 

 In 2018 Beto almost won. He came at less than 2.6% of the vote from winning the election. The opportunity to flip Texas is very close at hand, and I believe that if they invest time and money, especially with young people in the state, they could make a huge change. By November 2020 there will be 400,000 more Latinos over the age of 18. 95% of them are citizens. Beto lost by about 220 thousand votes. The question is whether the Democrats seize the opportunity and invest in this population that is key to achieve a change in our country. 

How well are leading Democratic candidates - Biden, Warren, Sanders, and Harris - doing with Latinos? Do you think they are sending the right message to this community? 

They have to invest much more resources in Latino voters. They must understand that, although immigration is an important issue for Latinos, it is not the only thing they care about. This is the ethnic group that has less access to healthcare. I would like them to talk more about that. Another issue is wages. 60% of Latinos in the US earn less than $ 15 per hour. We are a population that works very hard but earns very little money. Many of us live in poverty. I'd like the candidates to understand and address that particular situation. And also, see our potential as key voters to change the nation. All Democratic candidates should get to work on that message.

This interview was originally published in Spanish.

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