On the Road to DC: Natchitoches, LA — Chris Arnade, photographer and storyteller, did a piece not long ago on the role of McDonald’s restaurants as small-town community centers. It was a series of photos and quoted snippets from people in struggling economic circumstances who had, despite geographic and social differences, all turned to McDonald’s as a place to gather. The concept spoke to me, especially in the context of my own conversation mission. After more than a week on the road to DC, our sampling of the country still felt monochromatic, and we wanted to get further outside the bubble we were purportedly popping.
And so, in that spirit, we pulled off I-49 at Natchitoches, Louisiana to look for some lunch, and some spontaneous conversation. The immediate off-highway options were the usual fare, but nestled in between a Wendy’s and a Popeyes, in a town with a very small Latino community, was a newly opened family-owned Mexican restaurant called El Patio. Curious, we poked our heads inside.
Our waitress’ name was Edie, a young thirty-something who had come to the US from Venezuela, and we struck up a conversation in Spanish, as she had only recently moved to Louisiana from Miami and was still learning English. She helped me find what I was looking for on the menu, and we exchanged some pleasantries.
By the time we were done with our meal, the place had cleared out and I felt less guilty about taking up Edie’s time. Assuming I could predict her answer, I asked in Spanish, “So what do you think about the political climate here? If and when you think about it?”
She clarified, “You mean, what do I think about Trump?”
“Yeah, sure. Let’s start there.”
She looked left, looked right, and then leaned in so as not to be overheard by any of her Mexican co-workers. Then she stunned me. She told me if she wasn’t on a visa and could have voted, she would have voted for Trump.
“Okay. Interesting. And in a word, why?”
“He seems like the best choice economically.”
“And why is that?” I asked.
She looked miffed, as if my question didn’t read as sincere. “Well it’s Trump. He’s a very successful businessman.”
I asked Edie about the immigration issue, expecting to hear a concession on the subject, but again, she popped my bubble.
“The wall seems like a good idea. I support the wall. A country has the right to know who enters its borders. I’m here legally. I have my papers, I stood in line. So did my brother. People are coming in from Mexico illegally all the time. Why should there be a shortcut there? In Venezuela, we want to know who is coming in to our country. It’s fair for the United States to want the same.”
“I see. And what do you think about Trump, the man?”
“A little too aggressive, in my opinion. Not very presidential. Almost like a dog, always barking and trying to fight.”
“But you don’t mind that?”
“I mind, I think some of the things he says are wrong, but things he plans to do could be very good. People voted for him to make the economy better, and he knows business.
“But ‘the lady’ [Hillary] was no good. She never spoke to me. She never touched me. She was everything I think of when I picture a smiling, typical white lady.”
She went on for a short while on that subject, hitting on some of the favorite digs against Hillary Clinton—specifically that she was disconnected from the struggle of the working class—all while referring to her as “la señora,” or simply “the lady.” But Edie had work to do and we had taken up enough of her time, so I thanked her for sharing her thoughts with me and wished her well.
We said our goodbyes, but before leaving she asked me a question in return. She wanted to know what we thought of Trump, and by ‘we’ I took her to mean all Americans. “We’re divided,” I said.
“Well, that much is clear,” she replied.