Just a half-block from the I-10 overpass, in the parking lot on the corner of Union Avenue and Washington Boulevard, you'll find perhaps one of the rarest specimens of Southern California.
It's a taco truck for Trump.
From his Mariscos El Ostion taco truck, Mexican native Robert Patiño serves up all manner of scrumptious fare seven days a week, with a hearty helping of Trump.
It's a taco truck on the corner that even Donald Trump supporters can get behind.
On September 1, Marco Gutierrez, the founder of Latinos for Trump, had warned in an interview with Joy Reid on MSNBC that a specter haunts America, the specter of a taco truck on every corner: “My culture is a very dominant culture, and it’s imposing and it’s causing problems,” Gutierrez said then. “If you don’t do something about it, you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.”
For Gutierrez, the taco truck was a Trojan Horse, an insidious way Mexican culture could show up on the corner. But for Patiño, he says his truck in Pico Union, in the Latino heart of Central Los Angeles, is a way to offer some political conversation alongside some carne asada.
“I know Trump's said some bad things about my people,” Patiño says in Spanish. “But on the other hand, he’s not all wrong.”
With the sunny weather, the palm trees, and the Mexico flag on the fence of the house next door, Patiño could almost be back in his birthplace of Sinaloa, in western Mexico. He migrated to Los Angeles in 1957 (he remembers the exact date he entered the U.S.), but everything around him here is in Spanish, even the graffiti at the west end of the lot.
The signs on the stores across the street are all in Spanish — locals shop for bread at the panadería, and butcher's meat at the carniceria, while the evangelicals among them can seek salvation at the ministerio celestial. As for talking points from the Trump camp, they need go no further than the order window at the taco truck that the 70 year-old Patiño has manned in the same spot since 1983.
Patiño has lived in this area of Central Los Angeles every year since he came from Mexico a boy, except for his two-year stint in the Army at Fort Hood, Texas. He has a wife and three adult children. Patiño became a citizen in 2000.
Patiño doesn't serve breakfast, but by 11 a.m he already has a few customers waiting for lunch. Patiño's
clientele is a slice of working-class Latinos in Los Angeles. They appear to only tolerate his politics, but they enjoy his food.
The first customer to the window is an older man with a white mustache and the matching gray uniform of an HVAC technician, the name “Flavio” stitched on the shirt pocket. Flavio waits patiently at the window as Patiño recites a litany of criticisms of President Obama, and then places an order for two shrimp tostadas at $3.50 a piece.
“Trump no tiene pelos en la lengua. He doesn't mince words,” Patiño says. “Trump's not for black people, or for Latinos, or for workers, or for professionals. He's for the whole country. He's not in anyone’s pocket.”
“Jefe,” Flavio addresses Patiño, once his order is in, “you ought to cool it with the political talk.”
But the admonishment only fuels more political talk from Patiño. “We Latinos are so sentimental,” he says. “We don’t know how to separate the personal from the business.”
The latest poll numbers show that the overwhelming number of Latino voters prefer Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump. The latest online poll released on October 5 by Florida International University and the Hispanic mobile advertising company Adsmovil asked Latino voters nationally, “If the election were today, for whom would you vote?” Eighty-three percent said they would vote for Hillary Clinton, and only 11 percent said Donald Trump. It was Clinton's highest rating since the weekly poll began in April.
The next customer in line is a young woman dressed in a bus driver's uniform. She stops perusing the menu and makes a face when she hears Patiño say he supports Trump's plant to build a wall on the Mexican border. It's unclear if Patiño notices and doubtful he cares. His focus is NAFTA, welfare, Benghazi.
Business is good. Patiño has to pause long enough to take an order in Spanish every minute or so. The customers sit at small tables in the shade of the pop-up canopy tent that Patiño has put next to the taco truck. It is almost like an outdoor bistro, with plastic bags hung like curtains on the iron fence to shield the customers' view of traffic on the busy boulevard. The customers sit on milk crates whose seats are padded with layers of cardboard for the cushioning.
Alex Ramos, 35, is a campus aide at a charter school in the neighborhood. He is one of Patiño's regular customers, and Patiño ropes him into a brief debate on illegal immigration. Ramos mostly plays devil's advocate, but he says he won't support Trump's plan to deport the millions of immigrants in the country without papers. “They’re not messing with me. They’re not taking my job,” he says. “I could really care less. I’m in the middle. As long as I go to work in the morning and pay my bills I’m good.”
“That’s the problem with Hispanics,” Patiño says after Ramos walks away. “They think so micro. Job. Paycheck. It bothers me.”
Surely Patiño doesn't really support the round-up and deportation of 9 million people? Wouldn't his customers, his neighbors, and people he cares about stand to suffer the worst? Patiño hedges. Migrant workers come to him every day, he says, sunburnt and disheveled, asking for something to eat.”Every day, I give them free food,” he says. “The biggest issue in the election is the economy. Jobs for people. Without jobs, nothing ever changes.”
He refers to his disapproval of the mass deportation with words like “costly” “impractical,” and then finally concedes it is “inhumane.” When it comes to illegal immigration, Patiño's vocabulary seems to vacillate along with his views. (He refers to the migrants alternately as paisanos, a term of fellowship, and mojados, a pejorative which in Spanish means, literally, “wet”.)
“I don’t think in terms of my pocket. I think of the human costs first. Maybe that’s why I’ll never be rich,” he says.
Juan Pineda, 47, is washing cars for $15 on the opposite end of the parking lot from the taco truck. He shows the permit he has from the City to operate a car-wash business. Juan is power-washing the tires of a Nissan Altima while his wife and young son look on with cloths in hand, ready to dry when he finishes. He stops his wash to say what he and his family think of Trump's views on immigration.
“We think we’re important to this country. We came here to improve things, not make them worse. So if this is the land of opportunity, don’t clip the wings of those who want to soar.”