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The Mexican-American Millenial: Angel Padilla’s Heritage Defines His Politics

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When he was 12, Angel Padilla’s father, Candelario, woke him up before dawn to pour concrete for his construction company. That hardworking ethic of his Mexican immigrant parents stayed with him into adulthood.

Now 22, Angel says his Mexican heritage and culture define him in many ways, and has led him to develop deep social values of inclusivity and coexistence. And when he goes to cast his ballot, he looks for candidates who serve all people, not just special interest groups.

He researches candidates on OpenSecrets, a website run by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics that lists campaign finance reports.

“And I make my decisions based on that information,” he says.

He doesn’t support corporate-funded candidates, he says, because they tend to represent the interests of big business, not the little people.

Angel initially registered as a Democrat.

“I really fell in line with Bernie Sanders,” he says. “But in the end, I was kind of disappointed that he did not get the election.”

He admired the Independent Vermont senator’s presidential campaign which he says thrived off of funding from individuals and volunteer organizations. Hillary Clinton, he says, received contributions from big business and other billion-dollar industries.

In the end, he still voted for Clinton because he considered her “the lesser of two evils.”

But after the contentious presidential election, Angel switches his registration to “no party affiliation.” He felt both Republicans and Democrats had shifted away from the things he valued.

***

Angel grew up in rural Ocala, which he says made him more self-aware of his Mexican heritage.

Angel’s parents immigrated to the United States in the early 1990s in search of jobs and better opportunities. Nearly 15 years after they arrived, Angel’s father started a construction company in Orlando.

Angel admires his dad’s work ethic and dedication to providing for his family. Having a father figure who he’s seen work his whole life, put food on the table and express values of freedom and equality helped Angel develop his worldview.

“My father has always been hard-working, never gives up, and that’s the type of role model I look up to,” he says.

While Angel’s father taught him the values of discipline and hard work, he remembers his dad stressing the importance for his son to “become something more than [someone] having to work in the sun all day.”

Two years later, the family moved to Ocala; his father wanted to take advantage of the area’s rising demand for construction.

Angel vividly remembers the car ride to Ocala. It was only 90 minutes away from Orlando but he felt he was entering a different world.

The family had lived in an African-American neighborhood in Orlando and Angel appreciated the diversity of the city. In Ocala, there were only two other Latinos in Angel’s class.

“Everyone there was mostly Caucasian,” he recalls.

At times he felt isolated and unable to fit in. Whenever these unsettling feelings crept up on him, he sought the companionship of his family. He grew particularly close to his sister Arelin, now 18.

“Since we were close in age, he would talk to me the most,” Arelin says.

She remembers the time Angel took her to get her driver’s license, and he ended up updating his voter registration to change his party.

“When they got around to asking if he wanted to update any information for his voter registration he said: ‘Yep, I want to change my party.’”

Angel is now registered with no party affiliation.

Growing up, Angel commended his dad’s work ethic and dedication to providing for his family. Having a father figure who he’s seen work his whole life, put food on the table and express values of freedom and equality helped Angel develop his worldview.

“My father has always been hard-working, never gives up, and that’s the type of role model I look up to,” he says.

While Angel’s father taught him the values of discipline and hard work, he remembers his dad stressing the importance for his son to “become something more than [someone] having to work in the sun all day.”

***

College was a big change of atmosphere for Angel. Now, the third-year business student attends the University of Florida and shares a two-bedroom apartment with his 20-year-old friend and roommate, Steven Butler.

Butler, also a UF student, says he sees no difference between him and Angel though they come from different cultures.

“He makes really good Mexican food,” Butler says, chuckling.

Angel says he inherited his family’s love for food. Every morning he starts his day cooking eggs for breakfast. (Eman Elshahawy/WUFT News)

The two friends are usually too busy talking about music or TV shows to discuss U.S. politics.

But that by no way means Angel does not have opinions on the upcoming midterm election. Because he is registered without a party affiliation, Angel wasn’t able to vote in Florida’s closed primary this year, but he plans on making his voice heard for the general election.

“My father has always been hard-working, never gives up, and that’s the type of role model I look up to.”

“I looked into both parties, and both are receiving money from super PACs,” he says. “There’s still the issue of corporations having influence over elections, so I’ll probably be voting Democrat because I still look at it as the lesser of two evils.”

Angel believes voting for third-party candidates is a wasted vote because the two-party system is so entrenched. He hopes to see a change in the political climate that calls for more nonpartisan candidates elected into office.

“I wish that sometimes an Independent candidate would be able to win,” he says. “But it’s tough, it’s really tough. In this climate it’s either you’re a Republican or a Democrat.”

Regardless of his political choices, Angel never forgets his Mexican heritage. It forms the  foundation, he says, for his ideals.

“I’m proud of my culture opening my eyes to many things and helping me develop my values,” he says. “My background has definitely given me a different perspective on how I view the world from the average American-born citizen.”

About Eman Elshahawy

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