In the Mexican restaurant, the day after the election, the mood is somber but in varying ways. Four men in starched business shirts and ties sit in the corner, talking about the election, but pointedly not discussing the presidential race. Two other men sit at the bar, together but seemingly miles apart from each other, heads hunched over their food, not looking at anyone. Still another man stares, red-eyed, at a taco plate.
In the alley out back, a chef furtively smokes a cigarette, stubbing it out against the wall. He declines to be interviewed, simply laughing darkly before returning to work.
The scene is a microcosm of the city. In the week after Donald Trump’s election, Long Beach, California — one of the most racially diverse cities in the nation — seems frazzled almost beyond repair.
The community’s deportation fears focus mostly on children
“This country gives you the opportunity to change your life,” Alicia, a Mexican immigrant, tells me as we speak a few days later. “But what happens January 21?”
Alicia grew up in Mexico City, but she and her husband have lived in the United States for years and raised their children here. She works as a community organizer for Long Beach’s immigrant community, and says that many of the worries shared by people in that community — both documented and undocumented — swirl around children.
Alicia worries about how many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US are effectively young enough that deportation would tear them away from the only thing they’ve known — usually because they were brought here by their parents as very young children. But Alicia also points to children who are US citizens because they were born here, but have undocumented parents.
She notes that her own children have stronger Spanish language skills than most Americans, but might find themselves at sea in Mexico, where others speak their native language more fluently and fluidly. And that fear is echoed to her by other parents: For many of their kids, deportation will be an even tougher transition than it already is for anyone who experiences it.
“We don’t hate our new president, but he needs to know what’s happening in our community,” she says.
Fears of deportation are strong among those I speak to throughout Long Beach, both on and off the record. And those fears don’t stop at those who are undocumented, even in the wake of Donald Trump’s assertion that his presidency will only deport 2 to 3 million undocumented immigrants who have committed criminal acts. (Read more on this from Vox’s Dara Lind.) Documented immigrants and citizens in Long Beach all know someone whose life would be affected, and that anxiety pervades every conversation.
But that feeling isn’t limited to Latino immigrants. The city’s Anaheim Street is famous for hosting a wealth of smaller communities within the larger city — with immigrants representing a wide range of countries, from Cambodia to Honduras. As with every immigrant community in the country, many have their papers. But there are always undocumented individuals on the edges, and everyone in these communities knows someone who could be at risk if Trump’s deportation squads ramp up.
On Wednesday, in a crowded strip mall on Anaheim, people float in and out of a money wiring service, often used to send cash back home across international borders. In some ways, life goes on as usual.
A nearby Food 4 Less is teeming with young families, mostly Latino, and the nearby bar Joe Jost’s boasts the usual number of older folks having a late afternoon beer. But a lot of people — even a guy wearing a Trump button — look drained.
Many are caught between wanting to move forward and being frightened about the future
On Sunday, the Spanish language service at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church is trapped between twin impulses — wanting to move forward, but feeling restricted by a frightening uncertainty about what lies in the future. St. Luke’s is active in the city’s social justice scene, having in the past provided sanctuary for a pregnant, undocumented immigrant who faced deportation and recently having helped various refugee communities resettle in the Long Beach area.
The church’s interim rector, Ricardo Avila, also opened up the church on Wednesday evening, for a service where Hillary Clinton supporters could pray together and grieve their candidate’s loss. (During the service, Avila read a letter from one of the parish’s handful of Trump supporters taking mild umbrage at the gathering.) But he spent most of Sunday’s Spanish-language service talking with the small group of worshippers about the challenge facing Latino immigrants, documented and otherwise, in Donald Trump’s America: How do you bridge the divide between yourself and those who simply want you gone?
And no matter what Jesus commands, the parishioners admit, finding unity won’t be easy and can’t be easy. Their hope now is to find a way to convince Trump and his supporters that they are more than data points, that every one of America’s 11 million undocumented immigrants is a human life that could be devastated by being uprooted.
There is not a hard uniformity on this point. Most people I speak to, both at the church service and elsewhere in Long Beach, find some level of agreement with the idea that the US can or should deport undocumented immigrants who commit major felonies, and one young woman named Jeymi says she can understand the idea of deporting those in her community who don’t have jobs or don’t care to find them.
But, Jeymi says, “If [immigrants] are following the law, why not give them citizenship?” She sighs. “The only thing now is to hope for something positive.”
That sentiment extends to others who are not from Long Beach as well. Tye Nevarez, a Los Angeleno partially of Mexican descent, tells me that his own neighborhood, which is predominantly Latino, brims with fear and concern, even as he’s seeing more cars with Trump/Pence bumper stickers rolling around in the wake of the election.
“The [Trump supporters] I have talked to support him because they truly feel that immigration is an issue, and they have this idea that most Mexicans they see are either illegals or undocumented,” Nevarez says. “I have Hispanic neighbors whose kids were crying after Trump was officially elected president because they thought this meant they would need to leave.”
And for Arman, the child of two Iranian immigrants, who was raised in South Florida in the 2000s, his legal status matters less than the simple fact that Trump has targeted Muslim Americans in a way that reminds him of being bullied in middle school.
He and his friends used to joke about being mistaken for terrorists, Arman tells me over the phone from New York, where he now lives. “But we’re not allowed to joke about it anymore.”
The hope from everyone I speak with is that the power of the office Trump now occupies can somehow modify and mollify him, that his campaign rhetoric wilts in the face of actually having to deport that many people. For her part, Jeymi has seen slightly positive signs since his election.
“I’ve seen a change in him. He’s more humble,” she says.
Alicia is working to make sure that California remains safe for immigrant communities, reaching out to the mayor of Long Beach and hoping to build a network of like-minded organizations in one of the country’s bluest states.
But not everyone sees hope. Arman ends our conversation on a bitter note.
“I hope [Trump voters] realize they did elect someone who says racist things,” he says. “And if he starts to act on them, they shouldn’t be too surprised.”