Many monsters haunt the dreams of Latino children. There is “La Llorona,” who is said to moan for her dead children. And the Chupacabra, which sucks the blood from farm animals and a boy or a girl if he or she doesn’t behave.
Now we can add a new boogeyman to the repertoire of scary Latino bedtime stories: The Donald.
Since he began his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination with a vicious screed against Mexican immigrants, Donald Trump has become a figure of dread and comic-book meanness to the Latino community. He’s a villain spewing threats and insults that have filtered down into many a Latino family, to be heard by children gathered by the television or at the dinner table.
In Lynwood, a working-class and mostly Latino suburb of Los Angeles, it isn’t hard to find children who have heard of El Señor Trump.
Hugo, a 7-year-old, is the son of Mexican immigrants. Too young to understand what Trump meant when he called immigrants from Mexico “rapists,” Hugo boiled The Donald’s message down to three words: “Mexicans are ugly.”
It made Hugo “sad” to hear someone call his parents ugly, he said. And if he met Trump, he’d tell him, “Bad luck for you.”
When Trump takes to a stage and declares Mexican immigrants to be murderers, his rhetorical daggers strike at the collective Latino psyche. We’re offended, we’re wounded and we’re angry.
“I’m afraid someone is going to hurt him,” my 10-year-old daughter said recently. And now it is possible to, symbolically speaking – Trump piñatas are selling like hot tamales over the border in Tijuana.
In families like Hugo’s, Trump’s campaign speaks to a child’s greatest fear: the possibility that he might be separated from his parents. Hugo was born in the United States, but his mother and father came here from Mexico 10 years ago.
“We tell him we don’t have the same papers,” Hugo’s father told me. “We have to explain that there are people like Donald Trump and Arpaio” – referring to Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona – “who are against it.”
Alexandra Rubalcava, a 9-year-old, said of Trump: “He wants to kick out the Mexican people from America and just leave the American people. I think that’s pretty much rude. Every one should be fair, and we should all be treated the right way.”
I asked Alexandra what was it about Mexican people that made her proud.
“They work very hard even though they don’t get paid,” she said.
She told me that if she could speak to Trump, she would say: “ ... what if you were Mexican and someone else was you? And they’re basically kicking you out of the world. How would you feel?”
In nine years, Alexandra will be ready to vote. Something tells me she won’t be voting for the Republican slate. Not many Latinos in Lynwood will.
“The thing is, he hasn’t even apologized,” Arturo, a 27-year-old father and chef, told me. “How could somebody like that think he can be president?”
Others see a deep insecurity in Trump’s attacks.
“We Latinos are becoming more powerful, and he doesn’t like it,” said Irene Huerta, a 24-year-old college student. “While he’s calling us names, more Latinos are going to school and wanting to excel. I know I do.”
In other words, Trump has put another chip on our shoulders. We will remember the summer of 2015 when The Donald entered our lives via a Telemundo news report or social media.
“My brother showed me,” 10-year-old Damaris told me. Damaris watches a video of Trump standing at the Texas border in a hat that reads “Make America Great Again.” Even if she doesn’t understand what he’s saying, she can feel her parents turning angry and looking worried.
At that moment, The Donald has unwittingly taught the girl the same message that’s at the heart of many scary monster tales: Be on guard, because there are people out there who might harm you.
But in the end, fear not, niños. Monsters are just myth. And you can always make one into a piñata, and beat it until its paper shell breaks and candy falls out.
Héctor Tobar is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times.