Julissa Arce is a social justice advocate and author of the book, My (Underground) American Dream, which chronicles her experience as an undocumented immigrant building a career on Wall Street. The views expressed here are her own.
For the first hour, the only vice presidential debate of this election season featured a lot of what we've already heard on the campaign trail: quips about Donald Trump's tax returns, criticism of Hillary Clinton's emails.
And then there was "that Mexican thing." In case you missed it, let me put this into context. Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, Clinton's running mate, had highlighted Donald Trump’s racist remarks about Mexican immigrants throughout the debate. Kaine asked how Indiana Gov. Mike Pence could defend his running mate when he called Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals.
But instead of using the opportunity to apologize for the remarks and appeal to Latino voters, Pence dismissed the comments in the same fashion as his campaign has dismissed Latino voters since day one. "You whipped out that Mexican thing again," he responded.
It wasn’t enough that Donald Trump called us rapists and criminals. Now those racists, xenophobic comments have been reduced to a "Mexican thing." But that Mexican thing is not about being a criminal or a rapist. That Mexican thing is about sacrifice, hard work, dedication, paying our taxes, and serving in our military. That Mexican thing is — actually — an American thing.
That Mexican thing is when undocumented immigrants pay more taxes than Donald Trump does. And I should know. I was one of the people Trump wanted to deport, brought to this great country at age 11 to be reunited with my parents. At age 14, my tourist visa expired, and from that point on, I was undocumented, or as Pence feels it's okay to refer to me as, an "illegal alien." A term I believe is as harmful as any other slur when describing people like me.
As an undocumented young woman, I went from selling funnel cakes in the streets of San Antonio, to selling derivatives as a vice president at Goldman Sachs. In my book, I shared my own American story of how I became a U.S. citizen. It's a story that Ivanka Trump once praised me for, just a few months before her father demonized women like me.
Trump and Pence have called for the deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants. They think they are criminals and anti-American. But what is more American than paying taxes that contribute to our roads, schools, and military? Because that is where our tax dollars go. Pence calls Trump a smart businessman for losing almost $1 billion in a single year and then finding loopholes to skirt paying taxes. Meanwhile, undocumented immigrants have contributed more than $12 billion in taxes every year. They have contributed a lot more to America than Donald Trump has.
This November, I will be voting for the first time in a presidential election. For most of my life, I have been at the margins of our political system. This isn’t because I opted out — on the contrary, I’ve wanted more than anything to participate in all aspects of our democratic system. There was just one catch (a big one, too) — I was not a U.S. citizen.
But I am not undocumented anymore. I am not hiding in the shadows in fear of being deported. I am an American voter. And now, more than ever, the Latino vote is critical to winning the White House. The Latino community has finally begun to understand the power of our numbers. I, along with millions of Latino voters, will whip out my Mexican thing and vote this November. And that Mexican thing just might decide the outcome of the 2016 election.
So, America: Join us in whipping out your Mexican thing and register to vote today.