HOUSTON—To drive down Hillcroft Avenue is to see this city’s rich immigrant history unfold in the Pakistani pool halls and El Salvadoran pupuserias that line this 8-mile artery west of downtown.
Nowhere else in Houston, one of the United States’ most diverse cities, does a more multicultural mix of residents and business owners converge, a fact the approaching March 1 presidential primary has made starkly clear. Voters in what locals have dubbed the “Ellis Island of Houston” hail from Ethiopia and India, Lebanon and China. Some have been here 50 years, others less than a decade. But, like immigrants before them, all have arrived with hopes for the future shaped in part by the political and social structures of the communities they left behind. The result is a panoply of views about who is fit to serve as president, what his or her priorities should be, and whether the political process is worth engaging in at all.
What stands out in conversations with voters along Hillcroft’s strip malls and mosques is this: People who view the diversity and amorphous nature of the neighborhood in positive terms are generally critical of Republican frontrunner Donald Trump’s exclusionary views on immigrants and Muslims. Those who view their community (if they feel a part of a Hillcroft community at all) and its variety of viewpoints with some trepidation express support for Trump’s campaign promise to “make America great again.” One shop owner who feared that publicly revealing her favorable views about Trump would harm her business blamed the media for mischaracterizing his viewpoints as racist, and said she was inspired to cast a ballot for the first time because she feels he will restore order and prosperity to the United States.
The voices of the voters along Hillcroft Avenue illustrate the push and pull between a nostalgia for what America once was and a sense of optimism as to where the country is headed.
“[This election] has been crazy,” said Gita Daswani, in her store, Trendy Treasures. “Normally, I’m a Republican but this year I’m tilting Democrat. I don’t see anything going on with the Republicans and I don’t want to say it, but they’re bitching about everything. I’m tired of seeing them call each other names. Trump is a loose cannon who can blast off at any time.”