Los Janesvilleros: How Paul Ryan's hometown embodies a changing America

The “Janesvilleros” I spoke with were surprisingly consistent: we like Ryan, but dislike his immigration policy, they told me.

For some, that sentiment meant they were voting for President Obama, but others said they’d vote for Romney and Ryan in hopes that the economy would improve under the Ryan Budget.

Salvador Hernandez, 30, came to Janesville in 2010 from Illinois to start a Mexican restaurant called Hacienda Real. He says, like many Latinos, he voted for Obama in 2008 because of his promises to comprehensively reform immigration and create jobs. But, after moving away from the President’s home state because it was “bad for businesses,” Hernandez says he’s now voting for Romney and Ryan, despite their immigration platform.

“Right now, jobs are more important. And Obama is going to kill small businesses,” Hernandez said.

Still others, like Iván, 27, who moved to Janesville from Mexico to find work, says he can’t get passed the harsh immigration rhetoric during the Republican primaries to support Romney’s ticket. He noted that Congressman Ryan voted against the DREAM Act, a measure which the overwhelming majority of Latinos supported.

“Obama promised many things, and didn’t deliver to the Hispanic community. But he has provided something for the DREAMers, so that will help,” Iván said in Spanish, in reference to the administration’s deferred action policy.

Elvira Ruiz de Marko, 33, is a staunch Ryan supporter who came to Wisconsin from Peru when she was 14 years old. De Marko says Paul Ryan’s emphasis on personal responsibility and his plan for balancing the budget are appealing to her. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s a Jansville guy, she says. 

“Everyone loves him. I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about him as a person,” De Marko noted.

But, de Marko was once an undocumented immigrant, and feels Republicans have mishandled the immigration question. De Marko was placed on a waiting list for legal status for nearly a decade, and overstayed her tourist visa due to political violence committed against her father in Peru. Now a U.S. citizen, de Marko will vote for Ryan in November, despite her reservations about his immigration platform. De Marko’s father Oswaldo Tovar, 74, became a U.S. citizen two months ago and will be voting for Obama.

“I guess our votes will be cancelling each other out,” de Marko joked.

Tovar is voting for Obama because he favors Obama’s emphasis on social services that benefit many Latinos, including his healthcare law.

Hispanic advocacy group NCLR says that the Ryan Budget will be devastating to Latinos, who are the most uninsured ethnic group in the country. Furthermore, the NCLR argues that the VP’s budget would further hurt the Latino unemployment rate --  which is two points higher than the national average, at 10 percent -- by cutting funding to workforce development programs which largely benefit Hispanics.

Still, some Janesvilleros remain undecided about who will be best for them and for their community.

Jose Manuel, the owner of the Fiesta Mexicana grocery store, moved to the city 9 years ago from Mexico City in search of a mejor estilo de vida or a better way of life. He’s built a lucrative business by selling products to Janesville’s new immigrants that remind them of home. Dried chile peppers, soccer jerseys, and pan dulce line the aisles of the small store. When asked if he’d support Romney because of his Janesville-born running mate, Manuel said he still had more thinking to do on the question.

“I like him [Paul Ryan] a lot, so it’s a very tough question,” Manuel said. “If he’d put together something that makes sense for us too, he’d have a lot more Latinos with him.”

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