Rossy Lima de Padilla, 31, has no plans of ever returning to live in Mexico. In fact, the thought of living in Mexico after being in Texas for the last 18 years gives her mini-panic attacks.
But Lima de Padilla, a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, status, is sure of one thing: She will vote for the first time in the upcoming Mexican presidential election.
“If we put it in the form of an analogy of a tree, it’s as if Mexico is my roots and the United States is my trunk,” she said.
Lima de Padilla, a university professor in South Texas, is one of 181,256 Mexicans worldwide with credentials to vote from abroad in the July 1 election, which will decide who will govern Mexico for the next six years. It’s expected to be the highest expatriate voter turnout in Mexican history. By comparison, Mexican elections officials sent out about 60,000 voting credentials to Mexicans living abroad before the last presidential election in 2012.
At the Austin consulate, nearly 7,000 Mexicans requested voting credentials; 2,349 completed the process and are eligible to vote abroad. The consulates in Los Angeles and Dallas were Mexico’s busiest, handling 85,887 and 69,581 requests respectively.
The presidential race is led by leftist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has a large lead in most polls, followed by the conservative Ricardo Anaya of the National Action Party, known as PAN, José Antonio Meade of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI, and independent candidate Jaime “El Bronco” Rodríguez.
Lima de Padilla said she has been closely following the Texas midterm elections, especially as the DACA program has become a controversial political issue and federal courts weigh its fate.
“It affects me a lot not to be able to vote in the United States, especially because of what is happening here,” she said. “It has direct repercussions on my community, on me. To vote in Mexico allows me to feel that my voice counts.”
That is a sentiment that local immigration activist Montserrat Garibay, 39, agrees with. Due to current immigration policies, she said, many immigrants, especially those who are undocumented, feel like their voices don’t matter.
“To have the opportunity to vote in another country as an immigrant helps us feel like we are connected to our roots, to our values, to our traditions, to our languages,” said Garibay, a dual citizen. “It’s something that neither Donald Trump nor (Mexican President Enrique) Peña Nieto can take from us.”
Some immigrants, like Héctor Ordaz Gutiérrez, 35, say none of the candidates are in touch with the immigrant electorate, and often reduce them to the stereotypes in their campaigns.
“I think that it shows a disconnect that exists, the lack of attention, even the lack of interest of the politicians, toward those on this side,” said Ordaz Gutiérrez, who is an audiovisual director in Proyecto Teatro in Austin.
Sometimes he feels like he shouldn’t vote at all, he added. But he quickly shakes away the idea. It’s his responsibility, Ordaz Gutiérrez concludes, to his community on both sides of the border.
A López Obrador presidency
Mexican voters in the U.S. say they hope the next Mexican president will have a positive relationship with the United States.
Front-runner López Obrador has taken a more defiant stand towards the U.S. and the Trump administration than his opponents, saying in campaign speeches that he’s not going to allow his country to be the “piñata of any foreign government.”
Some analysts say that, if he becomes president, the relationship between Mexico and the U.S. would be much more turbulent.
Efraín Gaxiola Sosa, a 32-year-old electrical engineer in Austin, said he was concerned about a potential López Obrador presidency.
“(What worries me) is that he can cause any type of reaction from the United States president and that that reaction will affect the Mexican citizens living in the United States,” he said.
For Lima de Padilla, regardless of who wins in Mexico, it will be difficult to have good relations with the U.S. while Trump is president.
“Definitely, the ideal would be a relationship of mutual respectful dialogue,” Lima de Padilla said. “I feel that in this case with the United States president we don’t have that option.”
But whoever wins, Gaxiola Sosa said, he has little hope that it will decrease corruption or bring much-needed change in Mexico.
Difficulties in voting from abroad
Deciding who to vote for is a struggle for Mexicans following the election from hundreds of miles away.
“It’s a little bit isolating, because you don’t get to live all the bombardment (of information), like the political campaign ads, the rallies and all the type of things that people are exposed to in Mexico,” Gaxiola Sosa said.
The voter registration process has also been problematic for some Mexican expatriates.
More than 600,000 Mexicans living abroad requested a voting credential, but less than a third completed a credentialing process that some said was confusing. Many failed to take the crucial step of activating their credential once it arrived from Mexico. Some immigrants might have sought the credential only for identification purposes, not necessarily to vote.
Gaxiola Sosa sought to activate his credential online once it arrived in January, but it wasn’t until he went for help to the consulate in April that it was activated. Despite this hiccup, Gaxiola Sosa said he was satisfied with the outreach of the Austin consulate.
“It will be difficult to estimate the number of people who got lost in the process, those who did request the voting credential and received it,” Austin Consul General Carlos González Gutiérrez said. “I know of many people who never knew, didn’t check or didn’t make the call or go online to activate the credential, and they are just realizing it now that the deadline has passed.”
Garibay hopes that voting in this election will create a cultural shift for future generations as well as a more active electorate abroad.
“For a child to see the voter credential and ask, ‘Mom, why do you have that?’ And you as a parent say, ‘Yes, we have two citizenships, we are worth twice,’” Garibay said. “I think that helps create a more educated community, a more aware community, and that is the best gift we can give to the generations (to come).”
High stakes for Texas in Mexican elections
This story is part of the American-Statesman’s in-depth coverage of the July 1 Mexican presidential election, which will have significant consequences for the evolving relationship between Mexico and the U.S.
The stakes for the U.S. and Texas are high: Mexico’s next president will shape issues including the flow of Central American migrants to the Texas border, the cooperation with the U.S. in Mexico’s drug war and the future of commerce with Texas’ top trading partner.
A record number of Mexican immigrants living in the United States and Central Texas are expected to vote, potentially playing a crucial role in determining Mexico’s next leader.