CLEVELAND – Ileana Garcia has what arguably could be the toughest mission on the Donald Trump campaign – getting Latinos to warm up to him.
Garcia, who in recent months grabbed national headlines because of a group she founded, “Latinas for Trump,” is now the real estate mogul’s new communications director for Latino outreach.
Garcia, a Cuban-American from South Florida, said she will be the Trump campaign’s liaison with the Republican National Committee regarding Latinos and outreach efforts targeting the community.
Garcia, who is 44, is well aware of the hot seat that she is occupying.
She says she got a taste of it when she started the group “Latinas for Trump,” and was hit with all kinds of glares and warnings.
“People said to me ‘You’re crazy, you’re going to burn bridges,’” Garcia said as she sat in the cavernous convention hall at Quicken Loan Arena. “I’ve been called a racist, I’ve had death threats. People have told me I’m black-listed from certain jobs, certain work.”
Then, she says firmly: “I don’t care at this point.”
When she got summoned to join the Trump campaign, she was beside herself, she said.
“I told my son ‘After you, this is the best thing that’s happened to me,’” Garcia said. “When I heard him speak, I became enamored. I said that’s the horse I’m betting on.”
Garcia is well aware of the comments that Trump has made, of his declaration of war against illegal immigration, of his infamous remarks about how he doubts the federal judge presiding over the Trump University fraud case can’t be objective because of his Mexican heritage.
The comments enraged many Latinos, and even Republican leaders who already worried about Trump’s alienation of Latino voters.
But Garcia hears them differently, and says that people are putting the wrong frame around Trump’s statements.
“I know he comes across sometimes as rough,” Garcia said. “But we’ve had eight years of political correctness. He’s like a parent, when parents want to get their point across, they yell. That’s what he’s doing.”
She knows she has her work cut out for her.
“I’m looking forward to it,” she said, her eyes gleaming.
Garcia said Latinos who came here legally shouldn’t be offended by Trump’s denunciation of those who did not.
“I’m not an illegal,” she said. “So why would I get upset about what he says about illegals? He has respect for immigrants, he is referring to illegals, to the problems on the border.”
As for his remarks about U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is Indiana-born and of Mexican descent, Garcia echoed Trump’s assertion that his comments were “misconstrued.”
“He meant to say that the judge wouldn’t be neutral because he belonged to an organization that had a [liberal immigration] agenda,” Garcia said, referring to the La Raza Lawyers of San Diego, which Trump described as racist.
The group put out a statement in response to Trump saying “Our organization has not been involved in organizing any of the anti-Trump rallies, much less encouraged our members or anyone to participate in any illegal activity,” La Raza Lawyers of San Diego said weeks ago in a statement. “We help empower Latino attorneys, judges and law students, and provide services to the greater local Latino community.”
Garcia said she landed her new job in something of a whirlwind.
“They saw me in the national news, all over the place, talking about Trump and Latinos, and said they were impressed, and wanted me to do that for the campaign. It all happened so fast.”
The next thing she knew they put her on a plane to Cleveland for the convention, she said.
“I’m so beside myself,” Garcia said, “so happy that I get to be part of this, of the whole transition.”
She said she feels confident that she can help guide the Trump camp about communicating with Latinos, and that she can get Latinos to see Trump in a new dimension.
“People talk about how he’s attacked the immigrants or illegals, why doesn’t anyone internalize that our immigration system is broken?”
“I’m glad that he’s addressing it,” she said.
“He seems to have good intentions,” Garcia said, adding that she is looking forward to personally meeting the candidate soon.
“He’s got everything – he’s got a beautiful family, money – why would anyone step out of that kind of comfort zone to take all this on? He really want a chance to make the country secure, tighten the border security, make us safe.”