Lolita Mancheno-Smoak, an immigrant from Ecuador who once dreamed of becoming her country’s president, has found an unlikely home in the tea party movement.
When she launched her campaign for county school board last week at Brion’s Grille in Fairfax, Va., she was not alone — flanked by immigrants from Europe, Asia and Latin America who have joined tea pascrty groups in the face of unrelenting criticism that the movement is isolationist and anti-immigrant.
Mancheno-Smoak, who started attending tea party meetings in February, is one of several immigrants running for local office in Virginia under the tea party banner.
Tito Muñoz, a Colombian immigrant who owns a construction company and won the nickname “Tito the Builder” as a vocal supporter of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008, is running for Virginia Senate. Jo-Ann Chase, a Puerto Rican, says she is the first Latina candidate for a state House seat.
In Northern Virginia, many of the immigrants who have gravitated to the tea party have roots in socialist countries and are intensely afraid that the U.S. is headed down the same path. They embrace the tea party’s small government, socially conservative messages and say the only immigration they are for is the legal kind. They don’t bat an eye when it comes to the movement’s tough anti-illegal-immigrant rhetoric.
Muñoz hosts a one-hour Spanish language radio show called “America Eres Tu” broadcast Saturday afternoons on WURA 920 AM out of a trailer in Dumfries, Va. He prints copies of the Constitution in Spanish and answers questions about U.S. politics from those who are new to the country.
“If the immigrants understood what was happening in America there would be a revolt against those politicians,” said Muñoz, who became a citizen in 2008. “Obama’s talking one way and doing another and the Hispanics do not know about that hanky-panky.”
He has launched a state political action committee, TitoPAC, and a federal 527 called the Conservative Hispanic Coalition, to fund his run for state Senate.
“Why do immigrants leave their country? Because they don’t have opportunity and they don’t have freedom, because politicians control everything,” he said. “We come to America and we are going to have the same crap? Then we might as well go back there.”
Genaro Pedroarias, the national committeeman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly of Virginia, said the tea party is a natural fit for many of northern Virginia’s immigrants from countries like Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua.
“Most Hispanics who come to this country come here to flee socialistic and oppressive regimes,” said Pedroarias, who is Cuban. “They are some of the most vibrant members of the tea party.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.