Recent immigrants trust the U.S. government more than native-born Americans do, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center. As part of our series about trust in government, we focus on one California community that's home to many immigrants.
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Bricia Lopez, 25, teamed with her younger brother Fernando, 22, to open the Oaxacan fast-food restaurant Cemitas y Clayudas Pal Cabron in Huntington Park, Calif. She says she believes in the U.S. government and has seen her — and her parents' — American dreams come true.
Bricia Lopez, 25, teamed with her younger brother Fernando, 22, to open the Oaxacan fast-food restaurant Cemitas y Clayudas Pal Cabron in Huntington Park, Calif. She says she believes in the U.S. government and has seen her — and her parents' — American dreams come true. Mandalit del Barco/NPR
Huntington Park, Calif., is puro Mexicano; nearly 100 percent of the people living here are Mexican immigrants. On the main drag in this community east of Los Angeles, you can buy cowboy sombreros and discount quinceanera dresses for Sweet 15 parties.
And at one popular Oaxacan restaurant, you can order specialties like cemitas (Puebla-style sandwiches), clayudas (Oaxacan pizza/tostadas) and cheladas (spicy beer cocktails rimmed with chile salt and ground agave worms).
The restaurant is called Cemitas y Clayudas Pal Cabron.
"It's fast food from the south of Mexico," says 25-year-old owner Bricia Lopez, as she points to the menu and the funny caricatures painted on the walls. "Pal Cabron means 'for the badass,' " she explains.
That's meant to be a compliment.
Last year, Lopez teamed with her younger brother Fernando — he's just 22 — to open the restaurant. It was right around the time she became an American citizen.
"You know, it really is the land of the free," says Lopez. "You're able to do so many things in this country that people maybe who were born here and didn't have to go through that struggle don't appreciate."
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Downtown Huntington Park is filled with murals like this, depicting icons such as Mexican comedian Cantinflas (bottom right).
Lopez was 10 when she emigrated from Oaxaca with her parents. In Los Angeles, the family opened what has become a very successful restaurant franchise called Guelaguetza. Lopez says she saw her parents' American dream — and hers — come true. That's part of what makes her so patriotic as a new U.S. citizen.
"Coming here was very different for me," she says, explaining she was born in a country filled with corruption and crooked politicians. "There was a lot of money being stolen from the poor. I really saw it firsthand, where these government officials would go into these little towns in Oaxaca and literally give them money for their votes. So you literally buy a vote. You can't do that here."
Lopez says she doesn't agree with absolutely everything the U.S. government does: She hates how the Department of Motor Vehicles works, and she would really love it if illegal immigrants were given amnesty. But she says she truly believes the government cares about its people.
Lopez's views are right in line with 194 immigrant Americans randomly surveyed by the Pew Research Center. Most of the respondents live in the West or Southwest of the country. And most of them are young and were born in Mexico.
About 32 percent of them said they're basically content with the federal government, while only 15 percent of native-born Americans said the same.
Thirty-one percent of immigrants said they trust the government of Washington always or most of the time, versus 21 percent of people born in the United States.
More than half of immigrant Americans said the federal government is affecting the way things are going positively; only 22 percent of those born in the U.S. said the same.
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Mexican immigrant Luis Garcia hopes to become a U.S. citizen, but he says the only person he trusts in power is President Obama — and "my mom and dad: That's my government."
Mark Hugo Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center, says the results echo answers to another survey the center did last month. It found foreign-born Latinos much more enthusiastic about participating in the census.
"Immigrants are just more likely to be positive about the government," says Lopez, "partly because they made a decision to come to the U.S. That may be influencing their opinions."
Pros And Cons
In Huntington Park, you'll find Latinos frustrated by the recession and anxious about promised immigration reforms. But you also find people like Peruvian-born Fidel Villar, who are grateful for the opportunities they have had in this country.
"I believe in the government," he says. "It's helped me."
Emilia Acua, from Mexico City, says she appreciates the free education she gets here, but she doesn't completely trust the U.S. government. Luis Garcia, 32, who is hoping to become a U.S. citizen, shares her view.
"I guess the only one I'm trusting right now is our President," says Garcia, adding that he doesn't trust anyone else in government — or any government, for that matter.
"Just my mom and dad," he laughs. "That's my government."
In this way, Garcia could be just like many native-born Americans.