An eight-piece mariachi band warmed up the crowd before Hillary Clinton took the stage inside the gym filled to capacity at East Los Angeles College. The former first lady picked the historically Mexican-American corner of Los Angeles County to host an event on Cinco de Mayo.
A young Latina student who said she grew up with an emergency list of contacts because she feared U.S. officials would one day deport her mother welcomed Clinton to the stage. The two women hugged and then Clinton went on to deliver a speech focused on immigration and the leading GOP candidate Donald Trump. Clinton did not mention Bernie Sanders in her 13-minute speech. It was all immigration-related or Trump.
Clinton’s Cinco de Mayo visit to East L.A. also brought dozens and dozens of police officers in riot gear, officers on horses, a police helicopter, and an estimated 1,000 protesters.
“The line has been drawn between the progressive Latino community and the conservative Hispanics,” said Herbert Siguenza, who was demonstrating outside and is one of three members of the Latino/Chicano comedy troupe Culture Clash.
“Latinos were protesting outside, and Hispanics were inside [with Hillary Clinton],” said Siguenza, who said the label Hispanic was a more conservative “government establishment term” assigned to people of Spanish-speaking countries.
Siguenza said he attended the protest because he “couldn't believe Clinton was in East L.A. on Cinco de Mayo. The Hispanic pandering is obvious,” he said.
The protesters highlighted comments Clinton has made in the past that appear to be more conservative positions on immigration than her more inclusive stances now.
Two minutes after Clinton took the stage, a 23-year-old woman began yelling and unveiled a handwritten sign highlighting a quote in which Clinton said unaccompanied minors should not be allowed to stay in the U.S. Clinton made those comments in June 2014. Today, the candidate says those minors need legal representation that would help the majority of them (73%) stay in the U.S.
“I was nervous, but then I saw the mariachis and it made me angrier. She was pandering,” said Jasmin Pacheco, the first demonstrator who attempted to interrupt Clinton’s speech. Pacheco was removed from the building, but moments later her brother unveiled another sign and also tried to interrupt Clinton.
Organizers say there were 10 activists inside the gym, with six attempting to interrupt Clinton. The 10 individuals connected through a school group and a community organization. Clinton was unfazed, and in each attempt to disrupt her supporters took the protest signs and drowned out the yelling.
The activists were a distraction, but never interrupted Clinton’s speech. Clinton continued her speech, pledging she would fight for comprehensive reform with a path to citizenship and preserve President Obama’s executive actions on immigration currently being considered by the Supreme Court.
"We're going to end raids and round-ups. We're going to keep families together,” Clinton said to a cheering crowd.
Pacheco, who grew up in South L.A. with immigrant parents from Mexico, identified as a “Bernie or bust” supporter, a phrase some Sander supporters use to say they will not vote for any other Democrat except Sanders.
“Politics never interested me, but Bernie Sanders woke me up to all this corruption that's going on,” said Pacheco outside of the gym where Clinton was speaking.
“I donate $27 every month to his campaign, I knock on doors, I phone bank now,” said Pacheco. Her parents were Clinton supporters until she convinced them otherwise and were not aware of her actions at the event.
Many of the demonstrators outside carried handwritten signs declaring Clinton was not welcome in the community. One sign read “We only matter when it’s Cinco de Mayo.” There were several signs connecting Clinton’s policy decisions to the assassination of Berta Cáceres, an Honduran indigenous and environmental rights activist. And then more signs questioning Clinton’s intent visiting East L.A. on Cinco de Mayo.
Outside, another student said Clinton’s presence at the college was an insult to the community. The community college’s president spoke before Clinton’s speech and said some students juggled three jobs to support children and families. Others were homeless.
“She’s pandering,” said Adri, who declined to give her last name due to privacy concerns. The 23-year-old student made a sign that juxtaposed two conflicting quotes made by Clinton.
“We’re not going to let her come pander to our community to try to get the vote for us when we know that she is not going to work for our best interests,” Ron Gochez, one of the organizers of the protest told local radio station KPCC.
This is the second year in a row that Clinton has visited a Latino community on Cinco de Mayo. In 2015 Clinton visited Rancho High School in Las Vegas and promised to fight for immigration reform with a path to citizenship. In an unprecedented move for a leading presidential hopeful, Clinton also made transgender immigrants a campaign issue.
At the end of the night a Monterey Police Department official described the event as peaceful, but Clinton supporters coming out of the event must have thought the worst. The sheriff's department brought in horses. and there were dozens of officers in riot gear carrying non-lethal guns. The sheriff and local police department could not confirm if there were any arrests made during the event. The individuals who attempted to interrupt Clinton were all escorted out of the building and allowed to leave the premises.
“I was very happy to see so many millennials participating and agitating,” said Herbert Siguenza, the member of Culture Clash.
“I'm proud of the young people with consciences who came out today and are saying something is wrong with this country,” Siguenza said.