Rogelio Chavira is for Biden. Dolores Chacon is for Trump. The border fence passes through the couple’s backyard.
Text and photography by Henry Craver
November 6, 2020
When the Mexican Revolution tore through Chihuahua in 1910, thousands of Mexicans crossed the Rio Grande and took refuge in El Paso. One of them, a young mother named Pilar Chacon, moved her family into a single-story adobe house with its backyard right on the border. The house has been in the family ever since.
Pilar Chacon’s 69-year-old great-granddaughter, Dolores Chacon, took over the house a couple years ago. She and her husband, Rogelio, have decorated it in classic Tejana style, with pictures of quinceañeras next to military portraits and Dallas Cowboys memorabilia. But the most prominent feature of the property is a towering border barricade, erected in 2009, which serves as the fence on their backyard. Dolores loves it. She calls it her “freedom wall.”
It was a few years after that wall went up that Dolores started dating Rogelio. They had been sweethearts in high school, class of 1970. After graduating, they had gone their separate ways only to find each other 43 years later. She’s a fervent Donald Trump supporter. Rogelio is all in for Joe Biden.
The border is all about contrasts and conflicts, but it’s also a place where people come together. The political preferences of Texas Latinos are informed by a diverse range of concerns and lived experiences. Sometimes, that diversity of political opinion can be found under the same roof, within the same marriage. This is the story of Rogelio Chavira and Dolores Chacon.
Rogelio and Dolores met in middle school and started dating their senior year of high school. Although they split up before starting at the University of Texas at El Paso, Dolores and Rogelio have fond memories of their first romance. “He was just so polite, just the sweetest and most respectful man,” Dolores says. “He was reserved and very hardworking. I’ve really never understood how such a hard worker wouldn’t want to be a Republican.”
Forty-three years later, in 2013, Dolores and Rogelio ran into each other at the mall. Both were single. Dolores was going through a rough time. Her brother had recently died and her mother had been diagnosed with cancer. After their run in, Rogelio followed up with a phone call, and from there began to provide Dolores with emotional support. Shortly after Dolores’ mother died, the former high school sweethearts started dating again. Soon enough, Rogelio asked Dolores if she would marry him.
The newlyweds moved into Dolores’ childhood home. The single-story adobe, built by Dolores’ great-grandparents after they’d fled Chihuahua during the Mexican Revolution, had fallen into disrepair. Dolores felt she owed it to Chihuahita, the historic border neighborhood where she’d worked as a teacher for 40 years, to fix up her family’s home. The fence that bounds Dolores and Rogelio’s backyard is part of the federally funded border wall that separates El Paso from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.
Dolores, a fourth-generation American, and Rogelio, first generation, were both keen on preserving the home’s distinct north Mexican character. They repainted each room a different bright color; Dolores decorated the walls with Catholic and Mexican folk art imagery. “We’re Americans and we love our country, but we’re also very proud of our Mexican roots,” she says.
Rogelio, a retired ESL teacher, knew he stood to the left of his wife on most issues when they got married—he identifies as an independent. But in 2015, the rise of Donald Trump inserted some political friction into their relationship. “I’d supported Democrats and Republicans for president before,” Rogelio says. “And Dolores had gotten me to understand the importance of border security, especially for us literally living on the border. But then Trump came along and I don’t think he represents what the Republican party was all about. I hated the way he treated women and how much he lied. And he’s such a narcissist. I just couldn’t believe she’d support him.”
Dolores was disappointed that her husband wouldn’t support the Republican nominee. “Don’t you understand we need to protect the border? This affects us,” she’d ask him. “The Democrats want to cut military spending and my brother served in the Army. It seemed so clear to me.”
Although they argue, Rogelio and Dolores insist they don’t allow their political differences get the best of them. “We’ve gotten really good at tuning each other out,” Dolores says. “But we respect each other. I close the door when I listen to Hannity. It just comes down to tolerance of different opinions.”
Dolores especially appreciates President Trump’s tough rhetoric on illegal immigration, something she feels prior Republican presidents lacked. “Reagan was a great president, but what he got wrong was not securing the border. Here in Chihuahuita we were prisoners in our own homes until that wall went up in 2009. Illegal immigrants would pass through our properties almost daily. One morning I came out into the backyard and there were about 15 men sleeping here. They would break things, they’d step on my flowers, they’d leave trash. Of course I’m not anti-immigrant or anti-Mexican, but we have laws and they have to be enforced.”
Rogelio has warmed to some progressive platforms, like free community college and universal healthcare, but his decision to vote for Biden had more to do with the two candidates’ different personalities. “I’m not the most excited about Biden, but I think he’ll be a great change after Trump. He’s a decent man, he’s religious, and he’s honest. The truth is hard but necessary, and with Trump the country has grown way too used to lies. You know, this country had a really great reputation, and that reputation was based largely on our honesty. Trump turned America into a laughing stock. I hope Biden can bring us back.”
Dolores and Rogelio watch early coverage of election results on November 3. “If Biden does end up winning, I will respect the office,” Dolores says. “It’s a very important position and it deserves to be respected.” Rogelio thinks Trump was successful at leveraging the patriotism of Mexican Americans, but says he’s confident that Biden will be able to win them back with steady leadership and a focus on practical issues like middle-class tax cuts and healthcare reform. Dolores was happy, although not all that surprised, by the news that Trump had made inroads with Latino voters. “It makes sense to me,” she says. “Reagan always said Latinos were Republicans but they just didn’t know it yet. Now we’re finally waking up. We’re hard workers, we love small business, and we like earning our keep.”
Correction: Rogelio Chavira and Dolores Chacon found each other 43 years after high school. The story originally stated they found one another 45 years later. The Observer regrets the error.
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