Ahead Of North Carolina Rally, Greenville Residents Respond To Trump Comments

Jul 17, 2019
Originally published on July 19, 2019 5:27 pm
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump is headed to Greenville, N.C. today. He'll hold his first political rally since he attacked four Democratic congresswomen on Twitter. In the tweets, Trump told them to go back to the countries they came from. All four are Americans. Three were born in the U.S., and the fourth is a naturalized citizen. Trump will likely defend his remarks at the rally. But as NPR's Ayesha Roscoe reports, some people in Greenville say the president's message does not reflect their community.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Juvencio Rocha-Peralta was really struck by President Trump's words. He said they reminded him of the bullying that some immigrant children in Greenville experienced after Trump's election.

JUVENCIO ROCHA-PERALTA: The same thing is what he say now - go back home. So the children were getting to school, and they would go into the classrooms. And the children would tell the other children, hey. Now you're not welcome here. Now you are going to have to go back home.

RASCOE: Rocha-Peralta is executive director of the Association of Mexicans in North Carolina, a nonprofit group that helps Latinos in the state. He immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico in the '80s as a teenager. Back then, he felt embraced by Americans. But now that's changing.

ROCHA-PERALTA: Under this new administration, it's kind of go back to those early years, where, you know, attacking minorities and now attacking not just only Mexicans but attacking the entire minority community.

RASCOE: He said Trump's immigration policies have made many in the community afraid, but it's also made them more determined to stand up for their rights. Not far from Rocha-Peralta's office stands the Sycamore Hill Missionary Baptist Church. It's weathered the racial turmoil of this country. Founded after the Civil War, the African American church was burned to the ground by an arsonist in 1969.

KENNETH HAMMOND: We as a people and we as a congregation have had firsthand experiences on how racist activities can impact people of faith.

RASCOE: Interim Pastor Kenneth Hammond says race relations have improved in the area since then, but he still takes Trump's words personally.

HAMMOND: When you hear the rhetoric of going back from where you came from, for many of our folk, that's two blocks from here. So we are well-invested in this country. The contributions that we've made to the success of this country are well-documented.

RASCOE: While Trump won North Carolina in 2016, he didn't win Pitt County, where Greenville is located. It's home to East Carolina University, where Trump's holding his rally. The county is about a third African American, and about 6% of residents are Latino. Trump and his defenders say his words were not racist and that it's Democrats who are using extreme language. But Hammond has little patience for this argument.

HAMMOND: If it barks like a dog, if it looks like a dog, it's a dog. And so it's racist. It's racist at its worst level.

RASCOE: Even some of Trump's supporters in Greenville were dismayed by the tweets. Emma Arndt is chairwoman of the newly formed College Republicans on East Carolina's campus. She'll be at the Trump rally registering voters. But she says she felt his initial comments were ignorant.

EMMA ARNDT: What he said does not represent every conservative in America - definitely does not represent every conservative in College Republicans.

RASCOE: Arndt is optimistic that Trump can win again in 2020, and she hopes he will be more thoughtful about his tweeting.

ARNDT: I think he had a moment. I think that he made a mistake, but I think that he can build from it. And I think that he can maybe work on his initial tweets and stuff like that.

RASCOE: On campus, Arndt wants to build bridges between her group and organizations on the left. She plans to arrange a 9/11 memorial this year and wants the College Democrats and Young Socialists to participate so they all can come together as Americans.

Ayesha Rascoe, NPR News, Greenville, N.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.