Vox Pop: Starr County, Texas

Meet Oscar Gonzalez, whose county made headlines on election night

Election Night 2020 was full of surprises. Polls were off, again, and rumors of widespread violence thankfully did not come to pass. Donald Trump lost for a variety of reasons, including poor performance with the elderly and (surprisingly) white males.

One result that confused many was the turnaround in votes for Trump among “Latino” voters. Stampeding over the difference between recent immigrants and not, between Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, Venezuelan-Americans, and countless other groups, pundits accustomed to short-handing blocs of voters by ethnic category wondered at what seemed like outlier results in certain parts of the country.

One place that attracted a lot of headlines was Starr County, Texas, often referred to as the “most Latino” county in the country, comprising 96% of its voters. Hillary Clinton won the county by 60 points in 2016, but Biden won by just five this time around, seemingly a dramatic turn that was much wondered-over in Washington.

Press accounts were divided on why, unsurprisingly by political orientation. The Washington Post quoted a political scientist as saying the results showed “nothing new,” adding that “the difference this year is that Republicans did the work to court these voters and tailor their message about the election around the economy and jobs.” The Wall Street Journal said it wasn’t messaging about the economy, but rather, “the economy.” Both articles quoted local residents to back up their theses.

We spoke with Oscar Gonzalez, owner of Tekilas Wings & More, Che's Wine & Tapa Bar, the Simple Cafe, and a few other businesses, most of which are shut down due to locally-imposed Covid-19 restrictions. Oscar is also a licensed vocational nurse. When we caught up with him, he’d been painting his house.

TK: You’ve been painting?

Gonzalez: Yes, I’ve been building a small house. Next to my parents’ house… It's a little project. It’s been two years in the works. They just finished up with the drywall last week and the tape and float, and they started doing the primer today but we still don’t have electricity with the house here, the electrician hasn’t finished yet. It's about a 3400 square foot house… The land [here] is really really cheap compared to other places in the United States, our cost of living is really really low… We heard stories of people coming down here, and they sell their small house in California or something like that and come over here and build almost like a mansion with what they got from over there, for just a regular house.

TK: You mentioned before that it was deer season?

Gonzalez: Yes, I believe it is the second weekend of deer season already. 

TK: Do you only hunt deer?

Gonzalez: My favorite thing there at the ranch is wild hogs, we have the wild pigs… There's a problem all over the ranches — there are wild hogs getting all the food for the rest of the animals. Still, comparing the taste of a deer to the wild hog, I would rather kill a pig than a deer. They're really tasty.

TK: Are there pitfalls to hunting pigs?

Gonzalez: We usually don't see them around except at night. There are so many around, but if you’re ever looking during the day… you won't see them at all. They're extremely sneaky. 

TK: What's the best strategy in hog hunting?

Gonzalez: We use traps. We bait them and then leave them overnight and we go check them every morning and we see if we catch anything.

TK: For you, is hunting about the excitement, the time away from work — what exactly?

Gonzalez: Getting away from everything. With this Covid-19, it’s kind of slowed my life a bit. We were running all the businesses. I was working full time as a nurse, and it was crazy. I was doing my nursing job, Monday through Friday. I work at an adult daycare, taking care of the elderly, I've been an LVN, a licensed vocational nurse, here in the state of Texas since I was 18. I just started working super young.

Now with COVID, everything’s kind of slowed down a bit, and we've been spending much more time at the ranch. It's just nice to get away from everything. It's about 45 minutes here from Rio Grande [City], the ranch is in Santacito Texas, and it's just so relaxing to be around nothing... and cows. And the phone service is not that good out there, so it's perfect. 

TK: You can always blame it on the phone service when you don't want to pick up a call from, say, your mother.

Gonzalez: She usually tags along with us. She loves it.

TK: Right. Is a hot dog a sandwich? 

Gonzalez: A hot dog is a hot dog, and a sandwich is a sandwich.

TK: Why you think people voted for Trump in this election cycle? 

Gonzalez: [We] had been known to be a strong Democratic county. I believe this time, what happened, a lot of the young kids, and also the people that work up there in the oil fields… I guess this year they thought that Trump was going to be a big oil backer, and their jobs depended on it. 

TK: Do you think that they liked him for his personality, or was it just about the job situation?

Gonzalez: I think it was just the oil, and job security. And also the Republican Party here in town, they were really organized. Our Democratic Party chair didn’t do as much as the Republicans did. [Republicans] were holding rallies every month, they were doing drive-by parades with the vehicles, they made their presence known in town.

TK: Thank you for your time.