Can Joe Biden’s inauguration unite the country? Latino voters are worried — but hopeful

Joe Biden has said that as the 46th president, he will work to unify an increasingly polarized country. But 7 in 10 Americans believe the U.S. will remain politically divided during the next four years, according to NBC News’ latest national poll.

Latinos who voted for and against Biden are trying to remain cautiously hopeful after Biden was sworn in Wednesday.

“I am looking forward to being able to tell people that the person who now represents our country treats all people with respect and dignity,” said Ulisses Sanchez, 40, a small business owner in Los Angeles who organized a virtual watch party “so that we could witness history, but so that we could witness this together as a community.”

Reynaldo Decérega, 48, an independent from Virginia who voted for Biden, said it would be difficult for any president, Democratic or Republican, to be a unifier in the current political environment.

He remains optimistic about the future, however, as a new administration steps in. “Legislators might be willing to be bolder with their actions” after recent events and “all the realities that have been exposed,” said Decérega, who is Panamanian.

Laura Barrera, 46, of Los Angeles said she felt a renewed sense of hope after watching Biden get sworn in at the Inauguration. For her, it felt like “an opportunity to get it right.”

Vianca Rodriguez, 23, of Phoenix.Vianca Rodriguez

Even though she did not vote for Biden, Vianca Rodriguez, 23, said she wants to remain optimistic that he can unite a nation reeling from a violent occupation of the U.S. Capitol by people unwilling to accept the results of the presidential election — putting the country’s polarization on display.

“If he fails, we all fail, and I don’t want this country to fail,” Rodriguez, of Phoenix, said of Biden.

Rodriguez, a Puerto Rico-born conservative who voted to re-elect Donald Trump, described the events that followed the occupation of the Capitol as “frustrating” in part because “people that have never agreed with us to begin with are taking advantage of the moment to justify all of the arguments that they have held against us — for example, that all Trump supporters are white supremacists.”

“Extremism doesn’t have a place in any party,” Rodriguez said, adding that what happened at the Capitol is not representative of Republicans like her, who have “genuine values and respect for this country.”

In her view, Biden has “all the capability to take advantage of these first 90 days to work towards healing the nation” if he focuses on fighting the Covid-19 pandemic by expanding access to vaccines, financially helping struggling small businesses to reopen safely and finalizing a stimulus bill, as well as “encouraging better legislation that will help ease the American public’s concern regarding election integrity.”

About a third of Americans do not believe Biden was legitimately elected, including 70 percent of Republicans, despite a lack of evidence about voter fraud, many unsuccessful lawsuits and other efforts by Trump and Republican lawmakers to overturn the election and instill doubt about its integrity, according to the latest “PBS NewsHour”/NPR/Marist poll.

Members of the National Guard gather near the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday before inaugural ceremonies for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.Olivier Douliery / AFP – Getty Images

Maryori Ryan, 43, of West Palm Beach, Florida, still believes there was massive voter fraud even though Congress has certified Biden as president. Ryan, who left Venezuela two decades ago, voted for Trump and knocked on doors as part of a grassroots effort to re-elect him.

She is not convinced that Biden will be able to live up to his promise of unity, and she worries about increasing “aggression and economic dependence” over the next four years.

Ryan thinks Biden will drive the U.S. into “racial war” as Democrats seek to “divide and conquer” the nation, she said.

For Yumaira Saavedra, 18, of Allentown, Pennsylvania, the task of uniting the U.S. will be a long and arduous one for Biden.

“It’s going to be hard, because there’s still going to be people that think the election was a fraud,” said Saavedra, a first-time voter who favored Biden. “We have to figure out how to balance both of these sides.”

Yumaira Saavedra, 18, of Allentown, Pennsylvania.Yumaira Saavedra

If there is a chance to unite the country, “we have to meaningfully listen to each other, instead of trying to win arguments against one another,” Rodriguez said. “That’s one of the reasons why we have so much difficulty passing bipartisan legislation. Lawmakers seem to just hate each other, and that’s not a very good look, because that’s a reflection of our country, and that makes me wonder where are we heading if we can’t find basic unity in legislation like passing a stimulus bill.”

Saavedra said that as Biden steps into office, she is more concerned about making sure he follows through on his lengthy list of campaign promises, which include pursuing immigration reform, providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and reuniting children who were separated from their parents at the border, among others.

While she remains vigilant, “I definitely feel more hopeful,” Saavedra said. “We have the most diverse Congress that we’ve ever had.”

Biden’s decision to nominate Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s health secretary, to be assistant secretary for health in the Department of Health and Human Services also fuels Saavedra’s hopes, she said, because Levine would be the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the Senate.

“I’m definitely excited,” Saavedra said.

Barrera agrees.

“I think the Biden Administration has done a great job putting together a cabinet that includes strong progressive Latino leadership. It is inclusive of who is a part of America. The fact that we have a woman of color as vice president creates optimism that there is opportunities of other women of color as well,” she said.

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