FRANKFORT (AP) — Kentucky state Sen. Ralph Alvarado says his father came to the U.S. from Costa Rica in 1963 and taught himself English from a dictionary while working as a clerk for 25 cents an hour. His mother came from Argentina in 1967 to attend college. They met later while working at encyclopedia company, fell in love and got married.
Now their 46-year-old son is a medical doctor and a rising star in Kentucky politics, the first Hispanic ever elected to the Kentucky state Senate. On Wednesday night, Alvarado will likely tell his story on the stage of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland to soften criticism of Donald Trump. The presumptive presidential nominee has been labeled racist by many Latino groups for saying a federal judge would not treat him fairly because the judge’s family was from Mexico.
“I think it was a dumb comment for him to make,” said Alvarado, a physician whose first run for office in 2004 was marred when someone spray painted a racial slur on his front porch. Alvarado said his speech will likely touch on how “Hispanics are also Americans, and so we were born in this country. We take pride in being Americans, people that leave their homelands to come to this country, embrace this country, embrace the culture of this country.”
Alvarado, who is scheduled to speak to the convention at about 9 p.m. Wednesday, initially endorsed U.S. Sen. Rand Paul for president. When Paul dropped out, Alvarado endorsed U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio until he ended his campaign after losing the Florida primary to Trump.
Now, Alvarado says he supports Trump. He disagrees with him on some things, saying the United States should be “selective” with immigration but not ban all Muslims from entering the country, as Trump has proposed. But he argues a vote for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton would be worse.
“The options are between somebody who is brutally honest, perhaps to a fault, versus someone who is brutally dishonest who is going to look into a camera and say something you don’t know if they are telling you the truth or not,” Alvarado said. “An ambassador has been killed, and then (you) lie about it and say, ‘Oh well it doesn’t really matter anyway.’ I find those kind of comments more disturbing for me.”
Alvarado was referring to a deadly terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012 when Clinton was Secretary of State. An investigation by House Republicans made no direct accusations of wrongdoing by Clinton.
The Pew Research Center estimates a record 27.3 million Hispanics will be eligible to vote in November. But the report also suggests Hispanics could be underrepresented at the polls, since nearly half of those voters are millennials who historically have low turnout in elections.
Alvarado said “Latinos are naturally conservative people” who are drawn to the Republican party’s socially and fiscally conservative platform. He said many immigrants come to the United States to escape government corruption, and he said the Republican platform “allows them to be self-sufficient (and) gives them the opportunity to succeed.”
“It’s not all about immigration, it’s about economic opportunity and to make sure that Hispanics watching at home understand the same thing: That we’re here to provide them the America they have come to seek in this country,” he said.