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Donald Trump Is Causing Bitter Fights Inside Cuban-American Families

Cuban-Americans, long a reliably Republican voting block, began to fray once Obama came around. Now Trump, as he is doing elsewhere, may speed up the process.

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MIAMI — Sitting under the neon green letters of Ball & Chain — a revamped version of a popular 1950s bar and lounge on Calle Ocho in Little Havana — Claudia Maria Alonso and her brother, Javier, tried to properly explain just how Republican their Cuban-exile parents are.

There was Christmas two years ago, when dinner transformed into an intense argument over President Obama's move to normalize US relations with Cuba, the country to which their parents say they will never return, unless it is democratic.

But the Alonso siblings agree that Elián González's arrival in Florida in 2000 dominates all others in their political education.

The young boy, at the center of a custody battle after his mother drowned trying to bring him to the United States, was seized by gun-toting federal agents. Miami's Cuban community revolted. Claudia wore "demonstration" clothes, as her parents put it, not protest clothes. They emphasized that it is the right of Americans to "demonstrate" — which they did over the Gonzalez saga.

"We were Elián; Elián was us," Claudia said.

The president at the time was Bill Clinton. And that moment, along with the rise of Fox News, cemented their parent's Republican affiliation.

But the Alonso siblings, now 27 and 24 years old, are part of a younger generation of Floridians Cubans, whose firm ties to the Republican Party have begun to fray in recent years. Obama won the Cuban vote in Florida in 2012 (though some still dispute the 49% to 47% exit poll result). Now, Donald Trump threatens to remove all doubt. And in the all important state of Florida, where small differences in one demographic or region can affect the final result, that's a troubling shift not just for Trump, but for the Republican Party.

That change will not be driven by older Cubans — the ones reporters interview outside the famous Versailles restaurant, with their strong political views and stronger cafecitos — but by their kids, the ones who don't like Hillary Clinton much, but are disgusted by Trump.

Party affiliation already appears to be going in that direction, according to Pew Hispanic data from 2013. A majority of "millennial" Cuban-Americans identified as Democrats or leaning Democratic (63%), while only 30% said they were Republican or lean Republican. The center's director, Mark Hugo Lopez, cautioned it was a small sample size, but more robust data for 18- to 49-year-olds showed similar shifts, and higher Republican identification among those over 50.

An FIU poll taken over the summer among 1,000 registered Cuban-American voters in Miami Dade County found that Clinton was leading Trump 43% to 21% among 18 to 39-year-olds with 26% saying neither and 10% undecided.

At Ball & Chain, with appetizers of mariquitas de maduros and congri fritters arrayed in front of them, Javier talked about his journey within the family, from putting up a large Obama campaign poster (his mother yelled his full name, his parent's threatened his inheritance), to voting for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary, and admitting to having some socialist views.

Now, it's no surprise that he's fully anti-Trump and voting for Clinton.

"I'm a single-issue voter in that I don't want to usher in the apocalypse," he said of Trump.

"The fact that my brother is a registered Democrat in our house is a tragedy," Claudia offered, in a way that left unclear if she was being sarcastic.

She considers herself a conservative — she researched the candidates in 2008 and 2012 and pulled the lever for John McCain and Mitt Romney. But she will vote for a Democrat for the first time in her life in November. ("I don't have a Hillary bumper sticker on the back of my car," she added, to be clear.)

But their parents are a different story — their mom Carmen doesn't like either candidate and doesn't like to divulge who she votes for. Their father Humberto only mentioned it once in front of Claudia. "I'm not voting for Hillary, she's a crook," he said. "The only person to vote for is Trump."

"We're not talking about this," Claudia said she replied (then literally drove away).

Ari Gonzalez, Claudia's friend, has a similar problem. He's a 25-year-old who was born in Cuba, but has lived in Miami since he was three-years-old. The older members of his family are mostly for Trump, he said, but he supports Clinton.

"Older Cubans all come up with weird ideas," he said. "That Obama is gonna be like Fidel Castro, Hillary, too." He got into an argument recently because his family was trashing Obamacare, but he credits it with helping him have insurance.

Miami-native Cassandra Gonzalez — no relation to Ari — says her parents are "a little brainwashed" and voting for Trump. The 27-year-old nurse said that she and her boyfriend, who is also Cuban-American, are no fans of Clinton ("she's a liar") and they're both going to vote third party, for Gary Johnson.

But she saved her worst commentary for Trump, who she sincerely believes is not knowledgeable about any issue related to running the country.

"As far as how he might be as president, he'll start a war by opening his mouth," she said, disdainfully.

Her parents, haven't heard of recent controversies involving Trump and Cuba, she said, like a recent Newsweek report that alleged his companies had violated the Cuban embargo looking to make money off the island.

Many of the younger Cubans said they felt Obama was the turning point, where their traditionally Republican voting families considered or finally voted for a Democrat. Of her support for Clinton now despite coming from a long line of Republican family members, Kim Fraga, 25, said it can no longer be about party during this election.

"It's not about being Democrat or Republican," she said. "It's more of a moral thing, who do you want the younger generation to look up to?"

It's not the time for Democrats or young voters to protest by not supporting Clinton, she argued, and brought up Trump's damaging video tape that saw him bragging about forcing himself on women and touching their genitals because he could — because he was famous.

"I think it's just another clear sign of who he is as a person," Fraga said. "It's not OK to talk about sexual assault as freely and as easily as it comes to him."

With Clinton possibly in line for record Latino support in the face of never before seen unfavorable levels from Trump, she will have to grow her margin among groups that supported Republicans in the past, like Cuban-Americans. While they only make up 4% of the Hispanic population, 70% live in Florida.

Gonzalez said he's embarrassed by older cousins who say they support Trump and having already convinced his mom to vote for Clinton, he has a new strategy he's taking with other family members.

"I'm working on trying to get them to either not vote or open up a fact checker on the internet," he said.

Back at Ball & Chain, whose renovation and reopening coincided with the rise of Calle Ocho as a trendy place young Cuban-Americans wanted to hangout at again, Claudia and Javier polished off fruity cocktails and she told him about a Cuban-American friend living in New York City, who was sending in an absentee ballot to vote in Florida.

"Yes!" Javier shouted, shooting his arms in the air and bringing his hands down as if in prayer.

Adrian Carrasquillo is the White House correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.

Contact Adrian Carrasquillo at adrian.carrasquillo@buzzfeed.com.

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