KTEP - El Paso, Texas

Postcards From Americans: What Motivates People To Vote

Oct 29, 2020
Originally published on November 2, 2020 8:13 am

After the 2016 presidential election, photographer Katie Hayes Luke felt that media coverage of the 2016 election and the apparent surprise about the results indicated a disconnect between the public narrative and the voters' private views.

"What came clearly into focus was that our nation is sharply divided over issues," Hayes Luke said. "There was an underlying dialogue in our country not playing out on our television screens.

"As a journalist, I wanted to explore what motivates voters to go to the polls - issue by issue, person by person. Media often treats large national issues like the people who vote on them — all believe the same things, but the truth is that most of us are not just bricks in a wall. We vote based on what affects us and our families."

In 2017, Hayes Luke started the project Postcards From Americans. This visual representation of our collective American conversation includes voices from across the political spectrum and aims to bring together diverse perspectives. Not everyone in these images is an American, because the reality of our political landscape is that the policies enacted by our leadership have global impact, including on those who seek to work or live in America.

McAllen, Texas: Victoria Weber
Katie Hayes Luke
Brownsville, Texas: Rusty Monsees
Katie Hayes Luke

Brownsville, TX: Michael Benavides
Katie Hayes Luke

How long did you spend working on this project?

Technically started the project in 2017, but really began in earnest in early 2019 while covering immigration along the Texas/Mexico border. I am going to continue the project through the 2020 Presidential Election.

What do you hope will resonate or stick with people the most?

Postcards from Americans reconnects subject and viewer to one critical truth: we may not agree with each other, but we are all invested in speaking up for a better America.

What was your favorite photo?

The nature of the project — meeting real people in real places on tight schedules — means that these images aren't the polished, highly-produced work you might find in another time or from another photographer. But the magic of the project exists in the way the photos connect the people in them to the words they've written, and I've found a number of images I love because of the great meaning in what the subjects have shared, and not just the image alone.

It's been a good reminder that some images in a project are there because they are important to the story, and not because they are striking standalone photos.

What was the most challenging part of this project?

The most challenging part of the project has been finding conservative voices. Distrust for the media in general is a discussion I have a lot with potential subjects.

San Antonio, Texas: Bella Garcia
Katie Hayes Luke
Austin, Texas: Pamela Williams
Katie Hayes Luke
Pflugerville, Texas: Robyn Sandoval
Katie Hayes Luke
San Antonio, Texas: Melanie Harrell
Katie Hayes Luke

Any interesting experiences you would like to share?

By training, I am a grassroots journalist. I find stories and subjects by just showing up or knocking on doors. When I first envisioned this project, I thought that I would drive through towns, eating at the local diner and talking to people on the street. I have had to change the way I report and find subjects because of COVID. Now everything is produced ahead of time and I have to consider social distancing when photographing subjects. It is a big change, but I am trying to be flexible and make things work.

My kids are also out of school and doing virtual learning for the next semester, which means that they can travel with me across the country while working on this project. They are getting to meet many of the people that I photograph and we have a lot of conversations about how issues affect people and their lives.

Iola, Texas: Dwight Bollin
Katie Hayes Luke
Zaira Gonzales poses for a portrait by the grave of her brother, Christian Gonzalez, in Palestine, Texas. Christian died in Falfurrias, Texas in September of 2012 while crossing illegally into the United States from Mexico.
Katie Hayes Luke
McAllen, Texas: Nathaniel Castilleja
Katie Hayes Luke

Photographer Katie Hayes Luke will continue to work on the project up until the 2020 presidential election.

Follow her on Instagram:

Katie Hayes Luke @katiehayesluke

Postcards From Americans @postcardsfromamericans

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.


Voters in Texas aren't usually shy about giving their opinions. So after the 2016 election, photojournalist Katie Hayes Luke set out to learn what motivated them to go to the polls. She did a series of interviews and asked people to write a message to President Trump about the issues closest to their hearts. Their comments were collected in a photo essay called Postcards from America (ph). We're going to hear now from some of these voters and what they wrote to President Trump. And just a warning - there is offensive language in this story.

MICHAEL BENAVIDES: My name is Michael Benavides. I'm 51 years old. I live in Brownsville, Texas. Growing up, my family was Mormon. Mormon is synonymous with the Republican Party. That is kind of, you know, what kind of fed into me and making me who I am because the Mormon Church is about faith, about loyalty, about passion, dedication, service and just good.


BENAVIDES: Dear Donald Trump, I'm a part of a group called Team Brownsville. We take breakfast and dinner and necessary supplies every day to the good folks waiting in Mexico for their turn to begin the asylum process. I've been counting the number of asylum seekers I've met. My number's about 6,000. One hundred percent of them are wonderful, beautiful people - not one drug dealer, murderer or rapist in the group. I've yet to meet a single asylum seeker that resembles anything less than a decent, God-loving person. They pray before they eat. They thank us endlessly for our support. Donald, if you spent one morning and evening with these folks, you would realize that there is no need for a wall. Thank you. Michael Benavides.

MONICA A CASTRO: To President Donald Trump, I want to thank you for bringing the name of the Lord to the forefront of this country again.


CASTRO: My name is Monica A. Castro. I deal with chronic pain, so I don't really work anymore. But I do volunteer a lot at my church. And I was blessed, I feel, by having my mom put me in a Christian school. You know, when people say, I'm a Christian, that relationship with the Lord should bleed into every part of your life, every part of your decision, everything. That's how I try to live.

Mr. President, we are not Anglo Americans or Mexican Americans or African Americans. We are Americans, period. I was born and raised in Brownsville, Texas. And then I moved to McAllen, Texas. Both are border towns. My heart grows weary of all the illegals crossing for nefarious reasons. We have a vetting process for a reason. What about the people that are trying to become citizens the right way? Most people get upset if someone cuts in line at the checkout counter, and yet they think nothing of people being cheated out of their chance to become citizens. Thank you, Mr. President, for seeing the real problems of this nation. A citizen under your authority, Monica A. Castro.


ROBYN SANDOVAL: My name is Robyn Sandoval. I'm 45 years old, and I live in Austin, Texas. I have three children. And I was sitting on my couch in the safety of my home in Austin, and I watched the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And I saw a mother on the news hand her small children to strangers getting on a bus to Houston. And she said, please take them. I'll try to find you in a few days. She was desperate. And I turned to my husband. I said, what do I have to do that that's never me, that no matter what happens, our family can stay together, and we can protect our kids and our home?

Dear Mr. President, as a mother of three, I realized that first responders would be minutes or hours away when seconds counted. And the responsibility to keep my children falls solely upon me. Now I served as the executive director of A Girl and A Gun and oversee training programs at more than 190 gun ranges nationwide. Please stand firm against those in government who want to restrict our God-given, constitutionally protected rights to self-defense. Lawmakers are trying to create more criminals by forcing moms like me to give up our property and our rights. This is not acceptable. Respectfully, Robyn Sandoval.

DWIGHT BOLLIN: My name is Dwight Bollin. I'm 57. And I live in a place called Iola, Texas.


BOLLIN: Couldn't renew my Coast Guard license 'cause of this whole COVID thing. So now I'm getting out on the side of the road and selling things from the house. One man's junk is another man's treasure, you know, and that's what I got to do.


BOLLIN: Dear President Trump, you've taken that old saying, to whom much is given, much is expected and shown a thankless nation what a real man is supposed to do. Please, Mr. President, always keep that positive attitude, and you will go down in history as the greatest man to create effectual change for all mankind. Thankfully yours, Dwight Bollin.


VICTORIA LYNN WEBER: My name is Victoria Lynn Weber (ph). I am 51 years old. And I am a labor and delivery RN at a border-town hospital. Two hundred-plus beds of our 322-bed hospital were COVID-related patients. And there were a large number of COVID-related, well, trips to the morgue.


WEBER: Donald J. Trump, my border-town hospital is full. More than half is COVID-19 patients, including eight babies on ventilators. You just had to turn a major pandemic into a political circus. And now I say to you, American blood is on your hands. Signed, Victoria Lynn, RN.


GREENE: Voters from Texas reading from their messages to President Trump. They were part of a project called Postcards from America by the photojournalist Katie Hayes Luke.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.