One recent Saturday at the Cali-Fame factory, about 20 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, dozens of employees, almost all of them Latino, were working away while machines whirred all around them. Some peered over glasses as their deft hands assembled one hat after another; others swept scraps of fabric from the floor.
They were surrounded by stacks of freshly minted camouflage-print caps, with the Republican presidential hopeful’s all-capital-letter promise emblazoned on the front in orange.
Latinos have a message for Donald Trump:
We make your hats
Donald Trump’s hats have quickly become a signature totem of the 2016 presidential campaign, a kitsch magnet that serves ironic hipsters and sincere supporters alike. The red-and-white caps are emblazoned with the real estate mogul’s oft-repeated slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
But look around the factory floor where these hats are being made by the thousands, and you’ll find faces that don’t seem to fit into Trump’s vision of America.
Yolanda Melendrez is one of them. Melendrez, an immigrant from Mexico who was brought to the United States by her parents when she was a baby, has worked at the Carson-based Cali-Fame headwear company since 1991.
“When we first got the order (for the Trump hats), I said to myself, ‘Just wait until he sees who’s making his hats. We’re Latinos, we’re Mexicans, Salvadorenos,'” she recalled.
Melendrez, 44, started out as a machine operator, stitching the seams of baseball caps. She now works as a lead on the floor, roaming as she checks on the flow of work, supervising other sewing machine operators and embroiders. She became a citizen when she was 20; her parents are permanent residents. Melendrez was 14 when she had her first child, and the job has helped her pay rent and put food on the table for her kids, she says.