Rick Treviño is on a mission. We’re in the middle of Fiesta, the city’s annual commemoration of the battles of the Alamo (won by the Mexican Army) and San Jacinto (won by the Texas settlers). It’s a 10-day-long street party with music, parades, and its own rituals, one of which is the accumulation and display of Fiesta medals. These brightly colored enamel pins, often suspended from a piece of ribbon, range from advertisements to calaveras (sugar skulls) to cartoon characters. Treviño, a Democratic candidate in Texas’s 23rd Congressional District, came here to meet voters and sell some medals he’d made himself to raise money for his campaign. Based on the Lotería (a kind of Mexican bingo using cards with images instead of just numbers and letters), Treviño’s medals depict him standing in front of a chalkboard over the caption El Maestro (“The Teacher”).
The problem is that Treviño, who only quit his job as a high-school teacher in August, keeps running into former students. “My school, Sam Houston High School, was about 50/50 black and Hispanic,” he says. “The common denominator was poverty.” So after asking about their parents and congratulating those who have found jobs or are still in school (and commiserating with those who haven’t yet been able to find work), Treviño ends up giving away almost as many medals as he sells. For most candidates, this would still be a sensible goodwill gesture, but Treviño actually needs the money.
“Talk about a grassroots guy campaigning on a shoestring? He’s it!” says Chris Kutalik, coordinator for Our Revolution Texas, which endorsed Treviño in December, when almost no one else took his candidacy seriously. Back then, Treviño stood out from the Democratic field for his youth (he’s 33) and his Chapo Trap House rhetoric, describing Goldman Sachs as “evil,” ridiculing corporate Democrats, and tweeting “Neoliberalism fucking sucks.”