My view from the other side of the “wall”

(This story originally appeared in Yellow Scene Magazine Feb. 24, 2019)

As President Trump prepares to declare a national emergency to build a border wall, I’m sitting here on the other side, holding my breath, horrified by what is happening in my home country and its effect on the American psyche and Mexican-American relations.

This situation is one of many since Trump took office that he’s used to stoke fear among Americans about Mexico and Mexicans. Between Trump’s hateful words and actions, and the media’s underrepresentation of all that is good about Mexico, many Americans have serious misperceptions about their southern neighbor.

When my family left Louisville, Colorado, in the summer of 2015 for a year-long road trip through Mexico, Trump had just announced his bid for the presidency. At that time, him winning the election seemed like a long shot – at least it did to me. Even so, his insults to Mexicans and Mexico were already so divisive and destructive, I had a custom bumper sticker made for our car that said, “Donald Trump: No Bueno Para USA” just to make it abundantly clear we did not support his views. It got a lot of chuckles from Mexicans we met on the road. Little did we know it would be no joke come November 2016.

12525171_10153958216159014_8835537583495657916_o.jpg

Fast forward to today, and we are still living in Mexico and Donald Trump is still beating his chest about Mexico and building a border wall. Except now his words carry the power of the presidency, tearing thousands of migrant families apart and endangering children, furloughing hundreds of thousands of federal employees, and stoking fear among many (mostly white) Americans about Mexico and Mexicans.

This constant incitement of a negative narrative around Mexico and its people is damaging to America’s relations with Mexico, and Americans’ relationships with each other. It is also feeding into long-standing negative stereotypes about Mexico and Mexicans that just aren’t true. One of which is that Mexico is a dangerous place filled with criminals.

Case in point – when we return to the U.S. from time to time, one of the first questions people ask us is, “do you feel safe in Mexico?” Safe from what, exactly, I want to ask. From “banditos” on the road, drug lords on every street corner, knife-wielding murderers and rapists, or corrupt cops? Take your pick of one of the many stereotypes some Americans have about Mexicans.

Yes I feel safe. But just like living anywhere else in the world, including the U.S., I don’t go looking for trouble. I don’t buy illegal drugs, wander the streets alone late at night, leave my valuables laying around, or drive like an idiot (at least I try not to). Does that mean that crime does not happen in Mexico? Of course it doesn’t. It happens a lot.But Americans shouldn’t be so quick to throw stones. They may be surprised to know that certain crimes, like rape, illegal drug use, and murder by firearms occur more frequently in the U.S. than Mexico. And does taking these precautions guarantee my safety? Of course it doesn’t. But it wouldn’t guarantee my safety anywhere I lived.

I feel safe because this isn’t a culture ruled by fear. There may be gun violence in Mexico (although the U.S. far outweighs Mexico – and the world – in the number of mass and school shootings), but we don’t have lockdown drills at school. I don’t feel the need to check for the closest exits when I go to a movie or concert. I don’t worry that my neighbors or the people driving next to me on the highway may be packing heat like I do in the U.S. (and rightly so, since the U.S. tops the world in personal gun ownership).

On the contrary, from what I’ve witnessed, Mexican culture is ruled by compassion and camaraderie. People smile and greet each other when they pass on the street. They don’t look the other way or pretend not to see you. People stop and chat for a good long while, rather than rush off and brush you off. And when shit goes down – and it has occasionally in the town where we live – they come together to support, protect and defend each other. So, yes I feel safe here knowing my community has my back and that I’m not a stranger to my neighbors, nor are they strangers to me.

Another misperception many Americans have about Mexicans is that they are flooding the country and taking all their jobs. But in fact, more Mexican immigrants have returned to Mexico than have migrated to the U.S. in recent years. And numerous studies have shown that immigrants do not cause job losses for U.S. workers, and indeed are a net benefit to the economy. And contrary to what 45 percent of Americans believe, immigrants do not cause crime to go up in the communities they live, and in fact are much less likely to commit crime than non immigrants.

Ironically, it is Americans who are leaving the U.S. for Mexico in increasing numbers. The U.S. State Department estimates that 1.5 million U.S. citizens are currently living in Mexico. In fact, Mexico is home to the largest community of U.S. citizens living outside the country. And it’s not just retirees making the move. More young people and families such as ours are seeking and finding better lives south of the border.

In our three plus  years traveling around Mexico and living in a small town on the coast, we have experienced nothing but kindness and generosity from the people we’ve met, despite our nationality, color of our skin (we are white) and the politics of our home country. We’ve been helped by strangers, cops and truck drivers when we’ve been stuck on the side of the road. We’ve been taken to a hospital by hotel worker when our daughter was sick. We’ve been treated to impromptu workshops from artists and artisans we’ve happened to meet. We’ve been invited to community events, cultural activities, religious ceremonies and celebrations, birthday parties, home-cooked meals and many, many fiestas. And our local school welcomed, nurtured and cared for our daughter even though she spoke no Spanish when we arrived. Now our little girl has lived in Mexico more than half of her life, speaks fluent Spanish, and feels just as at home in the Mexican culture as she does with her American roots.

I sometimes wonder how the experience might differ for a Mexican family that was new to the U.S. Would they be welcomed with open arms? Would they be helped by strangers when they were in trouble? Would they be invited to community events, family celebrations and into people’s homes? Would people always greet them in passing and wish them well (que te vaya bien) when they depart like Mexicans do with us? Would the local school accommodate their children that didn’t speak English? And not just accommodate, but love and cherish and make them feel special and included as our teachers have done with our daughter? And would the people they meet patiently speak English slowly and clearly for them to understand, as so many Mexicans are patient with our Spanish? I hope so, but in Trump’s culture of fear, I’m not so sure.

We still drive around with that bumper sticker plastered on the back of our car. It’s worn and faded but it’s message remains clear: there is no room for fear and hate between our two countries. It’s time Americans show more compassion and camaraderie toward their southern neighbor – as this bumper sticker I spotted in Guadalajara expresses so perfectly: Unidos En Amistad (united in friendship)

45426776_10156669065739014_7688597110358278144_n.jpg

 

8 thoughts on “My view from the other side of the “wall”

  1. Your view is just that. I”m American and spend much time in Mexico. The community I live in is approx. 30% hispanic. I love Mexican people as I love everyone else. I will continue to go there and enjoy their culture and country. Donald Trump speaks the truth and you just don’t like to hear it, it hurts your feelings. He hurts a lot of feelings. The truth is painful some times. Almost every part of your blog could be taken apart piece by piece, but it is just your opinion and your entitlement. Unfortunately, you and your type are the cancer that hurts us as Americans when we travel. Myself and many others I know who travel frequently are out there countering you and your ignorance. Sad that we have to, but I do it gladly.

    Like

    1. I thought about not approving this comment, but decided to let it through and let it speak for itself. Calling someone a “cancer”, IMHO, is the lowest of the low blows (especially since my sister is battling the disease and is in chemo as I write this). I believe we can disagree on politics without attacking one another. And I’m happy to see that at least this commenter and I both agree that we love Mexican people and enjoy the culture and country.

      Like

      1. I agree with you. I have lived in Mexico for 14 years and would not be antwhere else. The Mexican population is the kindest and most compassionate of any I know. I have had many medical issues and would not have made it without my Mex ican doctrs and friends. An aside, most of what Trump says are lies!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. There is a whole other side to this issue, that is the rest of the non-Mexican National people who are trying to make their way into the US illegally. We spend most of the winter months in Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, Mexico. Last week. We observed a huge presence of Mexican Police and Military in and around the railroad tracks that pass they Peñasco,that head towRds Tijuana. The local periodicos showed pictures of hundreds of non Mexican National Latin American. This group of people are traveling from other countries, towards Tijuana and the US borders, which they intend to breach, illegally. The police/military members are staged to deter the illegal travelers from exiting the trains in Peñasco. Most of the travelers are criminals and not welcome in Mexico. Those are the facts that the Mexico news media is publishing.

    Like

    1. Thank you for your comment and you are so right that much of the pressure at the border right now is coming from non-Mexican immigrants from other Latin American countries trying to cross over. To say most of these people are criminals, however, is not fair nor is it true. Most of these people are poor families, mothers and children and laborers trying to escape terrible economic and social conditions of their own countries. Just because people are poor does not make them criminals. I, too, have seen many “immigrant caravans” in my travels through central Mexico. These people are peaceful, exhausted, and desperate. Mexican police have been protecting them on their way north because they are also victims of violence and discrimination from other Mexicans, who, just like many Americans, don’t want them in their country. The Mexican government has offered jobs and shelter for some, but many still believe a better life awaits in the USA.

      Like

  3. I’m glad you got this out there again.

    Today in our discussion class the topic was nationalism and immigration in Europe. It really got us thinking that if Bush hadn’t started the misguided war in Iraq, maybe things would have been different so all those people from Syria wouldn’t have been displaced, maybe without Bush the financial crisis wouldn’t have happened, maybe the world would have been in a better place. Maybe the Republicans can get their brains in gear and not put up these imbeciles as presidential candidates!

    Love, Mom

    On Sun, Mar 10, 2019 at 4:16 PM Slobe Family Adventure wrote:

    > debbieslobe posted: “(This story originally appeared in Yellow Scene > Magazine Feb. 24, 2019) As President Trump prepares to declare a national > emergency to build a border wall, I’m sitting here on the other side, > holding my breath, horrified by what is happening in my home c” >

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s