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The Trump Administration from the Perspective of Everyday Mexicans

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Of course, the rise of Emperor Tangerine to power has enormous implications for every person on the planet. Given his incendiary rhetoric about Mexico, that very much includes our southern neighbor. Figuring out what everyday Mexicans think about this is important, so this dispatch from Oaxaca, a state with very high migration rates, is valuable.

Hernandez, a veteran border crosser, having made the journey 18 times, has a brother and son in California.

“What would the United States do without Mexicans?” she posed. “Who else would pick the crops? Who would build the homes?”

Mexico too depends on those crops, those homes.

Its citizens in the U.S. sent back nearly $25 billion last year, its second-largest source of foreign income, after manufactured goods and ahead of oil. Much of that ends up in impoverished rural communities like the ones here in the southern state of Oaxaca, which for decades have dispatched young and old to El Norte in a deep-rooted ritual of economic betterment.

The cash they send home builds homes, funds small businesses, refurbishes churches and schools, and provides sustenance for multitudes.

It’s evident in the expansive, half-finished homes dotting the countryside, the Mexican version of McMansions. “They are waiting for more dollars from the north to finish,” people explain.

Actually closing the border would devastate the Oaxacan economy, which is pretty marginal even with remittances. Unfortunately, there’s about as much denial in Mexico as there is in the United States about what Trump means.

Most everyone in the area appears to have heard of Trump and his threats — his bellicose pronouncements about Mexico have been major news south of the border. But there is a pervasive sense that Trump is bluffing — or will have little appetite to pursue his far-reaching immigration agenda once in office. Or that he will inevitably fail.

“It’s all campaign talk,” Rolando Silvaja Jarquina, a retired teacher, said on a Sunday at a busy market in the courtyard of Tlacolula’s 16th century Catholic church, the Assumption of Our Lady, known for a baroque chapel featuring likenesses of beheaded saints.

Each Sunday, producers of local products, including foodstuffs and handicrafts, descend from ancient hillside settlements to sell their goods in Tlacolula, an animated market town about 20 miles southeast of Oaxaca city, the state capital.

“Both countries, Mexico and the United States, benefit from trade, from immigration,” Silvaja said as a band played in the plaza. “Why would Mr. Trump want to make Mexico his No. 1 enemy? Don’t you want your enemies far away, not next to you?”

Not if your goal is fascism. Of course there’s the issue of whether the U.S. can even really stop immigration on its southern border.

“What’s his name, Trump?” asked Hernandez, sipping a beer. “There are too many people from here already in the north, too many more who want to go.”

Miguel Angel Lopez, 43, who said he first went to the United States in 1989, found work in California restaurants and returned here almost two decades later.

“People will always find a way to go to the north,” he said. “This Trump can say what he wants, that’s fine, but the reality in Oaxaca is what it is. The men here go to the north to better themselves, to help their families here. No wall will stop them.”

That’s probably true, but there’s no question that the growing militarization of the border even under Obama has made it much harder to cross and has led to a big decrease in people coming back to Mexico to visit. That means parents die without seeing their children one last time. It means that young children can go years without seeing their parents. It means that husbands and wives may spend years apart. The human toil of immigration, even under a just system, is very real. Treating immigrants like criminals is just heartbreaking when you consider the effect on them and their families.

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  • CrunchyFrog

    Wow, it really is like watching 1930s Germany in real time. The denialism is amazing.

    I spent several years in West Germany many decades ago, went to all kinds of musea (which ones? ALL of them, of course!) covering the history of that bygone era, and although I could certainly see in modern German culture the strong need for order and hierarchy I could never get my head around all of the denial at the time that it was happening. Denial not just by the Good Germans, but by the victims, too.

    Well, here we are seeing it again. Mexicans dependent on open borders denying that Trump will actually do anything he promised to do. Low income Trump voters telling themselves that he won’t cancel their health insurance, even though he said he would. Women voters sure that *they* won’t be affected by all of the anti-women measures that have been promised. And of course mainstream media types who can’t imagine that he might actually do all of the anti-press stuff he’s promised to do.

    • Nobdy

      I wouldn’t put the Mexicans in Oaxaca in the same category as the others. First of all, insofar as they are actually in Oaxaca they can’t be expected to closely follow American politics. Most Americans know next to nothing about Mexican politics, I doubt one in five who aren’t ethnically Mexican could name Nieto.

      Obviously Donald Trump will have a greater direct impact on Mexican lives than Nieto does on American lives, but insofar as they are following the developments it’s several steps removed from those of us who live in the U.S.

      Secondly, Mexican citizens (who are not also dual U.S. citizens) obviously cannot vote in U.S. elections (right-wing fever dreams aside) so what are they supposed to do? Obviously those who are actually in the United States can resist to some degree, but it is extraordinarily dangerous for them to march or rally unless they have a green card (and probably even then.) Those who aren’t physically present in the U.S. can…do what exactly? Other than “hope things turn out for the best” and “plan for a future with a tightly controlled border” (not easy) I’m not sure what their options are.

      Nobody wants to believe that their lives will be upended by forces totally outside their control, so I’m not surprised that people are trying to stay calm and thinking up reasons why things won’t be as bad as Trump says. That’s different from actively voting for someone who has articulated policies that will hurt you.

      • CrunchyFrog

        I appreciate your point and didn’t mean to put them in the same group – as you point out they aren’t US residents except as migrants and aren’t voters. Maybe a better comparison would be the denial that German neighbors exhibited in those years.

    • ThrottleJockey

      I think it’s psychological. A lot of people prefer optimism to pessimism or even over realism. It’s a coping mechanism. Most all of my liberal friends, most of whom are more liberal than me, sound just the same.

      It’s like when a friend of ours developed brain cancer and everyone was like “she’s going to pull through”. Most people who develop brain cancer die within a year. My friends were smart but that was a fate too horrible to accept.

  • aturner339

    I think that casting the immigration debate in economic terms rather than in racia/cultural ones is what leads pro inmgration forces to misunderstand the odds they face.

    The quoted Oxacans claim to believe that because migration is mutually beneficual no one dare seriously attempt to reduce it. the fact is we’ve known immigration and trade were net benefits for centuries now and people are still arrayed against largely for reasons that have nothing to do with the economy.

    • ThrottleJockey

      It’s always easy to scapegoat the darkies.

    • SatanicPanic

      This is something I try to keep in mind. People tend to assume that leaders aren’t guilty of having irrational biases or be immune to foot-shooting or that they know things the rest of us consider obvious. This isn’t always the case. Trump probably doesn’t know or care about the economic consequences.

    • BobBobNewhartNewhartSpecial

      the fact is we’ve known immigration and trade were net benefits for centuries now and people are still arrayed against largely for reasons that have nothing to do with the economy.

      Do you mean people like Sanders or Chavez or Borjas? Or do you mean labor union leaders and members?

      The fact is, until Trump flipped the script this election, opposition to trade and immigration were primarily positions of the left.

      • aturner339

        I mean all of them and I mean that the popular force behind these arguments almost always boils down to xenophobia.

      • Hob

        “opposition to trade and immigration were primarily positions of the left.”

        What are you talking about? Are we supposed to assume that opposition to employers abusing H1B visas = opposition to immigration? If that’s the argument you’re trying to make, good luck.

  • Wapiti

    I met a guy in the landscaping business here in Seattle. He hasn’t been home to see family in 15 or 20 years, because when he leaves the US, he won’t be allowed back in. He’s Irish.

  • rdennist

    ““What would the United States do without Mexicans?” she posed. “Who else would pick the crops? Who would build the homes?””

    They’re be camps filled with people with nothing to do. What kind of questions are these?

  • Gwen

    On Facebook recently I encountered a story about an undocumented person (OK, in this situation I think it’s fair to call him an “illegal”) who was a suspect in some horrible crime, like a child rape or something. The story said he had been deported like 10 times. The comments, predictably, blamed “sanctuary cities” even though the crime happened in Wichita which isn’t one.

    The real upshot of the story should be, “our border is so leaky a deported guy can get across it another 10 times, and possibly more if he wasn’t dumb enough to commit a serious felony.”

    “The Wall” of course is supposed to fix this, but I am fairly certain it won’t. The only way to let the “good guys” in and keep the “bad guys” out would be a massive database of virtually every person on earth, an Orwellian surveillance nightmare of epic proportions.

    What *might* actually stop criminals from crossing the border and committing crimes is tighter cooperation of Mexican and US law enforcement, and a more serious commitment to regional problem solving than simply passing the buck off on each other.

    The entire anti-immigration “plan”, insofar as I can tell, is to draw an imaginary line in the sand and assume anyone brown belongs on the other side of it.

    It’s a daft, daft, utterly stupid, ridiculous idea that is going to backfire massively.

    • Nick never Nick

      I think the thing about backfiring, though, is that Trump’s shitty immigration policies are not going to affect large things — they won’t destroy the economy, they won’t cripple agriculture, they won’t have huge systemic effects; and if they happen to do so, some workaround will be found, like importing Thai or Chinese fruit pickers who don’t speak English and will go home each year.

      Their effects are going to be personal — an increased shittiness in the lives of undocumented workers, increased fear, decreased family visitation, jail time, ruined lives. Eric is correct to note that the effects of immigration policy can be extremely cruel — I saw this firsthand on Saipan, where even a formal structure imposed by the United States to try and ameliorate some of the ghastly abuses that had taken place still provided very little recourse for many workers.

  • the issue of whether the U.S. can even really stop immigration on its southern border.

    The secret is the powerful side of anti-immigration movement doesn’t want it to stop. They know no measures will be effective. They simply want the immigrants to remain undocumented and hence more easily underpaid and mistreated.

  • Bitter Scribe

    Look on the bright side. Once Trump gets done trashing the U.S. economy, no one from Mexico or anywhere else will want to come here.

  • bluefish

    Erik,

    When o’ when will you hold an open casting call to donate the jobs of the administrative staff in your department to undocumented immigrants? I won’t hold my breath.

  • AMK

    Even if Donald Trump–who uses cheap immigrant labor literally every chance he gets–is serious about the border wall, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan need to sign off on the money for a megaproject that is diametrically opposed to the interests of all the rich people they work for. These Mexicans are right–it will never happen.

    What’s far more likely to happen is that border patrol agents just won’t be held accountable for shooting Mexicans who try to cross.

    • CrunchyFrog

      The recent deals with Carrier, Sprint, etc. give you the template. They’ll build a mile of wall that was already in the budget. Trump will go on-site to claim credit. The press will swoon. Some lefty blogs will point out the facts that the vast majority of the border still has no wall and that Trump had nothing to do with this one mile. Except for Snopes no one will give a crap. The “wall” issue will be forgotten and years later when voters are polled GOP voters will insist that the wall in fact was built.

      Meanwhile, Mexicans will still be out of sight (translation: the media will ignore them) working for industries that have provided sufficient dowry to the Trump empire and being treated like slaves or worse. Open season will be unofficially declared on anyone of Mexican heritage. Except for international news there will be no coverage of the atrocities as the US press will fear losing access to Trump.

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