Am I surprised? A little. I thought we would have to fight Hillary’s violent foreign policies. But, am I really surprised about the white supremacy that elected Donald Trump? No. Racism, violence and classism (along with all sorts of “isms”) are the ways in which many Mexicans experience “America.”
I remember sitting in my aunt’s living room playing with the Christmas ornaments many years ago. My aunt wrapped Christmas lights around the tree, while my father read the newspaper and debated the economic and political situation of the country with my grandparents. I was probably about 5 or 6, but I seldom forget that night’s conversation perhaps because it instilled an unprecedented sense of insecurity in my very young soul.
My family pondered the recent immigration situation of one of our own. My uncle had struggled with the immigration system, but his paperwork, those flimsy pieces of paper that mean so much to migrants, had finally come through. My family was glad, but also afraid. The gringos had always been nasty to my people. They overturned visas even after one had acquired them, ignored abuse and deported people at will.
That night my family members told stories of migrants being shot, persecuted, arrested and deported at the border. They talked about the coyotes, and the women who had been raped, gone missing or murdered for “trusting the wrong people.” They also described the dangers of crossing the Rio Grande, where migrants die by the dozens every year. Grandpa also defined the northern border as a never-ending cemetery, while painting images of people, desperate poor people from all over the continent, crossing through the desert… an area that is often qualified as “no man’s land” even when those are the traditional territories of the Rarámuri, the O’dami, the Yoeme, the Ti’pai, and others.
Westerners do not really seem to understand what the border between the US and Mexico looks like. Perhaps because the border is a completely different place for those with economic and racial privilege. Some think that the wall that Donald Trump has been talking about for months is news to us. But the reality of things is that a fence, armed and bureaucratic personnel already stand in between millions of families.
The imaginary wall, the one that criminalizes, kills and bans us, is by far more dangerous than a physical one. The imaginary wall has existed for at least a century… probably since the US invaded and occupied half of the already colonial “Mexican” territory, making those lands places of multiple, perpetual and intergenerational dispossession.
After Christmas, we drove my uncle to the airport. He looked back, stared at me in the eye, perhaps saying good-bye, and continued walking through the non-ending security line at the airport. I never saw him again. Once in a while there would be a card, a call, a letter… but never a physical presence.
Physical contact is a luxury… A luxury that very few Mexican families, particularly those of marginalized communities, know. It did not matter that my uncle did things “the right way,” by paying his dues and getting his papers, he was not allowed to come back if he ever wanted to re-enter the US. He left because of opportunity… the 90s were tough times for us.
Structural adjustment policies were just showing their true colors in Mexico, NAFTA had just been signed, the Mexican peso crisis happened, a popular presidential candidate had been killed and southern Indigenous peoples had enough. Thus, unemployment and poverty had taken a toll on our communities. I will never forget, for instance, the women’s organizations making their rounds in middle and lower class neighbourhoods showing people, mostly women, how to cook a dozen of meals with a bag of rice, tortillas and beans. That was all what many people could afford after waking up one morning and realizing that $1000 pesos could buy only a couple of bubble gums.
Yet, what never changed was the fact that we continued to be one of the most criminalized communities not only in the US, but all around it. It starts with the fact that US embassies are like military headquarters surrounded by illegal walls that block public space. Further, people are not allowed in without appointments, documents and recommendation letters or references. Not to mention that once one is allowed inside, it is possible to see the racialized groupings as per to skin tone, economic “look,” levels of education and closeness to Indigeneity and peasantry. The white-passing, the rich, the educated and the urban, are more likely to succeed in getting a visa. My dad always described it as being treated like cattle.
After the one uncle, a cousin and another uncle followed. One of them had crossed the Rio Grande in a deadly expedition that entailed leaving a baby girl behind. Children often drown in the river while trying to cross. The other, had to get rid of any evidence of his Mexican residence and double nationality because Cuban migrants could only enter the US as political asylum seekers. Therefore, on his way to the border he had dumped all his Mexican documents in the river, keeping only his Cuban identity cards. 10 years of his life, had to be erased to make him good enough for the Matamoros crossing, where migrants wait at the detention centre an undetermined number of days until they get US clearance.
As I grew up, I also grew bitter. By the age of 15 I had been in detention while in transit for many hours with my mother in New York, an experience that until this day makes us cringe. I had also been given a 10-day American visa (despite paying full fees), outside of the travel dates I had requested, to travel with my grandma. We had to rearrange the whole trip based on the visa the consulate had issued, something that cost my family money we did not have. Entering the US, however, was painful for both grandma and I. At one point we thought we would be sent back because the border officer could not wrap his head around the fact that the woman I was traveling with, who had helped raise me since I was born, shared no blood ties with me despite the fact that she was married to my grandpa. It did not matter that she carried letters from both my parents, her marriage certificate and all the appropriate paperwork. It was not until she was able to “prove” her ties to the Mexican Army, that they let us in.
By that age I had also been taught in schools by a number of “Americans” who travelled to Mexico at will and stayed in my country illegally because white, economic and Western privileges are things that US citizens have always used to do whatever they want in Mexico. 9/11 made it even more difficult for Mexicans to cross the border for any kind of activity, but it also made it easier for “Americans” to cross to Mexico, because the government feared that after their refusal to join the “American” occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq we would lose our main economic and political partner. Many “Americans” benefitted from this. In fact, there are colonies of “hipster” and retired illegal “Americans” in places like San Miguel de Allende, Cancun, Tepoztlan and Puerto Escondido. One sees the, mostly, white “Americans” wearing deadlocks and speaking fairly decent Spanish owning business, selling stuff on the beach, teaching Yoga, etc. No enforcement required, right?
I remember when Molotov, a famous Mexican rock band, released Frijolero. I had never liked them. They were too raunchy for my taste. Yet, they spoke truths to a group of young millennials who had known nothing other that Mexican-US integration in the most violent ways.
“Now, why don’t you look down
To where your feet is planted
That US soil that makes you take shit for granted
If not for Santa Anna, just to let you know
That where your feet are planted would be México”
Our family members were criminalized in fatal ways, while everything we produced, exported, owned and needed was filtered one way or another through the US. We were also the generation of the War on Drugs, the war that has never really been treated as such. I was 17 when the whole thing exploded. Things had been bad in Northern Mexico and the Gulf for a while, but it was not until 2006 that violence started trickling down urban centres like Mexico City. When that happened, we were not only seeing death, disappearances and sexual violence all around us, but we were heavily labeled “drug traffickers,” “mules,” “illegal” and “criminals” all across North America (Turtle Island).
Those labels still follow many of us around. They are present when we are made fun of through the stereotype of a sombrero-wearing-man sleeping in front of a cactus with a bottle of Tequila by his side; when we are denied visas; when we are asked if we are related to a drug lord; when people presume we sell drugs; when Westerners assume we are “the help;” when we are discriminated because of our class; when people racialize us; when they do not think we are “Mexican enough;” in the “random” searches that we undergo in airports, and the requests for X-Rays that Latinx women get when they are assumed to be “mules;” and they are further present in the white supremacy for which the southern US is known for, but that exists all across the continent… a violence that continues to kill Indigenous and Latinx communities.
But most importantly, it resides a little bit in all of us. It is in us when as Mexicans or Latinxs we support candidates like Trump and exercise lateral violence. It is in us when we believe that we are somehow culturally deficient and need to be close to whiteness in order to feel reassured. It is in us when we pretend that becoming middle-class somehow grants us access to the white-supremacy club. And it is in us, when we expect the people who have oppressed our communities for centuries to be at the forefront of our liberation.