Ever since the 2016 U.S. presidential campaigns began, I have been diligently trying to ignore Donald Trump. Not wanting to give his campaign any free media time or attention, I have been treating it like a hemorrhoid or an ingrown toenail — something that annoys you, that you wish would go away, that you might briefly notice for the discomfort it’s causing you, but that you don’t or won’t invest chunks of time paying attention to for more than briefly due to the fact that it’s a — usually — inescapable human condition not worth worrying or doing anything about.
But there’s always a chance that that inoffensive mole you’ve been ignoring can morph into something more sinister and threatening, and that’s why we can never fully ignore some of these more banal little problems.
One of the things I like most about working for Peace Corps is the high percentage of open-minded people it attracts to its volunteer corps and workforce. As a member of PC/Mexico staff since 2013, I regularly receive emails regarding worldwide campaigns marking important events in the type of work Peace Corps volunteers do. The three main goals of Peace Corps, for anyone who hasn’t been a volunteer or staff before, are, loosely, 1) to provide technical assistance to host country nationals — colleagues of volunteers where they’re assigned, 2) spread awareness of American (U.S.) culture in their host country, and 3) to spread awareness of their host country culture back in the U.S. They call 3) the “Third Goal.” This week happens to be Third Goal week for Peace Corps globally.
Although I’ve never been a Peace Corps volunteer, in the past 10 years I’ve become intimately aware of the inherent challenges and opportunities involved with Third-Goal like awareness back home in the U.S. As a resident of Mexico for the last 10 years, as a dual citizen for five, and as the wife of 12 years of a formerly undocumented immigrant to the United States — a Queretaro native — I’ve inadvertently become an ambassador of Third Goal-like causes, specific to Mexico. Conversations with people back home, on planes, on Facebook, on our blog, regarding the book, our life here, everything counts toward the fact that Mexico — and my fellow Americans’ perceptions of it — have taken a prominent role in my life — if not center stage, then a grudging left central, every single day.
As the largest — and only, really — Peace Corps recipient country with whom the U.S. shares a border, Peace Corps Mexico volunteers have a unique situation in terms of Second and Third Goals, given the enormous historical and current relationship our two countries have culturally, geographically, economically, environmentally — the list of how our two nations are intertwined is gigantic. To volunteers’ good fortune, a good number of Americans are fairly aware of Mexico’s positive attributes — that’s probably a big reason why many apply to be volunteers in Mexico in the first place — but we can probably all agree that Third Goal awareness rarely extends deeply beyond Mexican food, tourism, or Spanish-language learning. Further awareness might include matters of history — territory lost by Mexico and gained by the Southwest — imports/exports, or immigration/emigration by both sides. Add some Mexican or Latino ancestry to the mix and an American might really be able to explain a thing or two about Mexico, its environment, and its people.
But on the whole, let’s not kid ourselves, to a great extent we are a product of what we read and know, and the majority of us get our information from the major media outlets. And because of this, and the fact that “gore sells,” the majority media message about Mexico, for those who are actively working to scrape beneath the surface, is about the security situation. Cartels, crime, and the drug trade. Sure, Mexico has got its fair share of problems. Hell, I am concerned about many of them, especially the economy. But the messages about Mexico in the U.S. media are often terribly biased, and most of the amazing things — some even better than the U.S., such as universal health care (Seguro Popular) — are simply not communicated. So at the end of the day, a lot of American people develop a disappointingly skewed view of Mexican society, one that’s at best uninformed, at worst sorely incorrect and/or prejudicial. This creates a real obstacle for anyone like myself, or a PC/Mexico volunteer, to propagating a more truthful and well-rounded view of Mexico and its society.
I’m fortunate to know a lot of folks who make it a point to be informed about issues that matter to them. Part of this is intentional, and part of this is due to the nature of my professional and social circles. Even when we did our book tour, I was expecting more heckling and trolls, but was overwhelmed by the amount of goodwill afforded by people in my audiences, people who are really consternated by the legal situation our family and millions are in. But what this means is that I don’t get into debates on a regular basis with folks who’ve fallen victim to xenophobia — although I know the potential exists.
Which brings me back to Donald Trump. He, on the other hand, has been very skillful at rallying the troops, pooling the masses of individuals who are attracted by his messages riddled with misinformation and oftentimes straight-out lies. One specific instance of this was brought to my attention when I received the following messages from my dear friend and fellow Cornellian, my former freshman-year roommate. Her otherwise rational coworker had told her that he thought that Trump’s lies and conspiracy theories about Mexico might be plausible.
When I read this, I thought, oh dear. What about this specifically concerns me? Is it the fact that a schoolteacher, someone who is tasked with educating children, is having this cognitive dissonance? Or is it that they can’t see why yes, he is racist (although the term white supremacist would probably fit better)? Am I disturbed that Donald Trump’s multiple allegations about diverse groups of people and nations — patently false and aggrandized — are pointed enough to stir genuine suspicion in the minds of otherwise rational people? Or that people would think that this is the approach that’s best suited for someone to hold the presidential office of the United States? I’m not really sure where to start.
But the short answer is yes, it is racist. But I’ll let some other passionate informed voices explain that one. And, no, the Mexican government does NOT ship its overflow prison population to cross the U.S. border. So please don’t lose anymore sleep about that. But if you need more information on that matter, here are some facts, as opposed to opinion:
“Donald Trump’s false comments connecting Mexican immigrants and crime,” Fact Checker, Washington Post, July 8, 2015
“Donald Trump: ‘The Mexican government … they send the bad ones over’ ,” Politifact, August 6, 2015
The longer answer, however, I believe lies in the voices of folks who are familiar with the countries and peoples being hated on, and are appalled by such demeaning characterization. Folks such as Carmen, who, as a Mexican American, was pretty upset by Trump’s speech — watch Carmen’s video on BuzzFeed.
That also goes for expats living and working in Mexico, such as Peace Corps volunteers who are promoting Third-Goal awareness, or my dozens of other expat friends living and raising their families here. We cringe to think of what ramifications a Trump presidency could have on our two nations’ diplomacy, and in the wider world.
I could post dozens of links about how important Mexican foods, resources, culture, and immigrants have been to the U.S., its culture and its economy. I could post links about how infinitely bad of a diplomatic decision it would be to alienate Mexico and hundreds of other countries in the way that this inflammatory candidate has been having fun doing. But at the end of the day, am I reaching the people who really need to hear it? Can my words undo decades of misinformation and attrition for people who, collectively, will decide our country’s political fate this November? I don’t think I can do that by myself—I’m asking others who know better to raise their voices, use the powers of message framing, counter the abundant negative messages and misinformation, and share their alternative — and likely more truthful — views widely.
Now is not the time to ignore the toenail.