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 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.
A nice thing about living in the Bajío of México is it has attracted many expats who truly desire to experience, and celebrate, another culture – specifically, Mexico. From the thousands of Americans in San Miguel de Allende, to Peace Corps Volunteers, to the thousands of businesspeople or Spanish-language learners flocking to the Central Mexican Highlands, there are a LOT of people who love many things about Mexico, and that’s a nice thing to be surrounded by if you’re ever feeling down about about “living in exile.” Folks who want to be here have, in contrast to a lot of Americans’ view on Mexico, a refreshingly pragmatic way of comparing Mexico’s issue to the U.S.’s, a diplomatic way of seeing both sides of the story. We find ourselves in the same boat of (at least occasionally) trying to educate friends and family back home that, no, there isn’t anything to worry about, and no, it’s not as bad as it sounds. In fact, it’s quite wonderful here in so many ways.
But on the whole, to a great extent we are a product of what we read and know, and the majority of Americans 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 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.
Those of us who are living, working, and raising their families here 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.