This week The Stansbury Forum is running three posts from Professor Álvaro Ramírez’s blog “Postcards from a Postmexican” where Profressor Ramírez tries as a twentieth-century person to make sense of the twenty first century with its transnational and post-national realities that many people live today in countries such as Mexico.
18 February, 2017: How the Super Bowl Trumped the Mexican Constitution
Last Wednesday, some students studying in Cuernavaca invited me to Tónic, a local hangout, to watch the Mexico-Iceland friendly soccer match. Besides a table with eight students and myself, and a couple other tables with six men, the bar was completely empty. What a stark contrast with the scene just a few days earlier on Sunday February 5, when the same bar, as well as many other restaurants and sports bars across the city, was filled to the brim with enthusiastic Mexican fans of American football watching the Super Bowl game between the Falcons and the Patriots.
You would think that now that so many are calling for Mexican national unity during these times of uncertainty brought on by the Trump menace, that Mexicans would be unified behind the national team that, as usual, was playing a friendly game in the United States and not in el Estadio Azteca (much more lucrative to play in Gringolandia). But no, Mexicans gave their team the cold shoulder, they didn’t come out in droves to watch the game (unlike the paisanos in the USA) and went about their normal daily lives, leaving my Mexican American students from California and Oregon disappointed and baffled.
Why so much enthusiasm for American football and so little for el fútbol mexicano? This attitude is peculiar to say the least since for weeks now the Mexican media has been pummeling Trump and his supporters. Everyday newspapers, radio, television, and all social media blare out negative stories: no to the deportation of immigrants, no to the Beautiful Wall, and we’re not paying por el pinche muro! Says Mr. Fox. The frenzy has been bewildering. Then, the sacred day, Super Bowl Sunday, arrived and everyone calmed down and for a day forgot about that damn wall and the paisanos that are suffering persecution on the other side of the border. Mexicans with the means to do so made reservations in restaurants and bars, some had parties at home, and still others somehow found time to sit in front of a modest television set to watch the game and root for…The Patriots! I could handle all of this if at least the majority had been on the side of the Falcons, but no, most of the Mexicans wanted Tom Brady and his coach, Bill Belichick (both Trumpers) to lead the Patriots to victory. Go figure.
What’s really comical is that as the Mexican fanatics jumped up and down with joy at the end of the thrilling game and talked about how great Brady was, I wondered how many of them knew that that same day Mexico was celebrating the one-hundred anniversary of the country’s constitution. Probably not many cared since to most Mexicans la Magna Carta has the value of a roll of Charmin paper. Few of them, I’m sure, had watched earlier in the day, around noon, as President Peña Nieto, his cabinet and all the other politicos representing the motley crew of useless political parties praised the equally useless, patched-up quilt of paper that is La Constitución Mexicana. The same pomp and baroque circumstance and discursos tan refritos that only give us lots of gas (y no del gasolinazo!).
But these fake Mexican patriots made sure to schedule the boring ceremonies early enough not to conflict with the true celebration that all of their non-compatriots were waiting for. So well before 5:00 pm, they put away the banda de guerra that had played the national anthem in front of el Teatro de la República in the city of Querétaro, where all these stale political theatrics took place. Then, the President, his cabinet and his generals, and the minions of the PRI, PAN, PRD, Morena and, let’s not forget the powerful, Partido Verde, they all scurried out of the theater and probably ran as fast as they could to their rich, confortable homes to sit in front of giant plasma televisions, surrounded by the best food and drink imported from the USA, and watched the football game and rooted and hollered for … The Patriots!
18 February, 2017: The Appearance of Mexican National Unity
Since the inauguration of Donald Trump, it has been great to see how the people of Mexico, from all walks of life, have suddenly found a reason to finally unite under a common cause other than when our national selection (some call it deception) soccer team plays a match against its despised American counterpart. Trump gave us the perfect pretext to create solidarity across the country. His negative image and words have penetrated deep within every aspect of Mexican society. How deep? Well, the other day some of my students who volunteer at a local primary school, La Esperanza, told me than when they met the children, who are indigenous and from the poorest sections of Cuernavaca, they asked the school kids if they knew any English words. The children quickly began to count from one to ten in English. And when my students asked if they knew any other words: many of the indigenous kids immediately yelled out, TRUMP!
Yes, Trump has made his way into the collective Mexican unconscious and has brought to the fore once again that anti-American sentiment which every generation that grew up under the PRI’s seventy-year regime learned well in school, a sentiment that has been disappearing with the NAFTA Generation who aspires to be American in cultural terms. It would seem, then, that Mexico has rediscovered its “other,” and it is none other than Trump and his republican followers.
Taking advantage of this newfound solidarity, some politicians and activists called for a national day of demonstration with the catchy name, “Vibra México,” that took place yesterday, February 12, in several cities across the country. The goal was to show the country’s repudiation of the Trump policies that, if implemented, will damage Mexicans, such as deportation of undocumented immigrants and the repeal of NAFTA. Pero, México no vibró, the people stayed home, only some 20,000 participated in Mexico City, a paltry turnout when you take into account that the metropolis has over 20 million people. The rest of the country did not see any larger turnouts either.
So, what went wrong? From the start some critics pointed out that the demonstration was way too late since in other parts of the world that are less directly affected by the new American president have shown their disagreement by demonstrating against Trump’s ideology since January 20, the day of his inauguration. Others asked: why not clean our house first? That is, protest against the violence, poverty, and corruption that have brought the country to its knees. Still others, didn’t want to participate for to do so, they argued, would amount to support Peña Nieto who is even less popular than the members of Congress in the United States.
So while Mexicans appear to have found the “other” that has reawakened their dormant nationalism, it seems that Trump does not have to worry much, at least for now. As usual, Mexican unity has proved to be an ephemeral event that last as long as a juego de fútbol. Even worse, as in other occasions such as during the Mexican Revolution, Mexicans have the tendency to unite momentarily against a common enemy, but that unity quickly disintegrates as they realize that the enemy, that is, the “other,” is also within. Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the “other.”
25 February, 2017: The Apotheosis of the Mexican Emigrant
A hundred years ago, as the Mexican government was unveiling its touted new constitution with lots of fanfare, hundreds of thousands of its citizens were desperately trying to reach the USA. By some estimates by the late 1920s, ten percent of the population of Mexico resided in El Norte. As such, the revolutionary state was born in a deformed state. One of its vital and most productive parts was, let’s say, delivered separately to the wrong national home. Maybe the stork got a bit confused because only 69 years earlier, the American Southwest was the Mexican Northwest. Be that as it may, the fact is that ever since, with the exception of the 1930s, roughly ten percent of the Mexican population has made the United States its permanent home.
It’s quite embarrassing when a so-called revolutionary state can’t entice its people to remain within the nation’s geographical limits. What pissed-off the Mexican government the most was that they were losing people mainly to the United States, which was supposed to be our rival and enemy, the threat that helped to coalesce the new, national, revolutionary society. Several strategies were used to stop the hemorrhage of people, but much to the chagrin of the government, the tactics failed and massive waves of migration ended up establishing two Mexicos: México de Adentro and México de Afuera. The first more or less bound to the Revolución, the second trying to bound itself to the USA.
The relations between these two Mexicos were strained through most of the twentieth century with the Mexicanos de Afuera often being portrayed in Mexican literature and film as pochos, traitors, and malinchistas. The image during the Bracero Era (1942-1964) was perhaps less negative since most of these workers kept Mexico as their main home; but as soon as they were able to get their green cards after the program ended, these former braceros quickly moved their families to El Norte and were followed by another massive wave of circular migration, both legal and illegal, in the decades of the seventies and eighties. Most of these new emigrants established roots throughout the American Union after Ronald Reagan granted the undocumented amnesty in 1986, not out of his goodness but because he knew the Capitalist Machine needed them as workers and consumers. Los Mexicanos de Afuera had attained an economic clout that made us somewhat desirable in Gringolandia, not yet ready for primetime citizenship pero ya teníamos nuestro encanto económico.
In Mexico, the Mexicanos de Afuera began to show their newly acquired clout by transforming white adobe villages into reddish tabique towns. Tile floors and cement roofs with water tinacos became the sign of progress. Brand new cars and trucks of all makes with placas from many American states roamed the dusty streets of the Mexican countryside. Campesinos dressed in Gap clothes attended quinceañeras, bodas and bautizos. Our hard-earned dollars pumped new life into the sending towns and small cities of los Estados Unidos Mexicanos, but socially México de Adentro was ambivalent toward the flaunting of our migrant dollars: many viewed us with a bit of envy and refused to acknowledged we had made good in El Norte: “Todo ese dinero no nos quita lo naco, they said.” Naco (low-class, ghetto) the new adjective directed at us con desprecio, the new word that Mexicanos de Adentro flung at us along with the old favorites, pochos y malinchistas.
The government, on the other hand, wised up quickly when they realized that la gallina naca was laying lots of golden eggs in the form of dollar remittances and money spent on Christmas vacations, among other things. They had to find a way to keep us laying the golden eggs, that is, they wanted us emigrants to continue sending the monthly checks and coming back to our hometowns, even if it was only for a couple of weeks each year; so they launched an aggressive campaign under Salinas de Gortari: El Programa Paisano. Oh yeah!
First on the list, was to get rid of all the vampires at the border, that replica of Transylvania that made our life a big hellish mordida, and that we had to cross to get into Mexico. Now we were the paisanos that had to be protected at all costs from these Mexican border harpies and leeches. The change of attitude made it patently obvious that the government was trying to bring together the two Mexicos, to create a good relationship between its two peoples: no more pochos and malinchistas. Now, Mexicanos de Adentro y de Afuera were all paisanos. We could feel the love, but it wasn’t all there yet, something was still missing.
We could feel the love, but also the silence of México de Adentro when in 1994 Pete Wilson kicked Mexican immigrants around like a world-cup soccer ball. We could feel the love, but also the silence of our compatriotas mexicanos when the Clinton Wall went up at many border cities of the Southwest as part of the infamous Operation Gatekeeper policy forcing emigrants to cross through the gates of a hellish desert where thousands perished. We could feel a lot of love when in 2001 Vicente Fox and Jorge Castañeda were on the verge of negotiating the whole immigrant reform enchilada, which unfortunately ended up buried under los escombros de las Torres Gemelas de Nueva York.
Yes, we, the Mexicanos de Afuera, are now the darlings of the press and of the fake políticos of Mexico, we’re hailed everywhere as heroes of la Madre Patria.
In 2006, los paisanos living in the U.S. demonstrated that they not only had economic clout but also political power when they came out by the hundreds of thousands to protest and demand a just immigration reform. These actions forced los Mexicanos de Adentro to end their silence and finally show their full support for the other México. Suddenly, we were the object of lots of positive chatter in Mexican political circles and commentary in television programs and major national newspapers. We were no longer referred to as los emigrantes que se van al norte, now we were nuestros emigrantes para acá y nuestros emigrantes para allá.
The truth may be that Mexicanos de Adentro had no other choice but to accept us with our naquedad or naco-ness and all. It’s not just that a large percentage of México de Adentro has a relative in México de Afuera. No, what many have realized, especially government officials of all stripes, is the fact that los emigrantes form one of the important pillars of the Mexican economy. Hell, we may even be part of two main pillars: yearly remittances (27 billion dollars in 2016) and tourism (19.5 billion in 2016), for who knows how many billions of dollars we spend on our vacations in México throughout the year.
So, it’s only right that Mexican emigrants be treated with great respect in our country of birth. Gone are the days when many said that “sólo lo peor de México se va al Norte.” When Trump expressed similar sentiments, lots of Mexicans were pissed to the max. The reaction in Mexico’s press and political circles was to put us even higher on the pedestal: This man is offending “nuestros compatriotas, nuestros paisanos que trabajan muy duro del otro lado. We must unify behind our migrantes and protect them from los pinches gringos racistas.”
Yes, we, the Mexicanos de Afuera, are now the darlings of the press and of the fake políticos of Mexico, we’re hailed everywhere as heroes of la Madre Patria. Estamos de moda, trendy, the flavor of the month, but I got a feeling that this hero worship is due more to the fact that Trump is threatening the pillars of the Mexican economy that we represent. The Tasmanian Orange Devil’s immigration policies might kill the gallina que pone los huevos de oro, and the Mexican government is scared shitless and doesn’t know how to counter the move. For now they have only resorted to having Peña Nieto welcome repatriates at the airport: “Bienvenidos a su casa,” he says. “Here you’ll find lots of spaces for opportunities,” but we know this is all a political show.
Today, Mexicanos de Afuera are definitely on the hero pedestal. México celebrates us on December 18, “El Día del Migrante,” and soon there will be statues of us everywhere. I suggest that since Mexicanos de Adentro love monuments so much, what the government should do is erect one at the border similar to the Statue of Liberty; for instance, a giant China Poblana facing Gringolandia that welcomes returning migrants with an inscription that says:
“Send me my hard-working migrants to visit their land of birth, send me their huddled masses of children yearning to rediscover their roots on our teeming shores of Cancún, Cabo San Lucas, Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, Puerto Vallarta and good old Acapulco, but don’t forget to come with your pockets full of money to spend, and, above all, don’t forget to send to me your billions of dollars every month for without them, México shall perish.”