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Conversations In Mexico: Mexicans Express Frustration, Uncertainty In Trump Era
KJZZ trains and mentors college-student interns throughout the year. Students further their skills in reporting or production. They produce stories for school or the station and many are worth sharing. This story was reported by KJZZ intern Adrienne St. Clair during the spring 2017 semester.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The story contains language that may be offensive to some listeners.
I met Guadalupe Alvarez on a trip to central Mexico in March. She’s is a Mexican native living in the heart of her country, and she learned to love Americans from an early age.
“I grew up in San Miguel with my parents, both dead now, but having a lot of American friends. My dad loved golf, so he had a lot of golf buddies that were American, so when I was 13, my parents met this couple from Atlanta at a random cocktail party, and then by Saturday, I was shipped to Atlanta to learn English," said Alvarez.
“I am very partial to Americans because from that experience, I learned English and now my life changed," she said.
Now Alvarez stays busy as an upscale wedding planner in San Miguel de Allende, a popular tourist town almost four hours northwest of Mexico City.
“I like to get up at 6 a.m. and get my computer and check my emails because brides are intense, so I need to make sure they’re happy," Alvarez said.
Alvarez works with all kinds of international clients — especially Americans. She’s a product of the complex relationship between the United States and Mexico. And now, with so much uncertainty in America, she’s worried about this relationship.
“So it’s all this very entangled relationships between the States, and since Trump came to office I’ve been thinking a lot about that, no?" Alvarez sai. "What is going to happen with Mexico and the States, but more important, what is happening with Mexicans and U.S. citizens?”
But she’s not the only one.
There’s a timeline on the Council of Foreign Relations website that I learned about back in September, back in the heat of the 2016 election.
The timeline describes moments in U.S. and Mexico history that I’ll admit I knew nothing about. Maybe I learned about some of the events years ago in school, but back then I was probably more worried about surviving my teenage years than understanding international relations.
The timeline begins in 1810 with the Hidalgo Rebellion — which started Mexico’s fight for Independence — and ends in 2010 with Arizona’s controversial immigration law SB 1070.
At the time, SB 1070 was an indicator of the anti-immigrant sentiments throughout the country.
Karla Agullon felt these feelings firsthand. She works with her husband at her family’s taco stand in Querétaro, Mexico, which is just 40 minutes away from San Miguel where Alvarez lives. Agullon had an experience with illegal immigration to America years ago. She made it over the border.
"Yes, yes, I was able to, but afterwards I only lasted three days and they turned me back," said Agullon in Spanish.
She never tried again after that. She made a life for herself in Mexico. And like the dozens of Mexicans I talked to, Agullon loves her country even though at one point she dreamed of a life in America.
The 200 years between 1810 and 2010 contain the push and pull for cheap labor and the fight over trade, the clash of dependence and independence and the results of misunderstanding and miscommunication.
And again, before six months ago — like many Americans — I had no idea about any of it. No man is an island, but sometimes it seems like the United States is its own galaxy.
So now I get it, the complex issues between the United States and Mexico are nothing new, but Donald Trump made conversations about U.S.-Mexico relations unavoidable with three simple words: "build that wall."
Trump’s promises to secure the southern border and crack down on illegal immigration increased tension, as his bold and blunt speeches brought out the fears of Mexicans and Americans living in both countries. But those speeches also addressed concerns many have had for years.
Deano, who didn't want to use his last name, is a Trump supporter and a member of the American Legion Riders motorcycle club. I talked to him back in August 2016 right before then-candidate Trump gave his key immigration speech at a rally in Phoenix.
"You can’t just have people willy nilly crossing the border. They’re taking over. They’re taking our money, they’re taking our money, they’re taking our healthcare," he said.
Then, after one of the most controversial elections in U.S. history, the world watched as millionaire Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States.
It’s been over 100 days since Inauguration Day, and President Trump has, according to The White House, “enacted more legislation and signed more executive orders than any other president in over a half century.”
After all that signing, Trump’s version of the wall hasn’t started yet, and the biggest threat so far to immigration was the travel ban back at the end of January. But President Trump’s promises to build a wall and stop illegal immigration are still key narratives coming from the White House.
Advocates of strong U.S.-Mexico ties worry President Trump significantly damaged the already delicate relationship between the two countries.
In late January, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto cancelled his visit to the White House after refusing again to pay for the wall.
Karla Agullar said President Trump’s election was bad for her family in the United States.
“Why? Because he attacks my race, he attacks my nationality," she said in Spanish. "He’s a person with low morals.”
Despite the fact that they’ll be affected by so many of the issues we as Americans are talking about — the huge wall, changes to NAFTA, possible mass deportations – the Mexicans I talked to separate the politics from the people, which makes me wonder if the relationship isn’t so far gone.
On my trip to Mexico, I talked to people from all over the city of Santiago de Querétaro and surrounding areas about the recent election and how they see the U.S.-Mexico relationship now and going forward.
I asked dozens of people what they thought of the American election.
Here's what they said:
Taco-maker Karla Agullon: "Mala."
Young businessman, Marco Pardo: What I think is, it’s actually really hard for me to answer that."
Entrepreneur Britto Galan said in Spanish: "It’s very normal, what happened, because people didn’t want to vote. The few that voted chose that."
Wedding planner Guadalupe Alvarez: "First of all, I wanted a woman to win. I just think it’s time, no? And then second, I didn’t want Trump to win."
Cattle-farmer Xavier Solana Rivas: "It’s disconcerting. Because from the beginning I did not like Mr. Trump. He gave me no confidence. His way of speaking, his racism, his hate towards people, he wants to build a wall, a wall of hate."
In the past few decades, the states of Querétaro and Guanajuato have benefitted from NAFTA and foreign investments from countries like China and Germany.
New industrial parks are scattered throughout the area, built to entice more foreign investors and manufacturers.
According to Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), both Querétaro and Guanajuato are two of the states with the highest Gross Domestic Product growth in 2015.
Out of this growth, a true middle class emerges, where some live in gated communities of streets lined with bright white houses topped with satellite dishes.
The city of Santiago de Querétaro is at the center of it all.
Big Helvetica letters spell the city’s name and stand on cobblestone streets surrounded by ancient Spanish-style buildings. Across town, the characteristic 74-arc aqueduct leads away from the city.
Colorful vendors selling cloth dolls wait otside modern restaurants, and every day a woman on the sidewalk tempts me with a bag of hot churros for $10 pesos.
Walking through the city center, you don’t know if you’ll hear Mexican music or one of U2’s greatest hits.
I make friends with the man named Giorgio Alberto who serenades women near one of the main fountains. He is dressed in a gold Charro costume and is also a self-proclaimed hero named “Meximan” with a mission to protect the poor.
“In Mexico, there’s a lot of childrens, they are in the street. And Meximan has the mission of rescue these childrens,” he said.
Frustration And Confusion
I’m told multiple times this is a unique city — unlike the rest of Mexico in its feel and progress but representative of Mexico in its culture and cuisine.
I spent a week and a half talking to people in that area, and four major themes came up again and again in my conversations.
The first thing I noticed was that Mexicans are frustrated and confused with the current situation.
Xavier Solano Rivas is one of the most frustrated people I talked to. He approached one of my fellow journalists in the lobby of our hotel in Querétaro asking if she was a reporter. Then, when I told him I was interested in talking to him about the election and Donald Trump he said: “Good. Come here. I’m ready.”
Rivas has been a cattle farmer for over 35 years, and I asked him what he loved about agriculture?
"Everything," he said in Spanish.
It turned out he was staying at my hotel for his 50-year reunion for agricultural professional school. I ended up taking a photo of him and his friends after our interview, and they all made jokes about who was more handsome in their old age.
Rivas says that he and many Mexicans aren’t happy about the current situation with America.
"I think the same thing as all Mexicans. I hear you. I am not a reporter but I like to poll all sorts of people," he said in Spanish. "Intellectuals, students, workers, housewives. There is widespread discontent.
He feels misunderstood by President Trump.
“I feel like he thinks the Mexican people are ignorant. We think. We work. Its true that there are bad people. Of course there are. But it’s just the same with Americans. Who is the principal consumer of drugs? The United States!" Rivas said. "If the United States stopped consuming, [the drug trade] would all collapse. So, not everyone is a criminal. There are good people."
Not too far away, Britto Galan is the chef at Tikua Sureste, one of Querétaro’s premiere restaurants. It’s known for its molé, which is made with recipes and techniques from nearly three centuries ago.
"Researching, making it, we came up with the recipe for the Oaxacan black molé," he said in Spanish.
Galan talks to Americans all the time, as they come into his restaurant more often than Mexicans. He has plans to open up another restaurant in New York City next year.
He sees an interesting discrepancy in many American’s concerns with immigration.
“What I think, it’s contradictory," said Galan. "I believe that the United States is completely within its right to restrict entrance to whoever they want. Whoever comes in through the window, you’re going to ask, Hey, why didn’t you knock on the door, and come in through the door?”
“But, the problem is, they already entered your house, you let them clean the house, they’ve washed your dishes, ironed your clothes, and now you’re telling them, go.”
And Karla Agullon, whose taco stand is called the Knockout because of her father’s history with boxing, said she doesn’t like the way Mexicans and Latinos are being treated by some Americans and President Trump.
"They diminish us a lot saying that there are rapists, drug addicts, kidnappers," she said in Spanish. "Has he not realized that all that exists in his own country as well?”
And then there’s Marco Pardo, the 24-year-old business development engineer at a new industrial park in El Paseo Grande, which is a small town in the state of Guanajuato, just west of Querétaro.
His business plan is customer service. The best way I can think of his business model is a wedding planner for foreign investors.
“Whatever they need here, we take care of it," said Pardo.
Marco’s frustrated with how the new American administration affected some of his relationships. He made American friends when he lived in the United States and Canada for a while, and those friendships changed after the election.
“We used to speak a lot, you know. And after the elections they say, 'Oh, you’re Mexican, please don’t talk to me.' And I was like, 'Wow, wait wait. Wait a second, man. Please.' I would say 40 percent of my friends, not all of them, but yeah, they became like that.”
And for Guadalupe Alvarez, the wedding planner in San Miguel de Allende, commenting as Mexican on the situation in America is tricky.
"And I shouldn’t say much because I’m Mexican and our politicians are the worst. They’re bad," Alvarez said.
But she’s still worried because of how she sees the relationship between the two countries.
"We always look, like you are the big brother that we think is going to do the best things. It’s like, how the world is looking at you and just kind of laughing. And it’s, for me it’s a little discouraging," she said.
Piñata-maker Javier Velazquez started making a Donald Trump piñata during the election, and it’s been pretty popular. He said he made it because Trump is "the public enemy."
The second thing I learned is that, even with everything that’s happening, Mexicans are hopeful.
For Marco Pardo, these challenges mean a chance for Mexico to strengthen other relationships.
"We depend a lot on the States. But we can change that. NAFTA has helped a lot. But Mexico have to look to other opportunities in the other countries," said Pardo.
"We don’t have NAFTA only. WE have other agreements that can help a lot.
Chef Britto Galan has hope for Mexico, but not necessarily Mexicans living in the United States.
“To us, to Mexico, it’s going to go very well. I believe — that’s my personal opinion. The Mexicans in the United States, well, they’re going to suffer," he said in Spanish.
And while Guadalupe Alvarez does have several concerns, she doesn’t worry about her relationships with all of her American friends.
"Because politicians can do whatever they want, I have no clue how it works, but I do have a lot of friends that are American and I don’t think it’s going to change. I mean, the love I feel for my friends, it won’t change. I love them and they love me," she said. "And even if he decides to build a wall, I don’t think that’s going to change."
Looking For Answers
The third theme that stood out to me was that, like Americans, Mexicans want answers, too. They want to know what the future looks like and they have opinions about what could or should happen.
Xavier Solano Rivas, the cattle farmer, said Mexico has to be realistic right now.
"We have to be realistic. If we act impulsively, we lose. It’s like David versus Goliath. This is the reality. It’s is like in boxing, you get knocked down, you get back up, and then you fight back," he said in Spanish.
And later in our conversation, after he’d answered most of my questions, Rivas asked me tell him what I thought about the current situation between the two countries.
"The truth, tell me the truth. Please," he said.
And then in my conversation with Marco Pardo, he suggested the importance of connecting across cultures as a solution, especially in building up Mexico.
“Creating connections with almost everyone is very special. It’s very unique. And when you want to connect, to communicate, you have to learn about the cultures," said Pardo. "Not just your main culture, or your own culture, but everyone's culture. Maybe not all of it, but a bit. Right? So what I like is to learn and to help them to learn here and hope Mexico is right in this case."
Guadalupe Alvarez came up with a pretty straightforward personal solution.
"I’m not going to go to the States until he’s not in office," she said.
And for her, that’s a big deal. When I asked her how many states she’d been to, the list was long.
"Uh, of course Texas and Arizona and California and New York and Georgia and Alabama and Tennessee, " she said. "Uh, Jackson Hole. Wyoming? Wyoming. And Florida and Virginia and Rhode Island."
'All Americans Are Welcome'
And finally, the last thing that stood out after all my conversations was that the Mexicans I talked to don’t blame all Americans for any negative feelings.
Britto Galan said his thoughts about President Trump and the recent election don’t affect how he feels about Americans.
“No, that doesn’t change. He only represents a quarter of the country," he said.
And even though Karla Agullon has concerns about her family and a bad experience from crossing the border, she doesn’t attribute her concerns to all Americans.
“Generally, there’s many different types of people. There are people who are racists, there are people who are humanitarian, it depends," she said in Spanish.
And even Xavier Solano Rivas, with all of his frustration, doesn’t criticize all Americans either.
"No, no, no, no. You can’t generalize that everyone is bad. But, you have to be conscious of the bad that there is in the United States," he said in Spanish.
To Marco Pardo, the conflict between our two countries isn’t about inherent differences, but more about different perspectives.
"We’re not different. What we have is a different point of view of our own economics," he said. "I mean, I will say Obama was good, but you may say Obama was not good. It depends on the personal opinion, right?"
Giorgio, the superhero “Meximan,” simplified things when he said: “Well, I think the American people has a good heart — there is a lot of s---, but the soul of the American people is a good soul.
So many of my conversations in Mexico felt like a movement toward my own personal understanding. Not only do I feel like I know more about the events between the United States and Mexico between 1810 and 2010, but I understand a little more about the feelings of some of the Mexicans living in the heart of their country.
As it turns out, we’re all invited to come and learn more.
At least according to Javier Velasquez, maker of the Donald Trump piñata.
"All Americans are welcome here," he said in Spanish.
And Giorgio Alberto, superhero extraordinaire.
“I don’t care your color skin, I don’t care your religion, don’t care your mentality, don’t care your economical position, don’t care that. The only who cares is that we are brothers because we are humans, and we got soul, and that is who cares. Only that, no more," he said.