At Mexico City’s historic central square, or zócalo, Jose Adan Garcia Canales was busy balancing a small pipe organ on a wooden peg. He turned its crank, and the instrument let out a shrill tune reminiscent of circus music. Garcia’s partner strolled amid the shoppers, tourists and vendors with a hat in hand, asking for change.
The organillero, or organ-grinder, is one of many in the capital’s massive unofficial economy. He’s a man of the people, with his fingers on the pulse of the city, and that’s why I asked him about one of the most pressing issues in Mexico today: Donald Trump.
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What does the everyday Mexican think of “The Wall,” or Trump’s plan to send 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States back to Mexico, among so many other contentious proposals?
Garcia’s response was to the point: “They’re very radical,” he said in Spanish. “I don’t like them.”
In the weeks leading up to the Republican National Convention, I interviewed a number of Mexico City residents — from teachers to musicians to fellow journalists — about Trump, and whether the demagogic candidate had changed their perception of America.
Responses varied. While the organillero didn’t believe Trump would win the election, some predicted that Trump would take it all in November. Others hinted at a conspiracy between Trump and Mexico’s president. A few bluntly compared Trump to Hitler. And some likened his campaign to a stunt, instead of an honest attempt to win the White House. Lots of people described the man with the darkest of humor: His campaign is a joke, but not a funny one.
One common theme emerged from all of these interviews: Trump has to go.
Or, in Spanish: ¡Fuera Trump!
“He’s Like a Clown”
—Fabiola Valdez Gutierrez, interpreter
Fabiola Valdez Guierrez is a Spanish-English interpreter — but her message for Trump needs no translation: He will never build “the wall.”
She actually believes that, if he were in fact elected and did try to push the wall, a litigious private sector on both sides of the border would stop his plans in the courts. “Mexican companies have American partners that would likely lose money, as well, and I cannot see the federal government trying to solve all the possible lawsuits that will be surfacing” because of the wall, she explained.
Valdez understands issues north and south of the border. She works remotely with clients in the United States and other English-speaking countries. She also has family in America and, in 2003, spent a summer in Texas and Arizona. So, for her, the border is personal.
Like many people I spoke to, Valdez was cynical when it came to Trump and his bombastic style. “He presents himself as a great business success, but a lot of reporters have caught him lying,” she explained. She thinks his No. 1 motivation is to further his Trump brand with scandals and constant media attention.
But “his message is so full of ignorance that it is a joke to think that his proposals are serious,” she said.
Is there anything new about Trump’s brand of bigotry? Valdez doesn’t thinks so, calling it a byproduct of “a racist America that is still palpable and very alive, present in a lot of cities.”
The only surprise is that’s he’s a legitimate major-party candidate, she said — one supported by extremists who “won’t recognize the multiculturalism in their own country,” and who want “to go back to an America that never existed.”
For Valdez, that’s why Trump’s popularity is ultimately scary: It validates the idea that “racists think they have the right to impose their world view on the rest of the population, and ultimately the world.”
Despite her concern about Trump and his supporters, she said that his vision is basically a punchline in Mexico. “He is like a clown,” she explained. “Nobody has real concerns or fears about him becoming president. At least not in my social circle.”
“We Are Poland and Trump Is Germany”
—Federico Campbell Peña, journalist
A TV journalist who works for Canal Once, or the “Mexican PBS,” Federico Campbell Peña has followed Trump’s campaign from day one. And he is certain that Trump, whom he calls a “unique species,” will win.
That’s a disconcerting prognostication from a man who also recently wrote a self-published book, Stop Trump: Una cronología abreviada, or an “abridged chronology.” But Campbell doesn’t want Trump to move in to the White House; his hope with the book is to inspire Mexican leadership to develop a plan to deal with the possibility of a Trump presidency.
The writer partially attributes Trump’s appeal in America to the scandals that have beset Hillary Clinton. But he also believes that global instability is setting the table for a Trump presidency. “ISIS is helping Mr. Trump,” he explained, “and also the police attacks.”
If Trump becomes president, Campbell predicted that he would immediately enact a series of “publicity policies,” such as building the border wall, to prove his might.
Another demonstration of power Campbell expects in Trump’s hypothetical first year is the cessation of diplomatic relations between Mexico and America — as crazy as that sounds. “We are not going to have ambassador[s] in DC and in Mexico City,” he predicted.
But Campbell does not believe Mexico would fork over the billions of dollars needed to erect Trump’s notorious wall. He cited President Enrique Peña Nieto, who recently said, “There is no way that Mexico can pay.”
He does expect a truly massive deportation effort, although not of every undocumented immigrant, as Trump has promised. According to Campbell, that would be physically impossible. “But he is going to deport more people than Obama.”
If that happens, he predicted the US economy could collapse, due to the sudden removal of a large percentage of its labor force and consumer base. And the situation would be equally as dire on the receiving end. “Mexico cannot receive a lot of migrants,” he said. And with the loss of remittances from Mexicans that had been living in the states, the Mexican economy could fold, too.
In an interesting twist, Campbell said conspiracy theories about Trump abound. “A taxi [driver] told me that Peña Nieto has just been with Donald Trump,” he said, implying that the two are somehow in cahoots. He explained that many Mexicans share an inherent distrust of mainstream news outlets, because of their close ties to government.
But it’s also possible that conspiracy theories are simply a means for those who feel disempowered to make sense of Trump’s madness.
Speaking of which: How does it feel to be Mexican and hear Trump’s vitriolic message?
Campbell was blunt: “We feel as [though we are] Polish in 1938, when Adolf Hitler reached power in Germany. … We are Poland and Trump is Germany.”
“The Easiest Way Is Hate”
—Ali Gua Gua, punk musician and deejay
Like many Mexicans, Trump wasn’t on Ali Gua Gua’s radar. “We only know he had, like, some hotels and had a lot of money,” she explained while seated in the middle of a protest encampment full of striking teachers in the heart of Mexico City, where she lives. Gua Gua — a globetrotting musician prominent in the Latin American punk scene — is perhaps best known as part of the Kumbia Queers, an all-female outfit whose members hail from Mexico and Argentina. She views Trump’s popularity in America as a byproduct of a strong strain of cultural intolerance in the country. “I think in the United States, [people are] more aggressive when you’re different,” she observed. “And I think Trump is representing these people who think all the problems are because of immigration.”
But she also realizes that the US economy sucks for a lot of people. “I think United States citizens are very scared about the economy,” she said. In turn, they’re drawn to Trump’s quasi-populist message and purported business acumen.
Although she thinks Trump will ultimately lose the election, Gua Gua admitted that it’s still frightening that his ideas carried him to the nomination. “The easiest way is hate,” she said.
And she also wanted to share a warning for Trump supporters in America: White people will soon be outnumbered.
She dismissed Trump’s claim that the Mexican government uses the United States as a “release valve” for its own domestic poverty. Instead, she said, common people are often faced with an impossible situation. “If you’re a young guy, in a small town in the middle of Mexico, you have, like, two choices, or three: You’re a peasant and you starve [to] death, or you become a policeman, [or] te vuelves narco [or you traffic drugs], or you go to the states.” And a majority decline crossing the border, because it is expensive and fraught with danger.
Amazingly, she keeps a sense of humor about Trump. During our chat, she joked about his “piggy face,” and how metal bands might find him the perfect target for their derision were he elected. And, in the end, she likened his candidacy to dystopian farce with a musical twist: “For me, it’s like a comic, no? It’s like Jello Biafra’s worst nightmare.”
—Maritza Waldo Molina, English teacher
When Maritza Waldo Molina crossed the border with a coyote, or trafficker, she didn’t even realize it was illegal. She lived for more than five years in North Carolina, beginning in 2005. And she only returned to Mexico for her parents’ sake. But she still has family in America, some of whom are legal residents, some still undocumented.
Waldo, now an English teacher, said that her view of Trump is akin to that of the majority of Mexicans: “Everybody thinks he’s a jerk.”
Her theory as to the candidate’s popularity, however, is unique: People get defensive when they feel threatened — “The problem is, like, we blame everybody” — and Trump is the ultimate defense mechanism.
As a Mexican, she isn’t offended by Americans who love Trump — because she isn’t surprised. “I’m not 100 percent neutral, but I know you can expect anything” from politics on both sides of the border.
Her big-picture attitude is that the president doesn’t matter: The rich will get richer, and they’ll continue to ignore the working class.
To that skeptical end, she described Trump as a “Muppet,” who’s “part of a malicious plan.” (More of those conspiracy theories.) She views Trump’s role as the distraction, the guy who says hateful and outrageous things to keep people distracted, while the powerful elite do the real damage.
That’s one reason why she thinks Trump will win.
She’s equally jaded when it comes to Mexican politics. Waldo mentioned the most recent presidential race, in which Peña Nieto won with less than half of the popular vote, an election reminiscent of the Bush-Gore standoff of 2000.
She also thinks we all have some of Trump’s flaws in us, to varying degrees. She called these our “little Trumps.”
“Mexico Belongs to the United States”
—Cuauhtli Contreras, shop owner
On most days, you’ll find Cuauhtli Contreras at his news kiosk in Mexico City’s zócalo, where he sells papers and magazines, bottled drinks, and loose cigarettes. He’s a man of the news — so you might be surprised, then, that he sympathizes with Trump.
“He’s defending his country. No one sees it that way, but it’s true,” Contreras argued.
Nonetheless, he believes Trump will lose, because his vitriol disassociates so many voters. “If you’re not blonde and tall, you’re opposed to Trump,” he explained in Spanish.
For Contreras, Trump isn’t directly threatening Mexico. His message is not about Mexicans. “His whole campaign of hate is against Mexicans in the United States,” he explained.
Contreras’ views also stand out because, he said, if Trump were to win, he thinks the Mexican government would in fact go along with his plans. “Mexico belongs to the United States,” he said.
He pointed out that it has been this way since the Mexican-American War, when the US Army occupied Mexico City and flew the Stars and Stripes over the very square where he runs his kiosk.
That’s why Contreras believes that Mexico might bend to pressure and pay for a border wall — even though his country would have to borrow money from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, or possibly America itself to make it happen. If that occurred, that Mexico would carry the debt for generations.
“It’s like I told you, Mexico is not in a position to refuse the United States.”
“Se Sabe Que No Va a Ganar”
—Brillyl Sanchez, customer service
Brillyl Sanchez sat in a Quaker-run hostel and community center in central Mexico City, where he sometimes practices English with ex-pats and hostel guests. Sanchez, who is gay, admitted that the current groundswell of global reactionary conservativism, including Trump’s overwhelming popularity, feels not only regressive, but also dangerous. “I hope that he doesn’t win,” he said with the utmost sincerity.
“It’s the first time that I’ve heard a candidate who talks like this, so openly, about problems … without making a sound judgement about the causes,” he explained.
Sanchez brought up the “taco bowl” episode: On Cinco de Mayo this year, Trump tweeted a picture of himself at his desk with a sad-looking tortilla shell — a classic example of Americanized “Mexican” food — and the caption “I love Hispanics!”
“It’s very weird,” Sanchez lamented. “It’s a comedy.”
Sanchez thinks the motive for Trump’s slapdash campaign is obvious: “I think that Donald Trump only wants to draw attention.” He sees Trump’s extremism as a side show. “Se sabe que no va a ganar,” or in English: It’s known that he is not going to win.
Sanchez speculated that instead, the entire campaign is about creating a high profile to earn more cash. “His finances aren’t so good right now and he needs more publicity.”
But Sanchez said that, as a gay man, Trump’s response to incidents such as the Orlando shooting was wildly irresponsible and disrespectful. “I think that was, like, very misguided,” he told me. “Who’s he helping, really?”
Sanchez believes that Clinton would be a better leader for the gay community, and the country in general.
He also dismissed Trump’s statements referring to immigrants as criminals or drug-smugglers. “It’s like saying all Colombians are narcotraficantes. Of course not. It’s absurd.”
“What Would the United States Gain From Being Constantly at War?”
—Isaías Jaime Ignacio Cruz, teacher on strike
The ongoing teachers strike in Mexico City is a mass protest against national education reforms that would hardly cause US citizens to bat an eye. But critics say Peña Nieto’s proposals have more to do with privatization than actually improving schools. And his government has tried to enforce its will against protesters with violent police crackdowns.
To that end, teacher Isaías Jaime Ignacio Cruz sees similarities between Trump’s rhetoric and the reality in Mexico. “[H]ere too, our government has already become very right-wing,” he explained. “It has become more discriminatory, and it’s affecting its own population.”
A teacher from Oaxaca, Ignacio has been part of the teacher occupation in Mexico City since 2013. He said that what makes Trump worse than most is that “he is a person who discriminates too much and that, in fact, he is racist toward certain groups.”
Ignacio predicted that the US economy would collapse if undocumented immigrants were prevented from entering the country or sent back to Latin America. “They have jobs that Americans cannot or will not do,” he said. He added that US business owners ultimately benefit from undocumented immigration, since those without legal status will often work for less money.
He wonders what supporters think they will gain from Trump’s belligerent policy. “We’ve already seen this gentleman’s intentions to begin cutting ties with all of the developing nations,” he said. “What would the [United States] gain from being constantly at war?”
Hopefully, he said, Americans will come to their senses by November. He quoted Benito Juarez, the first indigenous president of Mexico: “Respect for the rights of others means peace.”
“God Help Us!”
—Jose Luis Diaz Calderón, university professor
Jose Luis Diaz Calderón described Trump frankly: “Nosotros la vemos como si fuera algo muy parecido a Hitler.” To translate: “We see it as something very much like Hitler.”
But the professor at Instituto Politécnico Nacional, a public university with several campuses in Mexico City, also thinks that Trump’s bark will be louder than his bite if he’s actually elected president.
“It’s understood that, in a campaign, [Trump] can say a thousand things [in order] to win votes,” he explained. But if Trump wanted to pursue a hard line with Mexico, his influence would be limited by pre-existing agreements between the two governments, the counterweight of the US Congress, and state laws along the border.
Diaz also believes that Mexico’s significance as a leading country in Latin America would temper some of Trump’s more extreme proposals. “We say that, in terms of Latin America, Mexico represents the big brother for the majority of countries, with the exception more recently of Brazil, Chile, or Argentina,” the professor explained.
He reminded that Mexico has been the United States’ partner for 150 years. This means that, according to Diaz, the country is an essential intermediary between the United States and other Latin American nations. In other words, Trump would need Mexico.
Mexico also has deep economic ties to the United States. Not only do US-based firms use cheap Mexican labor, but Mexico, with roughly 120 million residents, represents an important consumer market (think “Mexican Coke”).
But Diaz also reminded me that most voters in Latin America admire US elections as clean and free from repression or corruption. At the same time, he thinks that, in the United States, Latino voters are undervalued as a complementary bloc to white voters, and that their interests are too often overlooked. Trump’s pandering to the concerns of an ever-insecure, mostly conservative base support Diaz’s view.
And that’s the rub in Mexico: “For us, the worst thing is that there’s a mass [of people] that sup-port the proposals of Donald Trump,” he said. “Today, if you ask any Mexican they’ll say, ‘God willing Hillary Clinton will win.'”
Interestingly, this anti-Trump sentiment is shared across the political aisle in Mexico, from supporters of the conservative Peña Nieto to those who sympathize with the striking teachers. They’re all saying it:
“‘God help us if Donald Trump wins!'”