Of the many different reactions to Donald Trump’s inaccurate and insulting comments about how Mexican migrants to the United States come from the bottom of the barrel, one of the most interesting has been that of wealthy and powerful Mexican elites who are suddenly long on indignation and outrage but short on memory and self-awareness.
That’s because Trump’s dismissive comments about how the United States has become a “dumping ground” for castaways from Mexico sound like something you’d hear bandied about at a Guadalajara country club or a fancy banquet in Mexico City.
After all, Mexico—like the rest of Latin America—is not exactly a model of social equality. There is prejudice and discrimination, pecking orders to which one must adhere. And those who leave the country are often ignored and forgotten.
So it is interesting that Trump has became so unpopular with the Mexican elites, who are usually content to watch from a safe distance the divisive immigration debate in the United States. If you’re a doctor or lawyer or businessman in Mexico City, and you shop at Louis Vuitton and spend your summer vacations in Europe, the plight of poor and uneducated Mexican migrants in the United States must seem like someone else’s problem.
Mexico is a country divided—by political parties, generations, skin color, geography, urban vs. rural. You name it. But the deepest division has to be based on class lines.
The elites are so busy feeling superior to most of their countrymen that few of them take the time to think about how their country benefits from those who migrate to the north.
In fact, that’s one thing that Americans and Mexicans have in common: Both groups are too proud to admit how dependent they are on Mexican migrants who work in the United States, and acknowledge how much those migrants contribute.
About 12 years ago, when I was part of the editorial board of the Dallas Morning News, my colleagues and I had a meeting with the governor of one of the states in Mexico. Not only did he not acknowledge the contributions of immigrants to his state via remittances, but when I brought up the point, he actually fought me on it. That money, he said, went into private hands and not public coffers. Thus, he insisted, while helpful to individual families, it had no impact on his state’s economy.
I pushed back. I pointed out that, while those dollars might have started off in private hands, they don't usually stay there. They get spent—at supermarkets, on utilities, in restaurants, etc. They become public dollars soon enough. And, in the process, the Mexican economy benefits.
Mexico gets the better end of the immigration deal since millions of people who probably couldn’t be absorbed by a fragile Mexican economy instead work in the United States and send home about $25 billion a year in remittances. That’s all gravy, with the only costs being whatever minimal amount the Mexican government spends to maintain a few dozen consulates in the United States.
Incredibly, the Mexican elites are so proud that they actually think they’re the ones keeping the country afloat. But that’s not so. Without the $20 billion a year in remittances sent home by lowly Mexican immigrants toiling in the United States, Mexico would be as financially insolvent as Greece.
As for Trump, let’s remember how the ruckus started. The real estate mogul got into hot water with individuals, media, and corporations on both sides on the border because, in announcing his presidential bid, he glibly characterized Mexican migrants as “people that have lots of problems,” folks who are “bringing drugs” and “bringing crime” and are often “rapists.”
If Trump was seeking attention, it worked. Along the way, he also picked up some support from Republican primary voters.
A new CNN/ORC poll finds him in second place behind Jeb Bush atop a crowded GOP presidential field. Bush is the choice of 19 percent of Republicans, and Trump is preferred by 12 percent.
In the United States, Univision, NBC-Universal, Macy’s and other companies have cut ties with Trump over the comments. Ora TV—a production company launched by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim and former CNN anchor Larry King—also ended its business relationship with Trump. In Mexico, where Trump recently insisted he is loved by the masses, vendors are doing a swift business hocking piñatas created in the Donald’s likeness because nothing says “love” like a firm swat with a broken broom handle. And, more recently, Mexico pulled its contestant out of the Miss Universe Pageant.
Interestingly, one of the first bursts of Mexican outrage occurred on U.S. soil. On June 18, a few days after Trump’s remarks, Fher Olvera, the lead singer of the popular Mexican rock group Mana, zeroed in on the real estate mogul during a concert in Los Angeles.
“He said we were trash,” Olvera told the sold-out crowd at Staples Center. “He said that the people who came from Latin America and Mexico are rapists, thugs, and drug dealers. Those were his words. We feel pity for this incompetent man. I have never heard a speech as violent, or as filled with hatred—not since Hitler.”
Olvera then tried to offer a more optimistic view of the contributions of immigrants.
“Latinos and Mexicans came to this country to build it from the ground up,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what one cabrón said—just remember that he insulted our fathers, our mothers; he insulted everyone. And that is inadmissible. When you go out to vote, which is soon, you know what you have to do.”
Certainly, it’s a tense time for Latinos—especially those in the American Southwest. Trump’s remarks touched a nerve not just with Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in the United States, but also with Colombians, Cubans, Puerto Ricans. Because we know the truth.
Because we can say with certainty to Trump or anyone else who cares to listen that our immigrant parents and grandparents were not criminals, rapists or drug dealers but hard-working, law-abiding laborers who loved and appreciated this country and contributed to it.
After Olvera concluded his remarks, he launched into the band’s rendition of “Somos Mas Americanos”—a pro-immigrant anthem penned by the legendary norteno band Los Tigres del Norte that talks about “America” not as one country but as a pair of continents. The defiant message to Trump, and his supporters: It’s not just that we’re as American as you. Actually, we’re more American than you. And don’t forget it.
But with outrage should come introspection. It’s easy for Mexicans to make Trump a target. But he simply said out loud what many Mexicans who stay behind have long believed about those who fled to the north—that they’re the undesirables who were out of options, didn't make it, and couldn’t hack it.
Which raises the question: Are Mexican elites upset at Trump for insulting their countrymen, or for stealing their lines?