I have spent the last ten months travelling through both the USA and Mexico. I have covered over 4,500 miles in Mexico over four months. As such, I have a unique perspective on both America’s fear of Mexico, and of the actual reality within Mexico…
Donald Trump has put into motion the process of building his promised “big beautiful wall” along the US-Mexico border. He also reiterated his decree that Mexico would pay for this wall. Trump’s promise to build the wall was a central tenet of his presidential campaign since he announced it with a fiery speech. “I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me”. Trump used this same speech to infamously brand Mexicans as “criminals” and “rapists”. As Trump’s campaign wore on, anti-mexican chants and slogans at Trump’s rallies became the norm. Trump became a champion of corporate-backed rightwing news outlets who have long demonised Mexicans as an excessively violent people, painting pictures of hordes of Mexicans pouring over the US border, taking American jobs, bringing in drugs and committing violent crime. In turn, many conservative news channels and and websites rallied behind Trump as America’s saviour, come to halt this perceived tsunami of crime and illegal migration.
So, what has led to this situation? Are there any basis in Trump and his allies’ controversial claims? I have spent the last ten months travelling through both the USA and Mexico. I have covered over 4,500 miles in Mexico over four months. As such, I have a unique perspective on both America’s fear of Mexico, and of the actual reality within Mexico. Throughout my six months spent travelling in the USA in election season, I was forthright with sharing my Mexico travel plans with people I met along the way. As such, I got a unique perspective of many American’s opinions of Mexico. The overall impression I received was that people feared their southern neighbour greatly. Many Americans I spoke to were genuinely concerned for mine and my companions safety when told that we would be driving through Mexico. We were informed more times than I could possibly count that Mexico was a lawless war zone, that its people were unduly violent, and that it was not safe. A police officer in Colorado expressed his hope that I would be taking a firearm to protect myself. A fellow camper in Utah suggested I was irresponsible to take my girlfriend to Mexico as it was simply unsafe. A borderline hysterical Arkansas woman pleaded with us not to go – She asserted that Mexican cartels had been abducting American children from her state, and that violence, rape and kidnap was spilling over the border as far as her hometown on a daily basis. Even a second-generation mexican-american who ran a campground at which we stayed in California told me that he no longer dared visit Mexico. He told me the situation in the country was “in dangerous crisis” and he no longer felt safe in the country, even considering his Mexican heritage. By far, the impression we got from the people of America was that Mexico was somewhere to be feared. I must point out that not all Americans I talked to held these views, but generally I found most people were genuinely concerned for our safety when we told them of our plans.
We crossed the Mexican border at Mexicali on the 29th September, 2016. We were not unaffected by the many opinions we had heard from people in the US, and we entered Mexico with more than a little anxiety of what might await us on the other side of the border. So, how have these projections of fear compared to our actual experience in Mexico? I can say without hesitation that these prophecies of theft, rape and murder have not come to pass. Far from it. I have found Mexico to be one of the warmest, most friendly and welcoming countries I’ve ever visited. Mexicans are among the the most compassionate and hospitable people I’ve known, and during 4,500 miles of travel across the country, myself nor my companions have felt threatened at any time. It feels as though everywhere we go, people just want us to experience the best of their country. This is a place where values of respect still apply, where groups of youths are friendly and respectful, and thus are not regarded with dread as in many places in my home country and in the United States. People here take a special type of pride in themselves, their family, and their property. Mexicans are a deeply dignified people who hold welcoming and hospitable values, and are almost invariably ready to help with smile. I have stumbled my way through many conversations here in terrible Spanish, and people have always tried to help and laughed along, never once losing patience. Even in poverty, Mexican people have always welcomed me and my group with open arms, eager to show us their home. We rarely drive into a town in Mexico where people do not wave and shout greetings of ‘Bienvenidos!’ as we pass. At truck stops and in roadside restaurants the locals always approach to greet and talk to us, and we have been given mangos and plantain as gifts by Mexican truck drivers and shop owners. Many towns in Mexico have a special kind of community spirit and the mix of happy amiable locals, vibrant community and beautiful ancient architecture. Some of these towns are reminiscent of some of Europe’s most beautiful towns and cities.
Mexico has a rich culture, beautiful towns and architecture, and hospitable people.
Mexico is not without its problems. I would be naive to overlook the country’s poor economy and resulting high crime rates, although Mexico and the US compare very closely in overall crime levels – Mexico ranks only 2% more than United States. Mexico has a high murder rate, but the United States has higher rates of rape and gun crime. I am not here to split hairs with statistics, I can tell you only what I myself have experienced here in Mexico, and that has been nothing but kindness and hospitality during 4,500 miles driven through the country. This is a far cry from what I had begun to expect from talking to many Americans.
Trump’s claims that Mexican immigrants are bringing with them exceptional level of crime and drugs are statistically flawed. Research shows that immigrants are more law-abiding than non-immigrants. Trump and his supporters have made repeated baseless assertions that Mexican immigration is at an all-time high, when in fact more Mexicans have returned to Mexico from the US than have arrived in the US since the end of the 2007-08 financial crisis. Why then has the United State’s southern neighbour become so feared in the last few years? Why has Mexico become synonymous with crime to the point where branding Mexicans “rapists” and “murderers” has become acceptable? I must conclude from my own experience, that the reason Mexicans are vilified in the United States is because it is politically and financially convenient for them to be vilified. Whether it be a demagogue rising up to seize power through promises of providing ‘security’ against a marauding enemy, powerful industry lobbyists trying to make money at the expense of the Mexican economy, or hysterical news outlets building their brand on spreading fear of foreigners – American media and politicians propagate fear of Mexico because doing so hands them both money and power.