It is not about skin color. I keep writing that but apparently, the racism label is so engrained that many do not seem to understand that the issue is not about skin color. It is about culture and language. It is about dehumanizing immigrants and demonizing Mexico. It has always existed as an undercurrent in the United States. Although it was whispered about, it was kept in the background, for the most part. Unfortunately, Donald Trump has brought it to the surface.
In last week’s post, I wrote about what makes me afraid of the Donald Trump presidency – the bashing of Mexico and the dehumanizing of immigrants. Some readers are incredulous; some believe that I exaggerate the issue and still others believe that it does not exist. Others do not even realize they bash Mexico or dehumanize immigrants.
On November 9, 2016, Estela Casas, a long-time television personality at KVIA shared on her personal Facebook an incident she had with a caller. Per Casas’ post, a caller left a message for her telling her to “say goodbye to illegal aliens,” adding to “Say goodbye, Baby!” Apparently, the caller was insinuating that Casas was an undocumented immigrant because of her Hispanic background. Casas went on to explain that she is a “first generation El Pasoan” and that her parents came to the “country legally.”
What is important to note is that the caller targeted Estela Casas because of her Mexican heritage. Therein lies the problem many of us are facing.
Although I have been told numerous times that Donald Trump only wants to keep the “illegal” immigrants out and welcomes everyone “legally,” the fact remains that to many individuals the difference between documented and undocumented is not paperwork but rather heritage and where someone comes from.
You may notice that most conversations about undocumented immigrants centers on the US-Mexico border. Seldom, if anytime, do you hear concerns about visa over stayers and out of status individuals entering through the northern border or from Europe. As a matter of fact, there is evidence to suggest that Melania Trump, Donald’s wife, was herself out of status prior to receiving her H1B visa.
Focusing on the US-Mexico border betrays the reality that the immigration issue is not about immigrants but rather about Latino immigrants entering through the southern border. I realize that some of you are going to argue that most undocumented immigrants are from Mexico and Latin America. I agree, but that does not negate the narrative of dehumanizing immigrants and bashing Mexico.
It cannot be accepted and it must be challenged.
More importantly, if the issue is about undocumented immigrants then the debate should be about all undocumented immigrants and not just a selected group of immigrants. The selecting of which immigrants to target has made it acceptable to dehumanize a group of people like Estela Casas based on her heritage as opposed to her citizenship. There in is the danger.
The dehumanizing transcends nationality and is instead targeted at heritage. It has become so ingrained in the narrative that many do not even realize that they are participating in the bashing and dehumanizing. Take for example a frequent reader to my blog and a comment they made recently. The reader wrote; “Look, Mexico is poor because of the greed of the corrupt officials.”
I know that the reader was not being malicious and did not intend to hurt me by their comments but that is the result.
I have built my blog by pointing out the corruption in El Paso. Corruption exists in all countries and the United States is not immune to it. However, the narrative that Mexico is “poor” and corrupt is the common narrative, although it is not the truth.
The Corruption Perceptions Index, published annually by Transparency International, ranks the United States as the sixteenth corrupt country in the world. The 2015 rankings put Denmark as the least corrupt. Mexico is tied with at the 88th position with seven other countries, out of 178 countries ranked. To be sure Mexico needs to do better to combat corruption but it is not ranked as the most corruption nation in the world.
Just like Mexico is not the most corrupt country in the world it is also not the poorest either. The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the United Nations all rank Mexico is as the fifteenth largest economy in the world by GDP. By no means does that make Mexico poor.
Yet, the perception remains that Mexico is “poor”.
It is these types of stereotypes that have always existed and they have been an unsurmountable wall for me to break through when discussing the geopolitics of the US-Mexico relationship. The narrative of “poor” and corruption is so engrained that any commentary that contradicts that dictum is quickly ignored.
One thing is to argue that Mexico needs to do better about corruption, I agree, or that Mexico must do better in regards to economic disparity and yet another thing is to base any discussion about Mexico on stereotypes that are completely wrong. I spend too much time trying to dispel the fully engrained stereotypes that meaningful discussions just cannot happen.
To be clear, the stereotypes are not limited to people of what is commonly referred to as “white”. I have encountered many Hispanics who believe in the stereotypes and not questioning their validity. Some may not even notice it. And in some ways, they perpetuate the stereotypes while defending themselves from the angry outbursts. Take Estela Casa, for example, she made it a point in her post to point out that her parents “came to this country legally”. I can understand that she did that to point out the hypocrisy of her attacker but in making her point she inadvertently argued that undocumented immigrants are lesser than her parents.
Donald Trump has made the stereotypes acceptable. Whether he bashed Mexico to get elected or he meant what he said is still open for debate. Although his wife likely was out of status, “illegal” in the parlance of Trump supporters, Donald Trump and supporters have ignored that very important issue. This is because it does not fit the narrative that only “illegals” are the Latino ones or that the only undocumented immigration problem is on the US-Mexico border.
It should not be acceptable that a United States citizen, like Estela Casa, be demonized just because of her heritage. As you can see by her example, it is not my perception nor my exaggeration but the reality that Donald Trump has created. This fear is not unfounded and the proof is starting to manifest itself across the nation.