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.
What does the everyday Mexican think of "The Wall," or Trump's plan to send the millions of undocumented immigrants from Mexico living in the United States back to Mexico, among so many other contentious proposals?
I recently 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 doesn't believe that Trump will win the election, some predicted that Trump would take it all in November. 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 emerges from all of these interviews: Trump has to go.
Or, in Spanish: ¡Fuera Trump!
Fabiola Valdez Gutierrez
Fabiola Valdez Guierrez is a Spanish-English interpreter, but her message for Trump needs no translation: He will never build "the wall."
She believes that, if Trump 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 said.
Valdez understands issues north and south of the border. She works remotely with clients in the US 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 is cynical when it comes to Trump and his bombastic style.
"He presents himself as a great business success, but a lot of reporters have caught him lying," she said. She says that she thinks that 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 think 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 worldview 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 said. "Nobody has real concerns or fears about him becoming president. At least not in my social circle."
- PHOTO BY BERT JOHNSON
- Frederico Campbell Pena.
Federico Campbell Peña
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 said 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 Trump would immediately enact a series of "publicity policies," such as building the border wall, to prove his might.
Another demonstration of power that 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 D.C. and in Mexico City," he predicted.
But Campbell does not believe that 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.
If it happens, though, Campbell predicts that 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 dire on the receiving end.
"Mexico cannot receive a lot of migrants," he said. And with the loss of remittances from Mexicans who had been living in the states, the Mexican economy could fold, too, he said.
How does it feel to be Mexican and hear Trump's vitriolic message? Campbell said it feels familiar, and not in a good way.
"We feel as [though we are] Polish in 1938, when Adolf Hitler reached power in Germany," he said. "We are Poland and Trump is Germany."
- PHOTO BY BERT JOHNSON
- Ali Gua Gua.
Ali Gua Gua
punk musician and D.J.
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 U.S. economy sucks for a lot of people.
"I think United States citizens are very scared about the economy," she said. And so they're drawn to Trump's quasi-populist message and purported business acumen, she said.
Although she says that she thinks that Trump will ultimately lose the election, Gua Gua admits that it's still frightening that his ideas carried him to the nomination.
"The easiest way is hate," she said.
And she also wants to share a warning for Trump supporters in America: White people will soon be outnumbered.
She dismisses Trump's claim that the Mexican government uses the United States as a "release valve" for its own domestic poverty. Instead, common people are often faced with an impossible situation, Gua Gua said.
"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," she said.
She keeps a sense of humor about Trump. She likens 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." (Biafra is a musician and spoken word artist.)
- PHOTO BY BERT JOHNSON
- Maritza Waldo Molina.
Maritza Waldo Molina
When Maritza Waldo Molina crossed the border with a coyote, or trafficker, she said that 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 people get defensive when they feel threatened, and that Trump is the ultimate defense mechanism.
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, she said.
She describes Trump as a "Muppet," who's "part of a malicious plan." She views Trump's role as a diversion: 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 that Trump will win.
She's equally jaded when it comes to Mexican politics. Waldo mentioned the most recent presidential race, in which Enrique 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."
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 that he sympathizes with Trump.
"He's defending his country," he said. "No one sees it that way, but it's true."
Nonetheless, he believes that Trump will lose, because Trump's vitriol disassociates so many voters, he said.
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 said.
If Trump wins, Contreras said that he thinks that the Mexican government would in fact go along with his plans.
"Mexico belongs to the United States," he said.
He points 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, Mexico would carry the debt for generations.
"It's like I told you, Mexico is not in a position to refuse the United States."
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, admits 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. "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 said.
Sanchez said that the motive for Trump's slapdash campaign is obvious: "I think that Donald Trump only wants to draw attention." And he sees Trump's extremism as a sideshow. "Se sabe que no va a ganar," or in English: It's known that he is not going to win.
Sanchez speculates that Trump's campaign is about creating a high profile to earn more cash.
Sanchez said 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," Sanchez said.
- PHOTO BY BERT JOHNSON
- Isaías Jaime Ignacio Cruz.
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 that President 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.
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 said. "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 predicts 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, Americans will come to their senses by November, Ignacio said. He quoted Benito Juarez, the first indigenous president of Mexico: "Respect for the rights of others means peace."
Jose Luis Diaz Calderón
Jose Luis Diaz Calderón describes 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 said that Trump's bark will be worse than his bite if Trump is actually elected president.
"It's understood that, in a campaign, [Trump] can say a thousand things to win votes," he said.
But if Trump wants 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 said 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," he said.
He said that Mexico has been the United States' partner for 150 years. This means that the country is an essential intermediary between the United States and other Latin American nations, he said. In other words, Trump would need Mexico.
Mexico also has deep economic ties to the US. Not only do US-based firms use cheap Mexican labor, but Mexico, with roughly 120 million residents, represents an important consumer market.
Most voters in Latin America admire US elections as clean and free from repression or corruption, Diaz said. But at the same time, in the United States, Latino voters are undervalued and their interests are too often overlooked, he said. 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 support the proposals of Donald Trump," he said. "Today, if you ask any Mexican, they'll say, 'God willing Hillary Clinton will win.'"
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!'"
BY CHRISTINE CARRIE FIEN
Local activist takes on Trump
Whether Donald Trump believes the vile things that often come out of his mouth is irrelevant, says Rosemary Rivera, a Latina and well-known local activist. What Trump is saying is ugly, ignorant, divisive, and therefore, dangerous, she says.
"I think that the majority of the population in New York understands that hate doesn't get us anywhere and fear doesn't get us anywhere," Rivera says. "I think that the population in New York is a lot smarter than that."
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- Rosemary Rivera.
Trump, the Republican candidate for president, has said that many Mexican immigrants are drug traffickers and rapists. He also says that he wants to build a wall along the southern border between Mexico and the US, with Mexico footing the bill.
Rivera says that many Latinos find Trump's rhetoric ironic.
"Many of the people from Mexico look very much more like the indigenous people here than Donald Trump ever will," Rivera says. "To be looking at some white man in a black robe or Donald Trump pointing his finger and saying we're dangerous and we're invading. Are you kidding me?
"It's very scary to think there's men and women in this country who would support such rhetoric and who do fall prey to that kind of fear-mongering and talk, and who would feel that, 'Hey, things would be better if we kept them' — and I'm saying 'them' as black and brown and all kinds of people — 'in their place,'" she says.
Rivera says that she hopes that Latinos roundly reject Trump at the polls in November.
"I just feel it's necessary for us to really take a stand and say, 'We reject those ideas, we reject that kind of hatred, we reject that kind of fear-mongering. We don't want a world where we're completely divided as human beings.'"