The late celebrity chef and travel documentarian, Anthony Bourdain, once bemoaned that Mexico, “Our brother from another mother,” was a country that “like it or not, we are inexorably, deeply involved in a close, but often uncomfortable embrace.” No doubt, Donald Trump has made that embrace even less comforting. Despite the anti-Mexican rhetoric emanating from the White House and the heinous treatment of Mexican immigrants on American soil, Mexico remains our second most important trading partner, behind Canada. But rather than envisioning this regional relationship as key to future economic opportunity and security, Trump looks overseas, playing footsie with Russia and antagonizing China, the world’s second-largest economy. The United States can ill afford to take Mexico for granted.
Donald Trump took the nation down a rabbit hole, which saw millions of Americans become transfixed with a xenophobic and racist diatribe against those with brown skin. According to the FBI, hate crimes across the nation continue to rise, including violent racially motivated crimes against Latinos. Across the country, Chicanos, and Latinos of all stripes, have felt the sting of this irrational, dystopian view of Mexicans clamoring at the gates and tearing down the walls. And, in no small part, Trump has been instrumental in fueling this hatred by normalizing it right before our eyes. But why have so many Americans been eager to jump on the anti-Latino bandwagon?
Anti-Latino bias runs long and deep in American history. Indeed, the founding fathers had little regard for their Latin American brothers and sisters from the very start. Writing to James Monroe in 1801, Thomas Jefferson expressed his belief that it was inevitable that Americans would expand beyond their “limits, and cover the whole northern if not the southern continent.” According to John Adams, democracy was ill-suited for Latin Americans. After all, if “the birds, beasts, and fishes” are incapable of comprehending democracy, why then give it to the Latin Americans? In 1836, in a letter to President Andrew Jackson, Stephen Austin described the war in racial terms when he stated that “A war of extermination is raging in Texas – a war of barbarism and despotic principles, waged by the mongrel Spanish-Indian and negro race, against civilization and the Anglo-American race.” And in 1848, President James K. Polk may have anticipated the sentiment of some Americans today when he stated, “I expressed a doubt as to the policy or practicability of obtaining a country containing so large a number of the Mexican population.”
Mexico lost its territories to its northern neighbor, but it did not lose its historical ties to the Southwest. Mexicans and Mexican Americans were bound to this region in ways that white Americans did not understand or appreciate. So, while large segments of white America happily exploited Mexican labor and denigrated their culture, Mexicans continued to thrive in the United States – albeit in the shadows. But much has changed since those early days. As Trump might meddle with the census process, the numbers don’t lie: Mexican Americans make up close to 40 million of a total Latino American population of 60 million.
History, two thousand miles of border between both nations, hundreds of billions in trade, and hundreds of thousands of people crossing the border each day cannot be ignored or stopped. So, when Trump boasts that Mexico sends us its “criminals, rapists, and people with low IQ,” he reveals his ignorance of the U.S.’s ties to its southern neighbor. A Biden administration must come to terms with its relationship with Mexico and chart a new course.
After this election, part of rebuilding our national reputation will be to embrace our brethren in the south on a more level playing field. No more talk of shithole countries, ending bilateralism and turning away from our allies around the world. And we certainly cannot afford a foreign policy based on bullying tactics that leave our partners confused and scrambling to appease an irrational leader. What we need to do is expand the relationship with Mexico and make it stronger. The building blocks for this Mexico reboot are already in place. What is required is a reimagining of the opportunities that might be.
The following are some policy suggestions that might take in the right direction:
Biden has already made it clear that the environment, and climate change, in particular, will be one of his top priorities. This means that the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) should be reopened, with a reinvigorated commitment to work together to clean water, protect fisheries, develop reforestation plans, control urban sprawl, restructure transportation systems, etc.
Economic development planning should prioritize the concerns of all stakeholders. Both nations must be able to protect local industries that provide economic vitality. As crazy as this may sound, we need to think beyond investment strategies that focus solely on low wages. We need to think bigger. How will our investments help local communities in the long term? We’re not just hiring faceless workers. We’re hiring people with families who all want: livable wages, safe working conditions, a clean environment, and healthy communities.
Supporting educational institutions should be prioritized. Both nations should broaden opportunities for student exchange programs. Also, cultural and artist opportunities must expand. For example, the Smithsonian Museum could work collaboratively to build a Mexican museum in the U.S.
Millions of Americans have turned to the Mexican healthcare system due to the high costs of medical care in the U.S. How can both countries work together to either integrate or standardize some of these services?
The U.S. must continue to provide support and encouragement as Mexico continues the process of reshaping its judicial system. This process is vital as Mexico moves forward to broaden its democratic institutions.
Americans and Mexicans have more in common than not. Yet, it remains deeply disappointing that many Americans became enchanted by the vitriol from the White House. Incredibly disheartening was how easily we abandoned the lessons of history when thousands of children were forcibly removed from their families and thrown into cages. As of this writing, over five hundred of these children remain in U.S. government custody because their parents cannot be found. We were bullied by Trump, no doubt about that. Nevertheless, the opportunity to turn a new leaf is just around the corner.
The proposed changes are not difficult to implement. What is needed is dedicated and imaginative leadership in advancing them. Trump’s foreign policies have held us back and threatened our capacity to deal effectively with our geopolitical rivals. Mexico offers us an opportunity to strengthen our regional and hemispheric ties, expand economic opportunities, and address shared environmental concerns. Mexico will not go away, no matter how high you build that wall. So, let’s think bigger. Our brothers from another mother might appreciate that right now.