Photo by Emily Zentner / Cronkite Borderlands Project

Trump’s rhetoric awakens new spirit in Mexico

By Emily Zentner / Cronkite Borderlands Project

Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017

In the days since the election of President Donald Trump, a shift has happened in the relationship between the United States and Mexico as his words and policy have ignited anger and a drive for independence within Mexico.

Since the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed between Mexico, the U.S. and Canada in 1993, Mexico has experienced rapid economic growth. As education levels and financial status have risen and a booming aeronautics and auto industry has emerged, Mexicans now want to be seen as an equal partner to the U.S. — and to have the respect that comes along with it.

A new economic future

In the 20 years since NAFTA was negotiated, Mexico’s annual GDP has more than doubled to $1.144 trillion U.S. dollars in 2015, according to the World Bank . Education in the country has also been on the rise, as Mexico had the fastest growth in high school graduation rates from 2000 to 2011 among countries involved in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, according to the organization’s website.

What these changes have left is a Mexico that is fundamentally different than the Mexico of 20 years ago. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the deep-seated trade relationship between Mexico and the U.S.

The number one source of Mexico’s imports, and number one destination of its exports, is the United States, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Observatory of Economic Complexity. For the United States, Mexico is is number two in both categories.

While a clear economic disparity exists between the two countries, the gap has been closing as Mexico’s GDP rises and companies like Ford and Bombardier move manufacturing enterprises into Mexico, further connecting the two countries. But while the U.S. and Mexico’s relationship is sure to continue, some see the friction caused by Trump’s election as a good chance for Mexico to begin to forge other fundamental economic and diplomatic partnerships, particularly in Europe, Asia and other parts of America.

“I really think that it is a great opportunity for Mexico to review the current state of affairs with the United States and to find opportunities of diversification in terms of a strong economy, a strong port of exports and imports, because the height of alliances based on NAFTA is, of course, with the U.S. economy,” said Rodolfo Hernandez, senior adviser to the Center for U.S.-Latin America Initiatives at the University of Texas at Dallas.

This diversification can already be seen in Mexico’s trade relationship with the European Union. Mexico signed a Free Trade Agreement with the union in 2000, and since then the flow of goods between them has grown from €26 billion to €53 billion, according to the European Commission. The two partners have made moves to accelerate the process of updating their trade agreement since Trump’s election, with two meetings scheduled in April and June of this year to renegotiate.

With Mexico’s growing and globalizing economy, what many are demanding now is respect from their northern neighbor — something they feel has already been lacking during Trump’s presidency.

Mario Lopez had this in mind when he decided to organize a march in San Miguel de Allende, a city in Central Mexico that hosts a large population of U.S. expatriates, after Trump’s election. Lopez’s march was a part of a larger series of nationwide marches on Feb. 12 organized by the Vibra México (“Mexico Moves") movement.

Ruiz hopes to see more unity and focus on the domestic economy as a result of the current increase of nationalism, but is not convinced that people will follow through on their feelings. Photo by Emily Zentner.

Of the 520 participants that Lopez counted at his march, however, about 400 were expatriates there to show their opposition to Trump. But among the 120 Mexicans who were there, Lopez said it was a chance to participate in a larger national movement to demand respect and show pride in their country. And while he believes strongly in the continued collaboration between the two countries, he also said that it is time for things to change.

“Our relationship… We need each other,” he said. “But I think its good to recognize each other as different countries and cultures now that we are moving into another age. We want respect.”

While the fundamental relationship between the U.S. and Mexico is in a state of flux right now, the hope of many is that, coming out of it, Mexico will be a stronger, more independent power.

“I think in the long run Mexico is going to be in a more equal base to have a more equalitarian relationship with the United States and to be presented as a more independent partner and neighbor with respect to the U.S.,” Hernandez said. “So I think after all, everything, this is a good opportunity to review the circumstance and to present Mexico eventually in a stronger and more powerful place in terms of interacting with the United States.”

History always plays a role

While Trump’s presidency has presented new challenges to the U.S. and Mexico’s relationship, the strain between the nations is hardly new.

Mexico’s recent demands for respect are informed both by Trump’s inflammatory words and policies, from talking about the “rapists” coming to the U.S. from Mexico to demanding the deportation of the “bad hombres” to threatening to build a wall along the Southern border, but also by the countries’ long history as well.

The event that sits at the forefront of many Mexicans’ minds is the Mexican-American War of the 1840s, and in particular of the loss of Mexican territory to the U.S. that followed this.

In signing the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to end the war with the U.S., Mexico ceded nearly half of its territory in giving the U.S. ownership of California as well as what was left of Mexican territory in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Nevada.

For Lopez, there is a definite connection between the feelings of this time and the feelings of many after the election of Trump as Mexicans try to adjust to the changing relationship between the two nations.

“We are afraid… in the sense of when you feel betrayed,” Lopez said. “Each ten (Mexicans), at least four feel betrayed because of this nonsense election.”

Hernandez, who grew up in Guanajuato and lived in Mexico City before moving to the U.S. 23 years ago, said that this loss has fed the sense of nationalism that has contributed to the sense of pride and demand for respect following Trump’s election.

“In the case of Mexico, the sense is that we lost,” Hernandez said. “That’s why this is a driver on the individual level of this notion of nationalism, and that is the way Mexicans are educated.”

Due to this, Hernandez said that nationalism is in the “DNA of the Mexican” as they grow up imbued with the sense of history and national pride that leaves many still grieving the loss of their lands to the U.S.

The loss of this territory stung in particular due to the vast oil reserves that sat in this land. And while this loss is far in the past, many Mexicans still mourn the loss of the land and the resentment that came with this has not disappeared.

“Well, we lost half of our territory,” Lopez said. “We already lost half of it already, and I had a teacher who said it was the biggest half, the biggest half because it’s the petroleum. But I think not only my point of view, we weep as a nation for the territory. It was the worst thing.”

But some are afraid that, as may invoke this long-ago loss in discussing the current situation between the nations, the sense of anti-Americanism that followed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo could return and permanently harm the relationship between the nations.

Rafael Fernandez de Castro, the head of the Department of International Studies at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México and an international adviser to former President Felipe Calderon and his wife, current PAN candidate Margarita Zavala, has this concern in mind with some of the responses to Trump in Mexico that he has seen.

Fernandez said that the nationalism that formed after the loss of this territory was good for Mexico in the long run – but it may not be the best path for Mexico today.

“In the 19th century, when we lost half of the territory, vis-a-vis the U.S. … Then Mexico became very anti-American and that is Mexican nationalism,” Fernandez said. “At the time, that nationalism was very positive because it was the glue that allowed Mexico to stay together, to keep together, because we were disintegrating.”

Despite the benefits of this nationalism in the past, Fernandez stressed the importance of the friendship and collaboration between the two nations and said that this attitude may not be the best solution to the current problems.

Zavala, who Fernandez has advised during her campaign about U.S. relations, expressed a similar sentiment, saying that while a rise in national pride is always good, the return of “anti-gringo” feelings would benefit no one.

Looking inward: A chance to redefine

But of all the concerns that Mexican citizens and officials have, there is one good thing many see that could come from Trump’s rupturing of the status quo between the countries: A chance to redefine the U.S.-Mexico relationship to suit a modern Mexico.

“Like, now we need to ask ourselves like a nation what is happening,” Lopez said. “We are not anymore the manufacturing country of the United States... It’s a breaking point. As a community, as a continent, as good partners, I think we need to make a link and start to do something.”

In working towards reevaluating the partnership between the U.S. and Mexico, many hope for Mexico to turn more towards its domestic economy in order to strengthen their own markets instead of relying so heavily on the U.S.

Despite the importance of keeping up the relationship between the nations, it is also time for Mexico to figure out who they are in the 21st century and to make sure that their partnerships are working for them, according to Lopez. Out of the tumult of the last year, he said, comes a chance for Mexico to rediscover its own identity.

“At the end, we don’t know our partner and that’s why it’s really really a good question who the United States are now, today, who is Mexico now,” Lopez said.


Cronkite News is the news division of Arizona PBS. The daily news products are produced by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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