At Mexico City's historic central square, or Zócalo, José Adán García is busy balancing a small pipe organ on a wooden peg. As he turns its crank, the instrument lets out a shrill tune reminiscent of circus music. García's partner strolls 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; that's why I ask him about one of the most pressing issues in Mexico today: Donald Trump.
What do everyday Mexicans think of "The Wall," or Trump's plan to send the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States back to Mexico, among so many other contentious proposals?
García's response is swift and to the point: "They're very radical," he says in Spanish. "I don't like them."
In the weeks leading up to the Republican National Convention, I 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 the United States.
Responses varied. While the organ-grinder didn't believe Trump would win the election, some predicted the GOP nominee could take it all. Others hinted at a conspiracy between him and Mexico's president. A few bluntly compared Trump to Hitler. Some likened his campaign to a stunt, instead of a serious attempt to win the White House. Lots of people described his campaign as a joke—but not a funny one.
One common theme emerged from all of these interviews: Trump has to go. Or, in Spanish, ¡Fuera Trump!
Valdéz Gutierrez is a Spanish-English interpreter—but her message for Trump needs no translation: He will never build "The Wall."
She actually believes that if he were elected and did try to push a 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," she says.
Valdéz Gutierrez understands issues north and south of the border. She works remotely with clients in the U.S. and other English-speaking countries, has family stateside and in 2003 she spent a summer in Texas and Arizona. For her, the border is personal.
Like many, Valdéz Gutierrez was cynical when it came to Trump and his bombastic style. "He presents himself as a great business success, but a lot of reporters have caught him lying," she says. She thinks his No. 1 motivation is to further his personal 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 says.
So, is there anything new about Trump's brand of bigotry? Valdéz Gutierrez 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, she says, is that he's a legitimate major-party candidate—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 her, that's why Trump's popularity is alarming: 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 Valdéz Gutierrez' concern about Trump and his supporters, she says that his vision is basically a punch line in Mexico. "He is like a clown," she says. "Nobody has real concerns or fears about him becoming president. At least not in my social circle."
WE ARE POLAND AND TRUMP IS GERMANY
Federico Campbell Peña,
Campbell Peña, a TV journalist who works for Canal Once, regarded as "the Mexican PBS," has followed Trump's campaign from Day 1. He is certain that Trump, who he calls a "unique species," will win.
That's a disconcerting move coming from a man who recently wrote a self-published book titled, Stop Trump: Una Cronología Abreviada, or an "abridged chronology." But Campbell Peña doesn't want Trump to start packing his bags for the White House just yet; he hopes his book will inspire Mexican leadership to develop a plan to deal with the possibility of a Trump presidency.
He partially attributes Trump's U.S. appeal to the scandals that have beset Hillary Clinton. But he also believes that global instability is setting the table for a Trump presidency. "ISIS is helping Mr. Trump," he says, "and also the police attacks."
If Trump were elected, Campbell Peña says the businessman would immediately enact a series of "publicity policies," such as building the border wall, to prove his might.
Another display of power the broadcaster expects in Trump's hypothetical first year, is the cessation of diplomatic relations between Mexico and the U.S.—as far-fetched as that sounds. "We are not going to have ambassador[s] in D.C. and in Mexico City," he forecasts.
But Campbell Peña does not believe Mexico would fork over the billions of dollars needed to erect Trump's notorious wall. He cites President Enrique Peña Nieto, who recently stated, "There is no way that Mexico can pay."
Campbell Peña, however, does expect a massive deportation effort—although not of every undocumented immigrant, as Trump has promised. According to him, that would be physically impossible. "But he is going to deport more people than Obama," he says.
If that happens, Campbell Peña says the U.S. economy could collapse due to the sudden loss of a large percentage of its labor force and consumer base. And the situation would be equally as dire south of the border. "Mexico cannot receive a lot of migrants," he says. With the loss of remittances from Mexican nationals working in the States (to the sum of $24.8 billion in 2015, according to a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office report), the Mexican economy would fold, too.
In an interesting twist, Campbell Peña says conspiracy theories about Trump abound. "A taxi [driver] told me that Peña Nieto has just been with Donald Trump," he says, implying that the two are somehow in cahoots. He also says many Mexicans share an inherent distrust of mainstream news outlets because of their close ties to the government.
But it's also possible that conspiracy theories are simply a means for those who feel disempowered to make sense of Trump's madness. Speaking of which: How does it feel to be Mexican and hear Trump's vitriolic message?
Campbell Peña's answer is blunt: "We feel as [though we are] Polish in 1938, when Adolf Hitler reached power in Germany. ... We are Poland and Trump is Germany."
Maritza Waldo Molina,
When Waldo Molina crossed the border aided by a coyote, or trafficker, she didn't even realize it was illegal. She lived for more than five years in North Carolina, beginning in 2005, and only returned to Mexico for her parents' sake. But she still has family in the States, some of whom are legal residents; some still undocumented.
Waldo Molina, now an English teacher, says that her view of Trump is akin to that of the majority of Mexicans: "Everybody thinks he's a jerk."
Her theory as to the candidate's popularity, however, is unique: People get defensive when they feel threatened—"The problem is, like, we blame everybody"—and he's the ultimate defense mechanism.
As a Mexican, she isn't offended by Americans who love Trump—because she isn't surprised. "I'm not 100 percent neutral, but I know you can expect anything" from politics on both sides of the border.
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.
To that skeptical end, she describes Trump as a "Muppet," who's "part of a malicious plan." She also views his role as the distraction; a 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 Trump will win.
Waldo Molina is equally jaded when it comes to Mexican politics. She mentions the most recent presidential race, in which 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 calls these our "little Trumps."
Ali Gua Gua,
Punk musician and DJ
As was the case with many Mexicans, Trump wasn't on Ali Gua Gua's radar. "We only know he had, like, some hotels and had a lot of money," she says while seated in the middle of a protest encampment full of striking teachers in the heart of the Mexican capital, where she lives. 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 the U.S. 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 says. "And I think Trump is representing these people who think all the problems are because of immigration."
She dismisses Trump's claim that the Mexican government uses the U.S. as a "release valve" for its own domestic poverty. Instead, she says, common people are often faced with an impossible situation. "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, te vuelves narco [you traffic drugs], or you go to the States." The majority decline crossing the border because it is expensive and fraught with danger.
Amazingly, the punk rocker keeps a sense of humor about it all. During our chat, she jokes about his "piggy face," and how metal bands might find him the perfect target for their derision were he elected. In the end, 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."
On most days, you'll find 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, then, that he sympathizes with Trump.
"He's defending his country. No one sees it that way, but it's true," Contreras argues.
Nonetheless, he believes Trump will lose, because his vitriol repulses so many voters. "If you're not blonde and tall, you're opposed to Trump," he says in Spanish.
For Contreras, Trump isn't directly threatening Mexico, as his message is not about Mexicans. "His whole campaign of hate is against Mexicans in the United States," he says.
Contreras' views also stand out because, if Trump were to win, he thinks the Mexican government would in fact go along with the mogul's plans. "Mexico belongs to the United States," he says.
He points out that it has been this way since the Mexican-American War, when the U.S. 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 the U.S. itself to build it. If that occurred, Mexico would carry the debt for generations.
"It's like I told you," he says, "Mexico is not in a position to refuse the United States."
Sánchez sits in a Quaker-run hostel and community center in central Mexico City, where he sometimes practices English with expats and hostel guests. Sánchez, who is gay, admits that the current groundswell of global reactionary conservatism—including Trump's overwhelming popularity—feels not only regressive, but also dangerous. "I hope that he doesn't win," he says with utmost sincerity.
"It's the first time that I've heard a candidate who talks like this, so openly, about problems ... without making a sound judgment about the causes," he says.
He brings up the "taco bowl" episode: On Cinco de Mayo this year, Trump tweeted a picture of himself at his Fifth Avenue desk with a sad-looking tortilla shell—a classic example of Americanized "Mexican" food—and the caption "I love Hispanics!"
"It's very weird," Sánchez says. "It's a comedy."
Sánchez speculates that instead, the entire campaign is about creating a high profile to earn more cash. "His finances aren't so good right now, and he needs more publicity," he says.
As a gay man, he thinks Trump's response to incidents such as the Orlando shooting was irresponsible and disrespectful. "I think that was, like, very misguided," he says. "Who's he helping, really?"
Sánchez believes Clinton would be a better leader for the LGBTQ community and the country in general.
He also dismisses 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."
CONSTANTLY AT WAR
Isaías Jaime Ignacio Cruz,
Teacher on strike
The ongoing teacher strike in Mexico City is a mass protest against national education reforms. Critics say 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.
To that end, Cruz sees similarities between Trump's rhetoric and the reality in Mexico. "Here, too, our government has already become very right-wing," he says. "It has become more discriminatory, and it's affecting its own population."
A native of the southern state of Oaxaca, Cruz says that what makes Trump worse than most is that "he is a person who discriminates too much, and that, in fact, he is racist toward certain groups."
Cruz predicts that the U.S. 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 says. He adds that U.S. business owners ultimately benefit from undocumented immigration, since those without legal status often work for less money.
Cruz, who has been part of the teacher occupation in Mexico City since 2013, wonders what supporters think they'll 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 says. "What would the [United States] gain from being constantly at war?"
Hopefully, he says, Americans will come to their senses by November. He quotes Benito Juárez, the first indigenous president of Mexico (and fellow Oaxaqueño): "Respect for the rights of others means peace."
GOD HELP US!
José Luis Díaz Calderón,
Díaz 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, one of the country's largest public universities, also thinks that Trump's bark will be louder than his bite if he's actually elected.
"It's understood that, in a campaign, [Trump] can say a thousand things [in order] to win votes," he says. But if Trump wanted to pursue a hard line with Mexico, his influence would be limited by pre-existing agreements between the two governments, the counterweight of the U.S. Congress and state laws along the border.
Díaz Calderón also believes 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 explains.
He says that Mexico has been the United States' partner for 150 years. This means, according to the professor, the country is an essential intermediary between the U.S. and other Latin American nations. In other words, Trump would need Mexico.
Economic ties also run deep. Not only do U.S.-based firms use cheap Mexican labor, but Mexico, with roughly 122 million residents, represents an important consumer market (think "Mexican Coke").
Díaz Calderón also mentions that most voters in Latin America regard U.S. elections as clean and free from repression or corruption. At the same time, he thinks that Latino voters are undervalued as a complementary bloc to white ones, and that their interests are too often overlooked. Trump's pandering to the concerns of an ever-insecure, mostly conservative base support Díaz Calderón'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 says. "Today, if you ask any Mexican, they'll say, 'God willing, Hillary Clinton will win.'"
Interestingly, 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!"
¿Y Utah, qué?
From academics to activists, we asked the question, What would a potential Trump presidency mean to Latinos? While many chose to ignore the call, these outspoken community leaders offered a response.
Editor, El Periódico de Utah
"For Latinos just like any other intelligent and conscious citizen of the United States, Trump's presidency would be not only the biggest mistake in the history of this country, but the scariest for the Latino, Muslim and all other minority communities. His lack of knowledge, racism, bigotry, just to mention a few of his innumerable faults, has divided the country, bringing out the worst in people ..."
Co-owner, Red Iguana
"Wow, what a question. It makes me a little nervous. I cannot speak for all Latinos, only for myself, and I can only say that I would be heartbroken and embarrassed for my country the USA."
Chief executive officer, Centro de la Familia de Utah
What a Trump presidency will mean to Latinos is completely unknown. His campaign statements and in particular his harsh rhetoric is subject to whimsical change, as we know. Mr. Trump's initial anti-immigrant, anti-Mexicans, build-a-wall-with-Mexican-money statements served him well with a bunker-mined primaries electorate—his first objective toward the presidency. Now, he shows a convenient willingness to change and soften his stance on several of these issues, and I believe he’s prepared to softly continue his retractions, as needed, for the general voter turnout. Ultimately, however, in the very unlikely event Mr. Trump is elected president, Latinos across the nation will unite, as never before, in a strong monolithic tone of voice to demand universal rights, real justice, and dignity for all. President Trump, true to The Art of the Deal, will reexamine the demographics and economics of this community and will have to assent to a new dawn for all Latinos/ immigrants in the USA and throughout the American continent; and why not throughout the world? Latino-driven change, once again.
Theresa A. Martinez
Associate professor, Department of Sociology, University of Utah
"A Trump presidency would be a devastating, tragic blow for all Latin@s. This man has disparaged Latin@s on both sides of the border with hateful, racist, xenophobic stereotypes that speak to his utter ignorance of who we are as a people, and what we have contributed and continue to contribute to this country."
Robert "Archie" Archuleta
Educator and community activist
"Well, I think that what would happen if he were elected, and if the Republican majority remained, [is] that we would have all kinds of laws restricting not only immigration, particularly Latinos, but also he would then build that fool wall, and racism would then double its ugly head; it's already there, but it would get even worse. So our people would be constantly in danger—not only of being arrested—but of being harassed, and like with blacks, being shot. Now, I don't think that any president ever has that actual power to do all the things that he wants to do that are fascistic, but he'd be bad news for Latinos and for other immigrants."
Utah House of Representatives Minority Whip
"Beginning with his formal announcement to run for President, Mr. Trump has normalized bigoted rhetoric and discriminatory behavior in the public sphere. He sees the Latino community solely as a commodity to be exploited. He has unleashed the suppressed, ugly underside of our country. We have seen it manifested by students who spew racist vitriol toward Latino players at local high school athletic events, as well as direct physical attacks against people of color at Trump political events. We will all suffer from this."