A Letter from Mexico is a monthly letter from Mariana Alvarado, a feminist journalist living in Mexico City. Each month she’ll be exploring different topics, especially the relationship between Mexico and the United States.
What’s so great about the U.S. that people want to go there and never come back? That was the mind-blowing question I kept asking myself while growing up in Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city.
Later, I learned for a lot of people this isn’t a mind-blowing question at all. How could I even dare to ask such a thing?
But, hey, hear me out first. After all, a six-year-old girl had all the reasons in the world to wonder about that.
I remember the day I started wondering about the U.S. vividly. I got home from school and my Grandma Catalina was crying inconsolably in the kitchen, refusing to let us hug her and ignoring our words of consolation. My abuela, my mom’s mom, was saying goodbye to one of her sons who was heading north.
It was the “damn” U.S. again, as she used to call it, that was now taking away the most supportive son she had. Perhaps her favorite one.
She was afraid he wouldn’t come back. Just like the others: her husband—my grandpa—one of my uncles, and her daughter’s partner—my father.
Her love-hate relationship with the U.S. began when she was 20 and was left behind with her four children in a very poor rural town in the Mexican state of Zacatecas. José, my grandfather, as many other Mexicans have been, was drawn to the “land of opportunity.”
He would send money to my grandma from time to time and kept in touch with her through letters. Eventually we were able to move to a bigger city. But then, when grandpa wasn’t young enough to work anymore, he couldn’t get hired and Uncle Sam deported him. He died in a Mexican border town in 1973, the year I was born.
Later, one by one, my six uncles moved to the U.S. And except for one of them, the other five were able to return home and grandma used to throw parties to celebrate they made it back safely. I grew up seeing my relatives going back and forth to the U.S., hoping one day I would be celebrating my dad’s return. I still do.
President Trump has called us rapists and criminals. He’s said we’re not sending our best. He’s promised he’ll bring back jobs Americans need that Mexican immigrants took away.
My grandpa wasn’t a criminal or a rapist. He, as many other Mexicans, took the opportunity at that time to work in another country and provide for his family.
It seems that the Trump administration has never looked into the Mexico-U.S. relationship history.
They probably don’t know, or pretend not to know, that through Bracero Program, a guest worker’s initiative in the 40s, Mexicans helped to maintain the U.S. economy while the U.S. was fighting World War II.
From 1942 to 1964, about 4.6 million Mexicans were allowed by the U.S. Government to work in 26 states. My grandfather, along with his two siblings, were part of this group.
And once our neighbor’s economy picked up, we were no longer needed. The Bracero program ended and 1 million Mexicans became undocumented. Even so, the U.S. government didn’t fully make sure workers went back home when their permit expired.
After a program that lasted 22 years, how could anyone think it would be so easy to get rid of people who left their home towns for decades, and many of whom started families on the north side of the border? After all, for the most part, braceros were young, hard working men.
That’s just one example of how broken the U.S. immigration system is. It’s not Mexico’s fault, or yours, or really any individual American’s fault. It turns out that whenever something isn’t going great in America, immigrants are the ones who take the blame.
Trump wants us to believe—and some may agree with him—immigration is a problem that needs to be solved. With him being elected, the anger and resentment towards immigrants have reached levels not seen in many years.
But why would he or anyone in his administration bother to check facts?
The truth is that for the last decade, net immigration to the U.S. from Mexico has been zero, according to the Pew Research Center. Basically, for every Mexican who heads north, there’s another who comes back south.
Mexicans are flocking home because the country is a more attractive place to live, the economy has improved, and over all, Mexicans are happier living closer to their families.
Does President Trump know states like California, New Mexico, and Arizona once belonged to Mexico? Mexican heritage is everywhere in these states and everywhere else in the U.S. Names in Spanish are on streets, towns, missions, Mexican food has taken over American fast food. How is he going to change that?
Beyond the two countries government arrangements on guest worker programs, students exchange and commercial trades, Mexicans and Americans have been for the most part good neighbors.
Trump says Mexicans have taken a lot from the U.S. Yes, we have, but so have Americans from their southern neighbors. That’s what good neighbors do. They help one another.
We’ve remained friendly even after we lost part of our territory to the U.S and a lot of families were broken apart when strong Mexican men were needed by the Americans, leaving women to raise kids alone and sometimes losing loved ones forever.
And yet, we have always welcome Americans here, because we are one of the friendliest cultures in the world. Because, as other Hispanics cultures, we are raised by loving, strong, family-oriented women who have taught us to help others when needed.
However, right now we are sad. We are heartbroken. And, for the most part, we are truly pissed.
All of the sudden we are being treated like the worst neighbor ever.
I eventually understood why the U.S. is one of the greatest countries in the world and I was able to get some answers to that question I had growing up.
I’m honored and proud to be part of a wonderful Mexican American community. We have the best of the two worlds and they want to take that away from us.
As a dual citizen, I’m worried about our two great nations and their people. I especially worry about American women losing their rights.
Conservatives and others who are anti-immigrants are patiently waiting for Mexico to suffer the consequences on the U.S. crackdown on immigration.
Indeed, we are going to suffer, but so will the American people. A growing number of Mexicans have stopped heading north to shop, travel, and to work.
We don’t like feeling like we’re not welcome. And some are being very open about it. Some weeks ago, Alma Rosa Siller Contreras, a resident of Hermosillo, Sonora, a city four hours away from Arizona by car, returned her tourist visa to the U.S. to protest about the way the Trump administration is treating Mexico.
If the U.S. deports immigrants it’s going to affect Mexico, yes. But it will also affect the U.S. Who’s going to pick vegetables in searing heat, scrub pots and pans in restaurants, clean hotel rooms and work construction for a very low salary? And guess what? Prices in the U.S. are going to go up and household consumption will decrease.
Trump says Mexico is not a friend of the U.S. and that we are so bad, so “terrible,” that he’s going to build a great wall to keep our “bad hombres” out of the U.S.
We don’t like the idea of building a wall at all, but perhaps it could be something good. That way we could keep our strong young hard working men in this country. That could boost growth in small and medium cities and most important, keep our families together.
We’ll be glad to finally reunite our families, stop deaths in the desert and diversify our economy.
We are a strong, brave culture, proven by generations of women who’ve worked hard to support their families.
We will survive this and come out stronger than ever. My grandma did, and so will we all.
Mariana Alvarado is an award winning journalist based in Mexico City with more than 19 years’ experience as a reporter and editor of web and print. She’s currently an online instructor with the Center for Digital Journalism at Universidad de Guadalajara. She’s worked on both sides of the border covering immigration, international business, and border issues. She’s collaborated with Grupo Reforma in Mexico and with the Arizona Daily Star, the Orlando Sentinel, among other publications in the U.S. She’s married and has a two-year-old girl. Contact her here: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her here @Alvaradomariana.