The Reality of Living on Mexico’s Side

While the coverage of the US-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Chihahau is constant, it’s important to understand through a human perspective the border process to compare and contrast.

The scene is a lot more fortified at this border, with giant concrete walls rise from above the hallowed Rio Grande River. Barbed wire accompanies the fence, mutliple stations sit on both sides of the border, lines to get in and out, especially the American side, last forever, sometimes up to three hours. El Paso is a city of 650,000, Juarez is an ever expanding city of 1,300,000.

“The border here and crossing it is a strange animal. There’s not constant chaos like you would assume would be for many people. I work in El Paso and live in Juarez, I just show my passport, I go in and out, I use a third post that has less traffic than the two main bridges,” says Naiki Armendaz, who is a media figure in Juarez and hosts a youtube show about local politics and culture in the city. She has about 10,000 subscribers and is popular on the channel. Of course, understanding the reality of the every day, versus perhaps an overblown perspective from the news media is important.

Naiki elaborates about the refugees who come to Mexico, many of the Canadian, as well as the Juarez and Mexican perspective of the migrants in a video here

It’s clear to see that the so-called danger from migrants are largely fictionalized, and it is safe to be there at all hours, at least for most people. There is not constant violence on the street. In fact, last week, thousands of residents came out for the annual state fair, inhaling cotton candy, fried foods in addition to local Mexican delights, looked at the bunnies for sale and even saw noted DJ (who has a had number of songs in the Top 20 billboard charts) Steve Aioki perform.

“The idea that people are too scared to go out of their homes in fictional. The idea that these migrants and refugees are causing violence and littering is fictional. But that anti-immigrant sentiment, just like in the USA, is very strong. People here want to feel superior. Wealtheir and paler people have a higher place in society, and they hold on to their place with anger towards others.”

The Borderland Festival in notorious Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, attracts enthusiastic crowd photos by Dodge Landesman

Enrique Xavier Lopez works for Televisa, Mexico’s top news station, and is an anchor there. He notes that the culture towards immigrants in Mexico, just like in the USA and what is emerging in Canada, is being increasingly conservative and more divided that ever. In 2018, Mexico elected a new president after the very unpopular one, Pena Nieto, was term limited and served his term. Manuel Lopez Obrador, or popularly referred to as AMLO, won in a three way race with 53% of the vote. Second place finisher Ricardo Anaya received 22%.

Many of Mexico’s more conservative voters voted for the other two candidates, and AMLO had promised full blown socialism and a stronger compassion towards immigrants than his predecessar. Like in the US with Trump, he maintains a cult like following, loyalty that can not be moved, while those in opposition fight him at every turn, with constant protests happening around the city.

“AMLO ran twice before, lost by a bit, people think he had the election stolen from him. Much of Mexico wanted a change.Of course, some didn’t. We are mad about his immigration views, he is letting so many of these migrants clog up this country”. Emir Ramos is a member of the Youth Congress at the Tecnologico do Monterrey, one of Mexico’s premier universities. They sort of run an incubator for budding politicians, many members in the mock youth congress are later tapped to run for actual congress. Ramos is a proud member of the National Action Party, or PAN, which has ruled Mexico, switching with the other party, PRI, for the last thirty years. AMLO created a new party, just like Bernier has in Canada, called Morena, which also swept a number of congresspeople and senators into victory.

Emir Ramos photo by Dodge Landesman

The new Mexican president has vowed to invest in Central American nations to make them safer, while also giving migrant workers from those nations a work permit and a job. He has worked with President Trump to implement the “remain in Mexico policy”, where those applying for asylum in the US must remain in Mexico while their case is being processed. There is constant opposition to AMLO and those policies towards migrants.

“It’s being fueled by people’s hearts and fake news,” says Armendaz, and indeed, a popular article being shared around Facebook is that a group of migrants kidnapped and killed an innocent young girl. It was from a website that looked professional but had no actual journalistic credentials. The story has not appeared in a single valid newssource, but Armendaz says the article has been shared by a large percentage of her friends. “The US has fake news. We have fake news. And this fake news creates this unfounded hatred of immigrants, in both countries. But that hatred has always been there. They were just looking for an outside source for it to be validated”.

Naiki Armendaz, photo by Dodge Landesman

Ramos disagrees. “Everyone frames this debate as those who are racist and those who are not. That is simply untrue. The effects of immigration are economic, are about security. Race and money has little to do with it. There are so many problems in Mexico. We have a solid middle class but so many are unemployed. And now AMLO is letting these migrants cut the line, he has jobs reserved for them, even though there are people here who need them first. They don’t contribute to our economy, they suck resources, they make it worse. I have a respect for Trump and I wish our president would act like him and send these people back to their countries.”

It’s clear to see that as a continent we are far more cohesive and similar than we think, that the feelings of superiority coupled with legitimate economic concern seem to permeate between all three nations. It’s a rarity that all three nations have elections back to back, US in 2020, Canada in 2019, Mexico in 2018, and its possible that by 2021, North America will have three completely different leaders than it had in 2018. The tide towards radicalism and protectionism is strong, with Mexico the migrants are the target, with the United States it is the migrants in the south and refugees heading to the north, and in Canada a sentiment against the refugees alone is slowly growing across the nation. Perhaps the three nations could work together and evenly split these migrants and refugees, perhaps the US and Canada could invest in Mexico’s economy so they have the means to take care of migrants and split some with the other countries. Interestingly enough, while Canada has been accepting refugees, CBC asked Trudeau if he would be willing to accept members coming off the of migrant caravan. He evaded the questions. Perhaps one day we will be a cohesive and open continent, but that is most likely wishful thinking.