It’s no secret that I loathe Donald Trump. I try to refrain form using the word “hate” because my faith teaches me not to hate people and I truly don’t hate him, I just dislike him…a lot. One of the things that I dislike most about him is his cultural insensitivity. With his frequent use of othering, blatant racism, and hateful propaganda against entire groups of people, it’s ironic that the leader of one of the most diverse countries in the world is a man that seems to only advocate and appreciate those that look like him.
Since he first announced his candidacy for president, Donald Trump has particularly been harsh in his rhetoric and treatment of Mexicans. Demonizing them became one of his main talking points on the campaign trail. He’s described Mexicans as thieves, rapists, and criminals, and has tried his best to prevent “illegals” from entering the country under the guise of protecting US citizens from their “violent ways”. He and his supporters have painted Mexico and its citizens as dangerous and a place and people to be feared.
I know this is not the case. I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with plenty of Mexican people, documented and undocumented, and I can only attest to the humility and hard working nature of the people that I have known. I have a fondness for underdogs, which is part of the reason I feel so strongly about defending Mexican people here in the US, but up until recently, I had never even visited Mexico. I’d figured that I’d go one day but I never made concrete plans. Fast forward to this year. I decided that I’d might want to go to Mexico, but there was hesitation. I reached out to someone I knew who had been living in Mexico for a few years to ask a few questions about safety. He assured me that there wasn’t anything to worry about. A few more months later, I booked my ticket. I decided to spend my birthday in Tulum, Mexico. When I arrived, it was everything that I saw in the pictures. It was a gorgeous, quaint, little beach town. I quickly got out and explored, as I usually do when I get to a new place. But I noticed something a bit different about how I went about life in Tulum compared to other places. I was overly careful to be in before dark. I was comfortable, but not completely comfortable. I noticed I was overly vigilant. I had to stop and ask myself why. And I was embarrassed of my own answer: I was fearful of the people that surrounded me. I realized I had internalized the fear-mongering hate speech that we’ve all heard for the past three years. That Mexico is full of criminals that should be kept on their side of the border. And now that I was on the other side of that border? Part of me unconsciously believed the racist propaganda.
What did this mean? Am I a closet….RACIST?? Surely not. I just had to refocus my perspective. The first step was to recognize my unconscious bias. The next was to release it. I started to become more aware of my emotions and body language. If I tensed up when passing someone on the street, I’d challenge myself to relax and wave to them. If I found myself avoiding eye contact, I’d catch myself and use it as an opportunity to say hola. I started going out of my way to speak to people and even sitting and eating alongside new people at street food stands. Before I knew it, I wasn’t uncomfortable anymore. I wasn’t fearful of anything bad happening. And when I was able to put that fear aside, I was able to notice the many smiling faces around me. I was able to notice how many people were incredibly welcoming and willing to help with directions or advice on things to do. When I put aside the fear, I was able to see the true beauty of Tulum: the people.
When we hear negativity through the media, whether we are conscious of it or not, it affects us. While we can’t completely block out all of the negative things we hear, when it comes to stereotypes and prejudice, it’s not enough to just try to avoid or ignore it. Through this experience and weekend of introspection, I learned it takes us actively and purposefully combating prejudice by recognizing our biases and actively changing our actions, despite how uncomfortable we might be. I learned it’s not enough to just not be racist. We must be actively anti-racist to combat hate, change the world, and change ourselves.