An Open Letter to Donald Trump
Dear Mr. Trump,
Although I realize you have been busy finding new groups of people to offend (war veterans, the Chinese, the Japanese, your own construction workers and hotel employees), I want to address your remarks on the Mexican people because these comments have been gnawing at me (as has the silence of your Republican brethren, who not surprisingly find anti-military slurs more socially acceptable to denounce than slurs against an entire ethnic group).
I’m sure by the time this goes to press you will have summarily offended an entirely new group of people. (The knitters club of South Dakota? Blind grandmothers of Tennessee?) In the meantime, I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned from my years working with Mexican families as a social worker in San Francisco and Sonoma, Calif., and in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and as an elementary school teacher in Compton, Calif.
The Mexicans I know are mothers, grandmothers, daughters and sisters, fathers, grandfathers, sons, and brothers; they have walked miles and miles in scorching desert past scorpions and vultures, past the bones of their cousins. They left behind them the discarded dreams of those who didn’t have the pesos, the fortitude or the audacity to take a huge risk on the promise of a college diploma for their daughters, a plate of beans for their aging parents, the hope of wrapping their arms around a parent they haven’t seen for years because barbed wire and guard dogs and walls and lies have divided them.
The Mexicans I know work night shifts in office buildings cleaning our toilets and day shifts for less than minimum wage, in our fields picking our grapes and our corn, in our restaurants so we may have food on our tables, in our factories so we may have clothes on our bodies and shoes on our feet, in our homes wiping our babies’ bottoms and singing our sons and daughters to sleep so that we can go to work each day.
The Mexican I know is a dentist who works at a government clinic in Zacatecas pulling teeth and filling cavities using antiquated equipment because it’s all he’s got. He listens to the stories of old women and children; and then, on his one day off, he drives 10 hours to Mexico City to sell clothes from his sister’s store, because that’s the kind of brother he is.
The Mexican mother I know is raising three girls alone in a small town in Mexico because her own mother was dying, so she crossed back over from a small town in Texas. She works three jobs cleaning houses; and then she takes her diabetic mother to the hospital with the long lines and the expensive medicine, and after her mother dies (because they couldn’t afford the dialysis) tries to figure out how to pay for her daughters’ school uniforms so the girls won’t have to clean floors when they’re older.
The Mexican rancher I know buys gardenias from the gardenia man in the streets of San Miguel de Allende, not because he needs them but because he knows that the gardenia man has six kids at home to feed and that the woman to whom he will give the flowers will smile.
The Mexican I know is a grandmother who knits baby sweaters in a tiny storefront in a small town in Mexico where everyone knows everyone. You wouldn’t think it to look at her, but she’ll tell you she braved the scorpions and the cacti and the heatstroke, as well as possible rape and drowning in the Rio Grande, because she heard about this thing called the American Dream and she had a daughter who wanted more than just a sixth-grade education. When the grandmother reached the highway in Texas and the U.S. Border Patrol pulled up, the thing she was most grateful for was the man in uniform who offered her a plastic bottle of water.The Mexicans I know are the mariachis who wear shiny black pants covered with silver buttons and will sing a song sweet enough to break your heart, and the woman who sells fruit on a stick, and the shoeshine men who sit in the hot sun shining the shoes of those who can afford to take a break in the middle of the day, and the balloon man who walks around under the shadow of a bunch of balloons bigger than any audacious dream you ever dared to have.
The Mexicans I know come from a place where the roads are smaller and the buses are noisier, the smoke is blacker and the buildings are shorter, but the sky is as bright and wide and deep as any you’ve ever seen.
The Mexico I know is a place where faith and flowers and festivals and fireworks are as abundant as the hospitality of the people who open their old wooden doors to you if you happen to walk by.
The Mexicans I know are poor and rich, funny and serious, brown-skinned and white-skinned, black-haired and blond, funny and serious, quiet and loud, God-worshippers and atheists, short and tall, ugly and beautiful, straight and gay, fat and thin. While, I imagine, the percentage of bad people in Mexico is about what it is in the U.S., I can say I’ve been lucky enough not to have met many of them in my travels abroad or at home.
The Mexicans I know are like the Americans I know — they are doctors, janitors, writers, teachers, therapists, busboys, nannies, hairdressers and filmmakers. Above all, they are individuals who cannot be wrapped up in a simple descriptive package or phrase, just as you wouldn’t want people to so easily sum you up as a small-minded billionaire who has made his way to the top on the backs of those who have less, forgetting to say gracias after he got to the top of the tower.
Some might think you were trying to buy your way into the presidential office by feeding the hatred of a few small-minded Americans who don’t represent the majority of the people—a majority that believes that if a person works hard enough, it doesn’t matter what the skin color is, what the accent or the land of birth is; that each individual deserves the same as any other person: a fair wage, a little respect, and a dose of liberty and justice for all.
Anyone who would believe otherwise hasn’t had the good luck to know the Mexicans I’ve known.
Click here to watch one Mexican’s memorable response to Trump’s remarks.