Monday, May 20, 2024

Is there an emerging anti-foreigner backlash happening in Mexico?

Let me start by expressing that I’ve always felt welcomed in Mexico. In the nearly 30 years I’ve been visiting the country for business, vacation, and now as a permanent resident, I can honestly say I’ve rarely, if ever, felt unwelcome. While speaking the language certainly helps, it’s more than that — I’ve found Mexicans to be generally warm, welcoming, and friendly.

So, what do we make of the emerging backlash on social media calling out foreigners living or traveling in Mexico? What’s the real cause, and is it something to be concerned about? Allow me to share my thoughts and perspective on this complex issue.

To begin with, it’s important to remember the long history between the United States and Mexico. Dating back to the 1800s, there was a war between the two nations, during which the U.S. military advanced all the way down to Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City, and resulting in Mexico losing over 50% of its territory to the United States. Obviously, this is not something easily forgotten. One of the most famous statues in Mexico, located in Chapultepec Park in front of the castle, honors the “Heroic Boys,” six young Mexican soldiers who died in the battle. According to legend, one of the six wrapped himself in the Mexican flag and jumped to his death to prevent the flag from being taken by the U.S. military.

In more recent history, former U.S. President Trump often exacerbated negative perceptions between the two countries with his inflammatory language about Mexico and its people. Just in the past few weeks, current U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson made it clear in a press conference that “we are the United States, Mexico will do what we say…”

Imagine a high-ranking Mexican political leader making such a statement about the United States, and it’s not difficult to understand why tensions are escalating. Add to this the presidential elections this year in both countries, and you have the perfect recipe for increased strain on the relationship.

Furthermore, Mexico’s current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), has been more nationalistic than many recent presidents. He has prioritized protecting and investing in state-owned electric (CFE) and oil (Pemex) companies, along with large infrastructure projects primarily undertaken by the Mexican military, such as the new Mexico City airport (AIFA), the Tulum airport, the Maya Train and the transoceanic train and trade corridor. He has also emphasized that the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico should be one “between equals.” Recently, he went on the popular U.S. news show 60 Minutes to refute Speaker Johnson’s comments by saying, “No, no, Mr. Legislator … that is disrespectful … we are an independent nation, free, sovereign … we are not the colony of any country … we are not subordinate to any other nation.”

So, on one hand, there’s a long history up to the present day of politicians stoking emotions. On the other hand, there’s an increasingly confident Mexico not willing to remain as passive as it has historically been. Mexicans are well aware that they are now the top exporter to the U.S. and that China views them as a strategic country, welcoming their investments. They also know that record numbers of Americans and Canadians are vacationing and living in their country. In short, Mexico realizes that it is more important and relevant to North America and the world than perhaps ever before.

Another aspect of this story is the “gentrification” occurring in many parts of Mexico. While much of this trend is driven by an increasingly wealthier and more mobile Mexican population, the influx of Americans and Canadians into many neighborhoods and cities is clearly exacerbating the issue and providing a focal point for resentment. Many social media posts imply that gentrification by fellow Mexican citizens is one thing, but when it’s done by foreigners who often don’t speak the language, seem unwilling to embrace many aspects of the culture (and even complain about parts of it), and constantly talk about “how cheap” it is here compared to back home, it creates an entirely different level of emotion and resentment.

I frequently witness examples of this in San Miguel de Allende, where I live, and while there is still relative harmony, there are increasingly difficult questions without easy answers. For instance, imagine being priced out of the neighborhood you live in, only for your former housing unit to be sold to someone who doesn’t even live in the city and then rented out to tourists. Some people benefit from this, but clearly, others do not. Imagine foreigners who have lived in town for a year or two complaining about the noise and traffic from your several hundred-year-old traditions. I increasingly see and hear these types of situations occurring, and one only needs to imagine these things happening in the U.S. or Canada to understand why people are expressing their frustrations on social media.

Just this past week, another example of increasing tensions occurred in the Pacific Ocean seaside city of Mazatlán. Foreign tourists listening to a sunset guitar solo were interrupted by noise from a local group on the beach playing banda music. While the music has deep roots and tradition in Mazatlán, it ignited a debate on whether this “local” music should take priority over music that may be preferred by outsiders (Mexican or foreign). To many locals in Mazatlán, it felt like yet another example of gentrification and its consequences being imposed on them.

I believe this issue is not going to dissipate quickly and should be taken seriously. The upcoming elections on both sides of the border will likely only further inflame emotions, and as Mexico continues to rise economically, the country rightfully becomes increasingly confident and proud of its culture, traditions, history and language.

What does this mean for foreigners living or traveling to Mexico? I think these incidents serve as an important reminder that whether we are in Mexico for a two-day business trip, a one-week vacation, or as a resident with a home, we are guests in this country. I would say the same to any foreign visitors to the U.S. or Canada. Perhaps many Americans and Canadians need to spend more time seeking to understand the history and the present of Mexico and take extra steps to ensure that they are respecting it, even if they don’t completely agree with it.

If the U.S., Canada, and Mexico can foster this mutual respect and cooperation, the potential for all three countries to be friends and partners is enormous. This will likely require residents of all three countries to invest more time in learning, understanding, and appreciating each other. The effort is more crucial and strategic than ever, so let’s commit to it!

Travis Bembenek is the CEO of Mexico News Daily and has been living, working or playing in Mexico for over 27 years.

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