Homero Aridjis is a Mexican poet, journalist and diplomat. Besides critically acclaimed (and frankly beautiful) poetry, he is known for his thought-through and independent views. Aridjis has previously been the Mexican ambassador to the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the UNESCO.
SLD: What has the US-Mexican relationship been like over the last sixty years?
Aridjis: Well, if you look at societal, economic or political relationships, it seems as if the US always has been a bully in this relationship. It started in 1845, when Mexico lost half its country to the US. In that war, the US gained some previously Mexican states, for example what now is Arizona or New Mexico. Ever since then, you have had Mexican people live in the US, they were foreigners on their own soil. They were discriminated against, both racially and socially.
Then the second wave of Mexicans came to the US during the Mexican Revolution of 1910, looking for security. The third wave of Mexicans came in the 1950s, as economic migrants. It has been like that since then! And in America, Mexicans now have – economically speaking – developed a reputation for themselves, mainly with services such as babysitting. But, to address the elephant in the room, there is also a second group of migrants, what I call criminal migrants. They began to work across borders after World War 2. American veterans came home, traumatised, violent and addicted to drugs. They came over to Mexico looking for fights, drugs and prostitution. Nowadays that has swung over – America has plenty of drug addicts, and people depending on Mexican drugs make that gap for criminal migration worth the risk. But the brutal truth is that if it wasn’t Mexico delivering, another country would do it.
SLD: As a poet and writer, how is that relationship formed from your side?
Aridjis: The relationship has changed. I grew up in the 1960s, during the Cold War. The Americans were fighting – against the Soviets – over the South American intellectuals and ideologists. So the relationship was very intense. After, the Americans turned their back to South America. We were not a danger anymore, so they lost interest in us. And American publishers, writers and intellectuals did the same – I got the feeling of my group, South American intellectuals, being treated as second-class intellectuals, in a class with Afro-Americans…
SLD: …but there was no racial segregation between whites and Mexicans, correct?
Aridjis: Correct. I say the Americans were busy with the Civil Rights movement. Music, fashion, art was in a critical phase. Culture and universities were really undergoing change. Funnily enough, I also have memories of Black Americans discriminating against Mexicans, because they saw us as competition for work and employment.
SLD: So what does that relationship look like now?
Aridjis: There is still social discrimination, but against Black Americans more than against Mexicans I would say. But then again, there’s also a difference between how white Mexicans were treated as opposed to brown Mexicans. I personally have experienced rejections from restaurants in America, despite reservations, because I’ve been with brown Mexicans. Anyways, this distrust and mistreating of Mexico has been on America’s political agenda for a while. Everyone now is preoccupied with Trump building a border wall, but actually Bill Clinton built it already during his time in office, in 1991.
SLD: So what’s different under Trump? Has the rhethoric changed?
Aridjis: Well, let’s start before that. Obama, during his presidency, deported more Mexicans than any other president before. George W Bush, by the way, was one of the best presidents for Mexicans, he was practically indifferent. Historically, Republicans were better for Mexico than the Democrats were. Obama had no Latino-American policy at all. During his 8 years in office, Obama barely spent a day in Mexico. Compare that to the previous administration – George W Bush and Presidente Fox got along so well, they brought their mothers to a meeting once! It was a completely different relationship. But Mexicans don’t care about partisanship, it’s about attitudes. Trump, maybe even worse than Obama’s blatant disinterest, is actively negative against Mexico and its people. I’ve come to believe that the historic problem in the US-Mexican relationship is the attitude of Americans toward Native Americans. Native Indians and Mexicans lived on the same soil, but in the eyes of Americans, originally, our land is what they believe to be theirs. It’s historic racism, even if it may be subconscious.
SLD: That sounds rather confrontational – what’s the solution here?
Aridjis: I mean we need to remember, but not keep by, our roots. Trump is both Scottish and German. American and Mexican culture is incredibly intertwined. San Francisco, New Mexico, Santa Barbara – it’s even in their names! My message is – it’s not only Trump. Americans need to accept, and perhaps even embrace, the cultural hybrid.
SLD: What about the economic side? It seems Canada is not too upset about your presence in NAFTA…
Aridjis: …and things are always easier to agree on when money is involved. Personally, I am unhappy with NAFTA, because it’s a cosmetic agreement. Since 1994, there has been more disagreement than agreement. There is always the argument that economic trade enhances cultural understanding between trading countries, but I can’t say that I have seen any evidence of that myself.
SLD: And overall, the Mexican culture is rather significant for the area, isn’t it?
Aridjis: I will say it openly, but historically the Mexican culture has been superior to the American one. Clearly, Mexico’s military, economy and political influence is second to America’s, but Mexico is one of the 5 most important cultures across the world, alongside the Greek, Egyptian, Chinese and Indian culture. And that history and cultural significance not only to its people, but also to bordering cultures – which in Mexico’s case is all of South America – is incredibly strong.
SLD: So what’s the role of Mexico in the world? You may not like the trade agreements, but Mexico has several and it shows that the country is open to the world! Is it becoming a more stable, middle country in the next 20 years?
Aridjis: Well, Mexico suffers incredibly from corruption, violence and drug trafficking. There seems to be no solution to this, but Mexican politics, especially Mexican diplomacy, has been exemplary. It was Mexico who prevented the presence of nuclear weapons in all of Latin America. But yes, although I am extremely critical of Mexico, and it has been bad for business in the past, I think that the country is on a great way to improve its standing in the world, and with it its influence.
SLD: Señor Aridjis, thank you for your time.