The global political landscape is going through seismic changes. From the vote for Brexit to the election of Donald Trump, we are living in unpredictable times. Trump’s ascent to the presidency has huge implications for global trade relations and for minorities living in North America. Barack Obama’s progressive social reforms look like they may become just a footnote in history. And the special relationship between two great countries – Mexico and the US – could be in grave danger. In this context of upheaval, we have to rethink how we do “neighbour politics”.
In Mexico we firmly believe that “respect for the rights of others is the basis for peaceful coexistence, between individuals as between nations” – in the words of Benito Juárez, the Mexican president whose statue stands not far from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, and who shared the ideals of the first Republican president of the United States of America.
With nearly two million Americans living among us, Mexico is the country with the largest community of US citizens living outside the United States. In the state of Jalisco, of which I am governor, one of the largest communities of expatriate Americans in the world resides peacefully on the banks of Lake Chapala, with thousands of others living in Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta. These people are an essential part of the heartbeat of our community. However, I fear the inflammatory rhetoric of Trump could put that social harmony at risk, sowing the seeds of division. The lazy stereotypes he uses are wrong and unbefitting of a man who is now leading one of the greatest countries in the world.
Jalisco was once only known as the birthplace of hot sauce and tequila. Today, it has become Latin America’s Silicon Valley, with a thriving technology industry worth $21bn and on the brink of a quiet economic revolution. There is no doubt the close relationship between the US and Mexico brings huge economic, cultural and social benefits to both countries. The US is Mexico’s main trading partner. The North American Free Trade Agreement allows Mexicans to get US work visas, opening up a gateway of opportunity. Also, six million American jobs – within US territory – depend directly on trade with Mexico. But beyond our trading relationship and our common border, Mexicans and Americans share a dream: one of freedom and prosperity for their people. Let’s not put that at risk.
In Mexico, as in the United States, these are challenging times and, as in any relationship between two parties, the efforts and actions taken by one will affect the other: every one of the measures Mexico undertakes to improve life in our nation has an impact on our relationship with our northern neighbour. Sometimes, when things don’t turn out as we had hoped, we are tempted to cast blame on the other side for everything. Frustration turns to anger, and decisions based on this anger become a destructive force to those who make them. Let us not forget what Mark Twain said about this: “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”
The essence of the United States is the richness of its diversity, the joining of forces of people from all around the world who, through their work and effort, have dignified and redefined the worth of those who decide to emigrate, to break down barriers in search of a better future. This is why Mexicans, throughout the world, always identify with those who emphasise our similarities and the way in which we can use them for our mutual benefit, to continue growing, together. We recognise, of course, that neighbouring countries are not going to agree on everything. However, problems are solved through better communication, increased cooperation and seeking to find joint solutions.
Building a wall along one of the largest and most dynamic borders in the world is a toxic symbol of mistrust. In one single reckless act, the US risks destroying the very special relationship it has built with Mexico over many years and portraying Mexicans as second-class citizens. A wall is both a physical and a symbolic barrier to the notion of working together to solve common problems. The money invested in building something like this would be better spent in solving structural problems and strengthening ties.
I invite all those who harbour and peddle hatred against Mexico and Mexicans to come to visit. I can guarantee that if Trump or his supporters spent time in Mexico, they would embrace the richness of the country, the humility of the people and see the talent we have. We are at the start of a new era.
The futures of both Mexico and the US are interlocked, so while we live in uncertain times I believe that if we focus more on what unites us rather than divides us, both countries will have a great future together.
Aristóteles Sandoval Díaz is the current governor of the Mexican state of Jalisco.