Dalton Javier Avalos Ramirez remembers watching Donald Trump announce his candidacy for the U.S. presidency last June. In that speech, Trump lobbed the first in an eight-month stream of insults, saying that Mexico was sending many of its worst north of the border and that such immigrants are “bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists and some, I assume, are good people.”
Avalos Ramirez, a resident of the border city of Reynosa opposite Texas, went back to his piñata workshop, and in anger sculpted paper and paste into Trump's image. A suit. A wide mouth seemingly in mid-insult. A tuft of yellow papier-maché hair whipping in the wind.
After making countless piñatas in a small workshop with his siblings since childhood, Avalos Ramirez never guessed that this gesture of protest would result in dozens of orders, both from Mexican customers and those across the border. Some customers filled Trump with candy and gleefully pummeled him to bits at birthday parties. Others took him to protests and set his likeness aflame.
Eighty or so Trumps later, the orders are still coming.
Avalos Ramirez, in a phone interview from Reynosa, didn't realize that he would inspire scores of imitations and give many other Mexicans the ability to express their anger at the anti-Mexican rhetoric that's become a mainstay of this American election cycle. This week former president Vicente Fox voiced that anger with an F-bomb.
Responding to Trump's comment that he will build a large border wall and make Mexico pay for it, Fox said in an interview with Jorge Ramos on the Fusion network, “I'm not going to pay for that ... wall!”
The comment brought cheers from commentators, politicians and everyday citizens. No doubt more Trump piñatas will be sold.
The U.S.-Mexican relationship has never been easy. In the 19th century, President Porfirio Diaz summed up his country's dilemma: “Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the United States.” Mexico lost about half its territory in the war with the U.S., and the country has long honored six young military cadets — the Niños Heroes, or boy heroes — who died in 1847 when American forces invaded Mexico City. One is said to have wrapped himself in the Mexican flag and leaped to his death from the battlements rather than be taken by the Americans.
Still, the countries' two governments have long preached cooperation and understanding. Vice President Joe Biden did as much this week.
On a visit to Mexico City, Biden told President Enrique Peña Nieto that he almost felt the need to apologize to the Mexican people, and lamented the “damaging” and “inaccurate” xenophobic sentiments expressed during the Republican primary campaign.
“I just want you to know, Mr. President, that the most heated of the rhetoric you've heard from some of the competitors for the nomination for president is not who we are as the American people. It is not a view that is the view of the majority of the American people. It's the exact opposite, it's the opposite view,” Biden said.
But many here are worried that the strength Trump has demonstrated in the polls, even in the state of Nevada, which has a large Latino population, indicates that such sentiments are shared by millions.
“I have family living in California, and they're really worried that if Trump becomes president, they'll be afraid that they could have their citizenship taken away. And they have been living over there for more than 30 years,” said Lourdes Fernandez, a housewife in Mexico City. “They're really praying to God that this man doesn't become president, because they don't know what he could do with the Mexican people.”
“They give them the worst jobs, they humiliate them, and Mexicans have to accept it because they have economic needs,” said Rosario Diaz, an architect in Mexico City. “Mr. Trump is a clear example of the hatred of Mexicans that certain Americans have.”
In a poll published last August by Pew, 72% of Americans said that immigrants without documentation should be allowed to stay in the U.S., if they meet certain requirements. Only 17% said that a “national law enforcement effort” should be made to deport all immigrants in the country illegally. That information was sampled before Trump announced his candidacy.
On Thursday, the newspaper Milenio rounded up what Mexican politicians had to say about Trump, including this statement by Minister of the Interior Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, regarding the border wall Trump wishes to build with Mexico's dollars.
“He's looking to generate coverage more than generating a project. Of course, he doesn't know or understand the contribution of migrants of practically all the nations in the world that have come to help and support the development of the United States.”
Secretary of State Jose Antonio Meade told the San Francisco Chronicle that the candidate's speeches “are colored by prejudice, racism — or just plain ignorance — that's not a good or positive sign. Any combination of the three does not help the debate, does not help politics.”
After Fox's comment on Thursday, Trump went to Twitter to demand an apology for using an expletive. “If I did that there would be an uproar!”
At his piñata shop, Avalos Ramirez said Trump must be confused about what century we're living in. The U.S.-Mexico war is long over, he said.
“We in Mexico don't see the U.S. as an enemy,” he said. “We see them as an economic ally.”
Tillman is a special correspondent. Special correspondent Cecilia Sanchez contributed reporting from Mexico City.