In Mexico, Trump triggers a surge in patriotism, anti-American sentiment

Recently, Alma Siller Contreras traveled to the U.S. Consulate in the northern Mexican city of Hermosillo with a mission: to hand over her tourist visa, along with a handwritten message about U.S. President Trump.

“This is my way of protesting against him and supporting my beloved country and its people,” Contreras wrote.

She had long used her tourist visa to shop and visit family north of the border, but began contemplating giving it up when she and her husband watched Trump announce his candidacy with what she considered an odious attack on the character of the Mexican people. 

“I said, ‘He has a hatred in his soul; this isn’t normal. He’s not prepared to be a leader of a country. This is dangerous,’” Contreras recalled. “I said, ‘If he wins, I’m going to return my visa.’ My husband said, ‘I don’t think he’ll win, he’s crazy.’ I never thought it would happen.”

On Jan. 30, she made good on her pledge.

Through actions big and small, a wave of nationalism is rising in Mexico. It’s not joyous or self-congratulatory. These expressions of patriotism appear defensive, uneasy and even mournful in tone, as Mexicans wait to see whether Trump’s threats will turn to action. In the meantime, many here are asking themselves what they can do to support their fellow citizens. The answers take many forms.

For Luis Alberto Trasviña, a history teacher in Baja California, action meant bringing his family to the Mexican capital on vacation instead of going to the U.S. — a way to support the national economy and avoid anti-Mexican sentiment.

For chef Eduardo Garcia, owner of several restaurants in Mexico City, it meant offering free classes on using Mexican-produced ingredients. The first class instructed 50 students in how to choose and use Mexican avocados.

For a group of families from a Protestant church with Mexican and expat members in Mexico City, it meant organizing to protest anti-immigrant policies.

“We want to do something, and people feel helpless,” said Doug Keillor, a member of the group and founder of a nonprofit that advocates for juveniles in Mexico’s criminal justice system.

Though Keillor’s wife was pushed and told to go back to the U.S. while she was shopping at a Wal-Mart in December, Keillor viewed the incident as an aberration. Most Mexicans, he said, are savvy about U.S. politics.

Keillor, who notes he and his wife are adopting a 2-year-old Mexican boy, added, “If we eventually move back to the U.S., we come from a very homogeneous part of Minnesota, a very red, politically, part of Minnesota — are we going to be very excited to bring our Mexican son to live there?” 

A movement to buy Mexican products is also being pushed in friendly conversation and by government officials. President Enrique Peña Nieto relaunched the label "Hecho en Mexico," or Made in Mexico, last week on Twitter, saying the label should signify quality and trustworthiness.

On social media, profile pictures have switched to Mexican flags. Hashtags such as #AdiosAStarbucks encourage consumers to boycott U.S. brands.

But some Mexicans find it all a bit silly.

Luis Padilla, a 20-year-old university student in Mexico City, has no plans to change his spending habits, or his brand of coffee.  

“I like their coffee, and simply not buying a cup of their coffee is not going to hurt the president over there,” he said. Pragmatically, he would continue to buy the brands of clothes he preferred, whether from the U.S. or Japan or Mexico, and he expected that the trend to boycott U.S. products would pass among his peers as well.

“It’s not bad to experiment with the traditions of other countries. It’s always good to learn,” he said.

But it appears some Mexicans are steering away from U.S. products. The Alsea company, which owns the Starbucks brand in Mexico, has tried to communicate to consumers that its coffee is from Chiapas, that it employs more than 7,000 people in the country, and that it’s completely Mexican-owned.

At a Starbucks in Mexico City’s Condesa neighborhood, baristas seemed frazzled by the overnight shift in public opinion. 

“I don’t think it’s well thought-out,” barista Luis Maguey said of the trend. “It was shocking to see —  it made me sad. We work to support our families.”

Kevin Ganser, a 29-year-old entrepreneur, said the election of Trump had prompted him to go all-in on a new startup that aims to link expats with housing in Mexico City. When Americans look up Mexico City, he wants them to be greeted with a “warm and friendly face.” 

Some politicians have suggested that if Trump’s policies inflict damage on Mexico, the country could rebound if Mexicans keep their heads down and work harder. That rhetoric frustrates Alfredo Perez, a 48-year-old engineer, who says it pre-supposes that Mexicans aren’t doing the the best they can for themselves and their families. The work week in Mexico is already six days long.

“How are we going to work more?” he asked.

As for Contreras, whose letter went viral after her cousin posted it on Facebook (Contreras herself doesn’t have a profile), she has no regrets about what she considers a personal choice to stand up for her country. 

“Mexicans are good people. There are always exceptions anywhere, but in general, the humble people of Mexico have very good hearts. I am Mexican, and [Trump] can’t generalize all Mexicans are this way or that, that all people from a country are the way that he imagines in his distorted brain,” she said. “This is a place of faith, and of hope.”

Tillman is a special correspondent.

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