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World & Nation

What it was like to watch Trump talk about ‘bad hombres’ in a Mexican BBQ joint

Presidential debate watch in Mexico
Patrons at a Mexico City restaurant watch the final presidential debate.
(Kate Linthicum / Los Angeles Times)

During Wednesday night’s presidential debate, Donald Trump answered a question about illegal immigration with a little bit of Spanish. 

“We have some bad hombres here, and we’re gonna get ’em out,” Trump said.

The crowd at a Mexico City barbecue joint screamed with laughter. “Hambres?!” they repeated, imitating Trump’s New York accent. 

There may be no public figure as widely reviled as Trump in Mexico, where the GOP nominee’s head is bashed in just about every day in the symbolic form of the piñata. That was certainly the case Wednesday night, when about 200 people gathered to watch the final U.S. presidential debate over brisket and beer.

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The name of the restaurant, unprintable in these pages, translates to a cruder version of “Freakin’ Gringo.” It’s an expletive Mexicans have been known to hurl on occasion at their neighbors to the north.

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A rowdy crowd booed Trump and cheered his opponent, Hillary Clinton, over 90 minutes of fierce debate, clinking plastic beer cups every time Mexico was mentioned. 

This year’s presidential election has been one of the most unpredictable and bitterly contested in U.S. history. It has also, for better or worse, made for highly addictive television.

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People here have watched in horror as Trump has threatened to withdraw from free-trade agreements, deport millions of immigrants in the country illegally and construct a massive border wall — and make Mexico pay for it. They cringed when he said that some Mexican immigrants were murderers and rapists.

Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto saw his favorability ratings fall precipitously after he invited Trump for a visit last month. Even the Mexican peso seems to have reacted badly to the Republican presidential candidate, plunging to record lows against the dollar whenever Trump’s chances of taking the White House appear to improve. 

Still, while many Americans have complained about the harsh discourse of the election, some in Mexico are reveling in it. 

“I feel envy,” said Hector Llerena, a professor of political science at Mexico’s Autonomous Institute of Technology who attended the debate party. “In Mexico, the debates are so serious and formal and boring that nobody watches.”

All eyes were glued to several flat-screen televisions Wednesday night as Trump and Clinton repeatedly interrupted each other and the moderator. Viewers filled out bingo cards featuring phrases like “voter fraud” and “make America great again” between bites of mac and cheese at long wooden picnic tables. 

The restaurant, which features a silver Airstream trailer as its centerpiece, is a little slice of Americana nestled in the middle-class neighborhood of Narvarte. Owner Dan DeFossey, a New Yorker who was working for Apple in Mexico City when he realized there wasn’t any good brisket here, practices what he likes to call “barbecue diplomacy.”

“We’re able to share our culture with Mexicans who think America is just about fast food and shopping malls,” DeFossey said. Along with introducing Mexicans to American-style democracy and Texas-style smoked meats, the restaurant hosts big Thanksgiving meals.

DeFossey won’t say who he’s supporting in the election, but his word choice gives a hint: “Here, we try to bring down walls,” he said. 

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Even the head of the Republican Party’s Mexico chapter has been reluctant to embrace his party’s candidate. Larry Rubin, chairman of Republicans Overseas Mexico, won’t say outright who he is voting for. "More than a supporter of the candidate, I’m a supporter of the Republican Party," he said. 

Rubin said Trump’s anti-Mexican rhetoric has made it much harder for his organization to register Americans living in Mexico to vote. Groups reporting robust voter registration efforts include Democrats Abroad and the activist organization Avaaz, which recently built a fake wall in front of Mexico City’s Angel of Independence monument as a statement against Trump. 

There are 1 to 2 million Americans living in Mexico, many of whom will vote. More than a few came to watch the debate. 

Juana Inez Abreu, 77, an American who has lived in Mexico for more than 40 years, shook her head in disbelief. 

“Trump has woken up the ugly American,” she said. “We are terrified because we didn’t know there were so many.”

kate.linthicum@latimes.com

Twitter: @katelinthicum

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