A view of Trump’s wall from our neighbors to the south

Cesar Espinosa

Cesar Espinosa

During a recent vacation week in Playa del Carmen, a tourist town 30 miles south of the Cancun airport, I chatted with dozens of locals, as I tend to do. I asked about the new U.S. president and the wall he threatens to build. They denounced him bigly.

Cesar Espinosa, a 20-something Mexican citizen working at a resort near Cancun, calls President Trump “an attention whore.”

“He’s a clown. He ran for president only so he could put it on his resume,” Espinosa says. “He’s known as a guy who conquered the business world and now also politics, but we don’t yet know if he will be good or bad as president.”

During a recent vacation week in Playa del Carmen, a tourist town 30 miles south of the Cancun airport, I chatted with dozens of locals, as I tend to do. I asked about the new U.S. president and the wall he threatens to build. They denounced him bigly.

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Espinosa says Trump may have a reason to disapprove of Mexican immigrants, “But he lacks the right way to say it. A wall won’t keep Mexicans out. If he builds a wall, people will cross it. Trump is addressing the form, not the essence, of the problem.”

‘Our presidents could talk to find solutions’

Eric Suarez has mixed opinions of Trump. “Trump is very smart,” he says. “He knows what he wants to do, but he isn’t willing to share his ideas. He closed Ford and Chevrolet plants in Mexico, but it’s important for our countries that we work together.”

On the other hand, says Suarez, “Trump is not acting right. He reminds me of Fidel Castro in Cuba and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.”

The wall, he agrees, is a dreadful idea. “Our presidents could talk to find solutions. You know, Mexicans sometimes work in the United States without the proper papers, but they do it to earn money, most of which they send home to their families. Mexicans and Latin Americans do the hard work — the dirty work — in the United States.”

No surprise. Often they do dirty work because they are thrilled to do any work. On Jan. 1, the minimum wage in Mexico rose to 80 pesos, nearly $4 in U.S. currency. Per day. Per eight-hour day, legally, but many workers toil 10 to 12 hours daily, to please their boss, keep the gig and earn tips, which are not taxable. In the home of the free and the brave, the minimum rate is $7.25 — per hour. That differential, far wider than the Rio Grande, beckons.

‘People will still cross it.’

Playa resident Andres Morelos lived in Chicago for 37 years. He bluntly condemns our new president. “I think he’s a bad person,” says Morelos. “He doesn’t understand that the land he lives in belonged to Indians.”

Morelos now helps a friend sell jewelry, souvenirs and tourist excursions. Humbly he explains why he no longer lives in his beloved, adopted country. Two years ago, he drove while intoxicated. “State police have the right to ask for your green card,” he says. “If you don’t have it, they take you to the Cook County jail. When I got there, la migra [immigration officials] were waiting for me.

“I broke the law. I know that. I spent a year fighting the case, but I didn’t cry, because I got what I deserved. I spent two years in jail, and then they sent me back to Mexico. My wife, my kids, and my mother are still in the States.

“You think a wall makes a difference?” he asks rhetorically. “It won’t. People will still cross it. Illegal immigration will never stop.”

Erecting a wall between our country and one of our nearest neighbors is absurd, especially given the admiration that flows in the other direction. Following an ancient Mexican tradition, people place their right hand over their heart when greeting other people. In the resort where we stayed, every employee, managers through maids, put their hand over their heart whenever they saw me.

It’s a customer-pleasing gesture, to be sure, and it works. It makes me think: These are the people Trump wants to spurn? The friendly ones?

In a boutique selling stunning Mexican-made clothing, Gabriela Mora says Trump is not prepared to be president. “His mind is not intelligent. He doesn’t keep his emotions to himself. If he is angry, or angry at Mexicans, he just takes away our rights.

“A wall is not a good investment,” says Mora. She, too, believes people will traverse it.

Jorge Cerdan Viveros is “not crazy about” the new U.S. president. “He is a businessman, and he thinks as a businessman. All the people around him are also businessmen, and they want to take advantage of everyone, including the president.

“I know Trump is a racist, a xenophobe, a homophobe, but I don’t know what he has against the Mexican people. My wife’s best friend sells real estate here in Playa, and her business is booming. She has sold 300 properties just since the election. Many Americans love Mexico. It’s Trump they want to get away from.” True fact: In 2015 and 2016, 21 million Americans vacationed in Mexico.

“I am against boundaries,” says Viveros. “All the world is one country. If you have a neighbor who is noisy, or whose dog is noisy, you build a wall. But it’s on your property, not theirs, and you pay for it, not the neighbor.

Morelos, the former Chicago prisoner, mourns losing his American life. “They sent me back to Mexico. I live in a room, but it has no windows.” As I look up from my notes, I see tears on his cheeks.

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