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A view from the south of the border

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Relations between Mexico and the United States have, through the twists and turns of history, always verged on “Love me, love me not”.

Mexico lost almost half of its territory following the Texas Revolution and Mexican-American Wars of the 19th century. Until that point, most of the western side of the USA was Mexico: California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and parts of New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming. This is a loss which has been very difficult for Mexicans to accept, indeed they still do not.

However, time being a great healer, the two countries improved diplomatic ties and helped each other grow their economies. Although immigration happens on both sides of the border, with the emergence of the USA as the economic powerhouse in the latter part of the 20th century, America became the ‘promised land’ of many Mexicans. Not necessarily to live there forever but to go and work to earn money then return home to a better life. Almost every Mexican will have a family member living in the U.S. They account for some $20 billion of remittances sent back to Mexico from the US each year.

In addition, the U.S. is Mexico's largest customer with some $80% of total exports going north. This is why Donald Trump’s speeches and sabre rattling are causing such tension in Mexico.

So how are Mexicans reacting?

The first thing to understand is that, despite Trump’s tone, it’s not all one-way traffic. Mexico is the third largest customer for US goods and services accounting for 16% of all of their exports, around $212bn in 2016 (only slightly less than all US exports to the EU).

There seems to be a groundswell of national pride with an unusual display of national unity in the face of Trump’s perceived insults - ‘MexiCAN!’. The rhetoric from Washington has woken people up to realise the risks of such reliance on one single customer and the importance of buying local. It will be interesting to see what happens if the US’s third largest customer decides to stop buying.

It may sound odd but few years ago when I went back to Mexico to live and work, I was struck by the way most Mexicans (even within my family) rejected their own culture.  When you travel to Mexico you are likely to be overwhelmed by its amazing customs, traditions, colours and food. But most Mexicans dream of America: they like wearing American clothes, driving American cars, listening to American music and have traditionally been proud to be able to buy American goods. Few travel within their own country to visit Mexico’s stunning locations.

Trump’s outbursts are helping Mexicans appreciate the importance of embracing their culture, traditions, crafts and food. Well educated people in Mexico are now travelling and spending in Mexico rather than spending north of the border. It certainly does seem as though Mexico’s love affair with the US is coming to an end.

While there is almost unanimous distaste for Trump, the way forwards is less simple. Broadly there are two camps: those who seek to boycott American corporations (Walmart, Starbucks, Uber…) and those more pragmatic, such as Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, call for Mexicans to show support for U.S. companies investing in Mexico.

These past few years have been tough in Mexico, the presidency of Enrique Peña Nieto has not been smooth, but for once the country has a common cause to unite them. There is much for Mexicans to be concerned about, the road ahead is unlikely to be smooth but when you read the news, remember that Mexico is a proud and strong country in many ways and we are not taking things lying down!

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The Pothole is Pura Aventura's popular monthly email. We share what we love, what interests us and what we find challenging. And we don't Photoshop out the bits everyone else does. We like to think our considered opinions provide food for thought, and will sometimes put a smile on your face. They've even been known to make people cry. You can click here to subscribe and, naturally, unsubscribe at any time.

The Pothole is Pura Aventura's popular monthly email. We share what we love, what interests us and what we find challenging. And we don't Photoshop out the bits everyone else does. We like to think our considered opinions provide food for thought, and will sometimes put a smile on your face. They've even been known to make people cry. You can click here to subscribe and, naturally, unsubscribe at any time.

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