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Saturday, October 16, 2021

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News + PoliticsMake America great again

Make America great again

After two years of living in Mexico City, the United States has become somewhat of an abstraction. It’s the land where my parents and dear friends live, home to Goldfish crackers and really good cheap pizza. It has great literature. I love to visit.

But if I read the news too much (as is my job as a journalist), the US starts to seem like the scary neighbor to the north.

What’s going on up there? A man who has been a low frequency whine in pop culture for decades, a man whose presidency was a “warning” on an episode of The Simpsons 16 years ago … is running for president, just as he always threatened he would between divorces, condo builds and episodes of reality TV.

Trump wants to build a (bigger) wall in between my home country and the country where I currently live and work and love people.

Surely I don’t need to tell you that Donald Trump has few fans in Mexico. Government officials here have been put in the awkward position of having to denounce invasion threats from a reality show television ‘personality’.

After Trump alluded to invading if the country refused to foot the bill for the offensive figment of his imagination that is that damn border wall, Mexican Foreign Affairs Secretary Claudia Ruiz Massieu summed up her country’s hot take nicely enough:

When an apple’s red, it is red,” she said. “When you say ignorant things, you’re ignorant.

On most days, someone asks me if he is going to win the elections. I tell them no, but who is to say?

What I know is that you cannot support Trump if you are personally acquainted with a single person from another country outside the United States. (Unless you are Putin. Or this guy.) To co-sign his ham-handed version of international relations, you have to truly believe that America would be fine without the rest of the world. That the novelty coffee mugs are true and that we truly are #1.

64 percent of US citizens do not have a current valid passport. Many of those people, particularly the white people, have never even had a sizable conversation with someone who was born outside the United States.

That kind of ignorance makes you an easy mark for Trump’s assurances that he will “make America great again,” at the expense of anyone who stands in his way.

But about that word.

“America” is at the core of all politicians’ promises. It invokes the mythos of our legendary nation, its overthrow of the British to become the leader of the free world. The middle class, SUVs, air conditioning. The Dream. During an election year, it muddies your common sense, prods at your most deeply held morales.

Trump is not the only candidate who employs the obfuscating power of “America” — they all do. Clinton’s official campaign name is “Hillary for America.” Bernie is not above slapping Simon and Garfunkel on top of shots of people stacking hay bales and giving high fives and calling the whole thing America.

But these are lies built on lazy semantics. The United States are OF America, but they are not America. America is actually two continents. Argentinians are Americans. Canadians are Americans. Mexicans are most certainly Americans.

I asked friends in Mexico City how they feel about Gringolandia’s erasure of other Americans.

Daniel “LukyDMT” Martínez, a video artist and photographer who has lived in the capital his entire life, likens a US resident’s misuse of the word to their ignorance of the rich cultural traditions to which they have long since cut their links:

Pues, I feel sorry for them/him/her. It’s a big wild world, this here piece of land. Mexico alone is one of the biggest countries in America and not even I, a proud Mexican, know the full extent of flavors, colors, dreams, religions, political realities, etc. that happen inside our American territory. One great thing about America is its human diversity. It’s too sad that the powerful countries insist on being racist instead of being loving and amazed by the wide and broad spectrum of different realities that co-exist within our land.

Martínez once went to Kenya’s Maasai land as a volunteer teacher. He said his African coworkers had been left by international media under the impression that George H.W. Bush had been the president of the entire land — of Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Chile.

He took it upon himself to counteract the misconception. “I spent my evenings teaching the teachers real American history,” he said. “Taught them about Sandino, about Pinochet, about Salvador Allende, Zapata, Pancho Villa, Aztec and Mayan empires. Inca culture.”

“I swear,” he told me. “I’d pretty much rather American culture be huapango and chalupas instead of fucking Drake and Baja style street tacos. Fuck.”

María Fernanda Molins is a photographer from Mazatlán who moved to Mexico City three years ago. For years, she was the only Latin American contributor to Tavi Gevinson’s Rookie magazine and continues to work with many publications and artists from outside Mexico.

Like Martínez, US citizens’ misuse of America makes her reflect on this disservice our nationalist upbringing has done us.

They do that sometimes without thinking because they’ve been hearing it their whole lives. It only puts on evidence their lack of … what’s the word? It’s not empathy but like … they are always thinking that the USA is the only thing in the whole wide world. Like they are superior, like they own everything.

It goes so far as to trifle with her own self-identity, she told me.

“We are not allowed to call ourselves Americans because the USA owns that. Like you can say she is European. You can say he is Asian. But I can’t say I’m American because people will ask me if I’m from the United States.”

Faced with the possibility of an authoritarian racist at the helm of the most nosy, over-extending country in the world, the rest of Earth wants desperately to believe, but is not convinced, that the United States populace aren’t lunatics.

Let’s throw our global community a bone. I’d like to suggest a linguistic exercise, a reframing of your use of America to mean all of it, from Canada to Patagonia.

I’m far from the first to make this request. In 1987, Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar erected signs among the gawdy neon of Times Square proclaiming “This is not America” over an outline of the United States. The installation was brought back, on a grander scale, in 2014.

America’s namesake, Italian adventurer Amerigo Vespucci, famously distinguished that the New World was not, in fact, Asia through his explorations in Brazil and the so-called West Indies — he didn’t even make landfall in the United States.

But it’s awkward, right? Saying “US residents”? Making the shift away from a jingoistic vision of America taught to us by everything from the comics to essays from our favorite progressive thought leaders? (This piece was inspired by the recent, excellent essay by Ta-Nehisi Coates on the Nina Simone bio-pic colorism dust-up. “In America, racism is a default setting,” he wrote. I somberly re-posted the quote and link on my Facebook wall, only afterwards realizing I had committed yet another cardinal gringo-in-Mexico sin.)

Here, in case you could use more motivation: Former Ku Klux Clan grand wizard David Duke has linked Trump’s use of “Make America Great Again” to similar mottos Adolph Hitler employed to bolster his connection with German identity.

On his radio show, Duke cheerily posited that the similarities between the Trump and Der Führer are helping to rehabilitate Hitler’s image.

The world is watching, my friends. Reclaim your American identity by rejecting the one they teach you.



Caitlin Donohuehttp://www.donohue.work
Caitlin Donohue grew up in the Sunset and attended Jefferson Elementary School. She writes about weed, sex, perreo, and other methods of dismantling power structures. Her current center of operations is Mexico City.
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  1. Nice translation, Vitus. Except ‘estadounidense’ is different than an American. American is a type of coffee.

  2. Translation:

    When someone is asked, I say that I am ‘American.’ That is courtesy, nothing more.

    Only the people of the upper classes, the rich, hate the United States.

    The popular classes want to immigrate here.

  3. If Trump becomes president and I were living in Mexico, I’d want the tallest wall built to keep that moron, his stupid ideas, his hatred and his ignorant supporters north of the border.

  4. Cuando algien se pregunta, digo que soy ‘estadounidense.’ Eso es cortesia, nada mas.

    Solo la gente de las clases altas, los ricos, se odio los estados unidos.

    Las clases populares quieren immigrar aqui.

  5. The places the European colonists were “successful” are the places where they managed to genocide most of the indigenous people, and were able to use use slave and convict labor for 100+ years to “build wealth.” The only indigenous communities left in the Americas are those that could hide in the jungles of the South or in the forests and ice in the North. Now that machines do allof the meaningful work, “America”has no competitive advantage in the world, and is a de facto third world country producing weapons for rogue nations like Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, and food for China.

  6. Actually if you examine former colonies in terms of their specific European derivation, then only the former UK colonies can be described as “advanced” and “wealthy” e.g. US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Qatar. And even then only when they subjugated the local populace, which they did not do elsewhere, such as India, Pakistan and much of Africa.

    But on the other hand, I cannot think of a single former colony of Spain, France, Germany, Holland or Portugal than is not still a third world nation.

  7. “Mixed race people are invariably more interesting than monochrome individuals.”

    I would be fascinated to see the empirical basis for that claim which, on the face of it, seems as racist as the very people you are trying to discredit.

    Unless of course you are just expressing a personal preference for hetereogeneous people, in which case you should just say so and own your bias.

  8. “64 percent of US citizens do not have a current valid passport. Many of those people, particularly the white people, have never even had a sizable conversation with someone who was born outside the United States.”

    Caitlin seems like a rich white girl who can afford to live abroad, so she can shame US citizens who cannot afford the luxury of international travel because they are too busy working, raising families and doing all the things that people who are less privileged than her do that makes up a life.

    Well there is this thing called the Internet you know? Except for some trips to the Canadian Rockies and a border town in Mexico I have not traveled outside the US, yet on a Tolkien-themed discussion board I had conversations with people from all over the world. When we had a camp out in real life, we had people from five countries on three continents.

    So maybe her less traveled fellow US citizens–I take it she has not given up her US passport just yet–aren’t the bumpkins she think they are.

  9. There are only two races on this planet: boyz and girlz. And women are the superior race.

    “Europeans” have been expelling the darker peoples since like…forever.
    Which is of course counter-productive. Mixed race people are invariably more interesting than monochrome individuals. It should be obvious that one day most humans will be “hybrids.” If we don’t kill ourselves off first…..

  10. The concept that the United States is the leading country in the world, and that all other countries are inferior in comparison is a baby boomer post WW2 mentality. Younger people in the United States don’t feel that way, and many young people think they might be better off elsewhere. Plus if Obama were able to run for a third term he would probably be re elected in a landslide, which means that a decent candidate can beat a racist, imperialist candidate by a wide margin.

    People always tend to lump others together in to neat categories and ethnic divisions even though human beings are way too complex to be categorized simply. Those forms you fill out for school/job/medical care which list race are always way too simple although the list has expanded from Black, White Asian or Latino to include other categories such as Pacific Islanders and native Americans (who are genetically almost identical to people from Central and South America) Even the way we talk about it is wrong : there is only one human race. There are thousands of different ethnicities based on where your ancestors have lived for approximately 10,000 years, way too many to be listed in simple categories on forms.

    And although the Trump phenomenon may make some Americans (US citizens) seem like racist ignorant thugs, ethnic hatred may even be worse in some other places. Consider what is happening in the Middle East and Europe and the battles over the Syrian refugees that no one really wants. Germany has an open door policy probably because of its guilt complex over the holocaust, but Great Britain is considering leaving the European Union largely because they don’t want to be forced to accept Syrians.

  11. “Poor Mexico. So far from God,
    so close to the USA.”
    -Gen. Porfirio Diaz

    It’s THE Americas. North, Central, and South. Mexico may be geographically part of North America, but culturally it is a part of Mesoamerica; the old Aztec, Olmec, and Mayan empires that streached from Sonora to Panama.

    The United States IS a country of lunatics. Who do you think killed all the native peoples, bears, cougars, buffalos, deer, elk, eagles, et. al., and cut down the Great Forest that used to streach from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi? Who is currently poisoning the earth with it’s waste, killing and/or displacing millions of people every year, and starving it’s own populace into submission? Certified lunatics, that’s who.

    Racism is indeed the default setting in The Americas, including Central and South America. Dark skin is taboo, even among people with dark skin. Just as in the USA, indigenous people have been taught that they are inferior and “white” people are superior. And African descendants live in the worst conditions of all populations. So it goes white-mestizo-indigeno-African.

    The major difference in the cultures North and South of the “border” is that in the United states we imitate English, French, and German “culture,” whereas in Latin Amercian, the main influence is Spain, with a little Portugal and Italy thrown in. Mexican “culture” is not that crap on the telenovelas (guilty pleasure: I love La Reina del Sur). Mexican (and MesoAmerican) culture is iguana stew (mmmmmm…..).

  12. Having realized at a very early (actively anti-imperialist) age that the USA was just one country in the Americas (which by the way includes North, Central and South America), I have tried to popularize the term U.S.ians for residents of the United States…It flows right off the tongue and many people I have said it to like and adapt it…I have had many discussions about this topic with people from all over the world (including all the Americas). Most are reallly excited to think that anyone from the U.S. would understand what other people think of USians using the word “american” as though it is just them…..I remember when I first began using Ms. after it was proposed by a few feminists in late 60s, early 70s (not sure when exactly). If we think about how Ms. is now on all official forms and is widely used and accepted, then we can imagine that term USians can be popularized and spread and we can end the insulting, racist, egocentric appropriation of the term “American” that most USians currently employ….I invite all like minded folks to join me.

  13. We don’t use the continents to describe nations, countries or peoples. Are indigenous people in New Guinea and sections of Indonesia calling themselves Australians? Fighting colloquialism is silly.

    The US is a sovereign nation. Placing a wall at the border may not be realistic, practical, healthy, or acceptable but it’s not “an invasion”.

    What a bunch of nonsense.

  14. The acronym is KKK with the last word being Klan.

    When I lived briefly in Mexico City, locals used “norteamericano” for me and not for themselves. I can’t recall any Mexican labeling himself “americano” (or herself “americana”).

  15. The word “American” is ambiguous. While Caitlin is not technically incorrect to apply that term to anyone from the Americas, the common usage around the world implies someone from the US. When Simon and Garfunkel sang “America” I guarantee you they were not writing about Bolivia.

    “What I know is that you cannot support Trump if you are personally acquainted with a single person from another country outside the United States.”

    I doubt that the average US voter gives a crap what foreigners think. We are top dog and so everyone else probably hates us anyway. So what?

    In fact I’d go further and say that a US president is probably more popular if he is hated (i.e. respected) abroad. After all, Reagan was disliked elsewhere but was wildly popular and successful here. Even Bush Junior, who was a laughing stock internationally, continually had positive approval numbers domestically.

    Foreigners probably feel most at home with Sanders, whose policies of socialized healthcare and high taxes would not raise an eyebrow in Europe, whereas voters here see them as dangerous job-killing government over-reach.

    I fear Caitlin can’t go home again.

  16. “Argentinians are Americans. Canadians are Americans. Mexicans are most certainly Americans.”

    You are free to make your own characterization but I would disagree –
    Argentinians and Brazilians South Americans.
    Canadians and Mexicans and North Americans.

    As you yourself pointed out there are 2 continents, not a singular Americas continent.

    And I say this as a foreigner 🙂

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