Make America great again

LETTER FROM MEXICO: A heated election season in the United States raises hackles in other American countries, starting with the definition of "America."

Chilean artist Alberto Jaar clarified that 'America' does not only mean the United States with this series of signs in Times Square in 1987.

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.