Arrival of the ‘migrant caravan’ lays bare Mexico's own anti-immigration side

The image reads from left to right: “Those migrants will increase the levels of criminality in the country”, and “Trying to save your life in another country is not a crime”. Made by a group of NGOs, shared by the Interdisciplinary Center of Social Training and Engagement. Published with permission.

As migrant caravans from Central America make their way through Mexico, many locals have taken to social media to express their own bigotry towards migrants — often resembling the anti-immigration attitudes against Mexicans seen in the United States.

Thousands of people are fleeing poverty and gang violence in Central America and heading north, mostly by foot and often carrying small children with them. They have different destinations: many are bound to the United States — where a large-scale military operation awaits them — while others are planning to seek refuge in Mexico.

By early November, five caravans had departed Central America. Some were organized on Facebook. When the first groups began arriving in Mexico, social media responded vigorously through hashtags such as #CaravanaMigrante and #CaravanaMigranteCDMX.

While opinions were diverse, with many showing support to the caravans, a side of Mexico that is openly opposed to immigration also surfaced. Here are two examples:

Let them call us fascists or sons of Donald Trump. As Mexicans, we have the right to defend the sovereignty of our country and the security of our families. No to the #MigrantCaravan. They should go back to their country and work there where they're needed.

It's unlikely they'll enter the USA, I really doubt that they will go back to their country of origin. They will stay in Mexico, but hoping for what? For the government to provide for them?

Web outlet Plumas Atómicas has collected opinions like the ones above and contrasted them with Mexico's own migration history:

México tiene una larga y orgullosa tradición de puertas abiertas ante las poblaciones perseguidas, exiliadas y violentadas: desde los judíos españoles durante la Nueva España; los irlandeses que se unieron a la defensa de México durante la invasión estadounidense; los libaneses que huyeron de la hambruna en su país en la década de 1920, los republicanos exiliados durante la Guerra Civil española y tras la victoria de Franco; los brasileños, argentinos, paraguayos, colombianos, peruanos y uruguayos que salieron perseguidos por las dictaduras militares en sus países […] ¿por qué hay exiliados y refugiados de primera y de segunda?

Mexico has a long and proud tradition of open doors to those who have been persecuted, exiled, or victims of violence: since the Spanish Jews during the time of New Spain; the Irish who joined Mexico's defense during the American invasion; the Lebanese that fled hunger in their country in the 1920s, the republicans exiled during the Spanish Civil War and after Franco's victory. Brazilians, Argentinians, Paraguayans, Colombians, Peruvians and Uruguayans who were persecuted by the military dictatorships in their countries […] Why are there first and second class of exiles and refugees?

Other commentators have highlighted the irony of Mexicans’ online racism, as it has been mainly Mexicans who have borne the stigma brought along by Donald Trump’s immigration policies.

This meme about the migrant caravan places in front of us the racist mirror of Mexican mestizo nationalism, which has always been aspirational, longing to be white, and that for the first time in history feels threatened by migration coming from the south. I'm afraid we will have more of this in the future.

The image inside the tweet shows, on the left-hand side, an anti-migration message (“Be aware that the caravan shouldn't pass by Mexico for security reasons, as well as poverty, overpopulation, etc”), and on the right-hand side, a response defending the migrants (“We have to help them, give them employment, we're all human… How would that affect you? God bless them”). The response, however, is full of spelling mistakes, implying that those defending the caravan are poorly educated and of a lower social class.

By denying a decent and humanitarian treatment to those coming with the migrant caravan we're brought down to the same level of the xenophobic and racist governments that we've been critisizing for years. We must not fall into the trap of the anti-migrant rhetoric that is coming from the government of the United States.

“Spat out by their own countries”

This unprecedented migration wave is provoked, for the most part, by poverty and violence afflicting the Northern Triangle (the region consisting of Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras), of which people are attempting to flee.

In an editorial dated November 3, Salvadoran outlet El Faro outlined the origins of the phenomenon — and argued that both Central American governments and the United States’ share responsibility for the thousands of people being now “spat out by their own countries”:

¿De qué se alejan familias enteras expuestas al camino cruel, al poder de los territorios del narco, a la violencia sexual, al secuestro, y hoy incluso a las amenazas del presidente de Estados Unidos de enviar al ejército? […] Huyen de la represión de un tirano en Nicaragua y de los delirios de un corrupto incapaz en Guatemala. Huyen de la incapacidad de los gobiernos salvadoreños, tanto de ultraderecha como de ultraizquierda, para poner fin a los homicidios, a la desigualdad y a la corrupción. Huyen de la violencia ejercida por pandillas deportadas por Estados Unidos, que exige ahora lealtades a cambio de migajas, cuando es corresponsable de la situación en el istmo. Huyen de élites indolentes y de décadas de esperar un futuro que nunca llega.

What are those whole families running away from, exposing themselves to a cruel route, to the territory of druglords, to sexual violence, to kidnapping, and even to threats by the president of the United States, who says he will be sending the army [to the border?] They're running away from a tyrant's repression in Nicaragua, from the delirium of a corrupted fool in Guatemala. They're fleeing from the inability of El Salvador's government, from both the ultra-rightwing and ultra-leftwing, to put an end to the homicides, the inequality and the corruption They're fleeing from the violence of gangs who have been deported by the United States, who now demand loyalty in exchange for crumbs, even when they're also responsible for the situation in the region. They're running away from oblivious elites and from decades of waiting for a future that never comes.

And they conclude:

En esas caravanas están las claves de todos los problemas de la región, incluyendo a México y Estados Unidos. [Su criminalización significa] culpar a los migrantes por las respuestas que los gobernantes de la región, de Managua a Washington, no saben encontrar.

Those caravans hold the keys to all the problems in the region, including Mexico and the United States.[Criminalizing them] means blaming the migrants for the answers that the governments of the regions, from Managua to Washington, haven't been able to find.

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