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I’ve been proven wrong about a lot of things since last November.
First, I assumed that Donald Trump would never be elected president. After he emerged victorious, I presumed that when he failed to pass immigration reform, failed to repeal and replace Obamacare, failed to start building a wall that Mexico would pay for, most of his supporters would leave him.
A couple of months ago, I traveled to Mexico City and met with some top business people there. They all felt Trump’s harsh rhetoric has fueled needless hate between our two countries. I assumed all business people in Mexico felt much the same way. If our countries are at odds, it would cost Mexico business and cost us purchasing options, not to mention mutual loss of tourism and cultural exchange.
Last week, I was back in Mexico, this time in the state of Chiapas. Kathy, my wife, and I were in the town of San Cristóbal de las Casas looking for vintage huipiles for her to use as reference materials in her work as a painter. Huipiles are colorful handcrafted blouses made by the indigenous women of southern Mexico and Guatemala. San Cristóbal is the perfect place to find the best and most affordable pieces.
We came upon a shop filled from floor to ceiling with huipiles made in the nearby villages. I’ll call the proprietor Señora Sarita Flores. Business was slow that day, so we had plenty of time to chat and shop. As we were leaving, Sarita asked, “Where are you from?” I smiled and replied, “Texas, in the U.S.”
Her response was, “I don’t hate you. I don’t even hate your president. In fact, I like him.”
I assumed that she, of all people, would hate our president, too. After all, she was a Mexican businesswoman and U.S. sales are important to her. Sarita elaborated: “Trump es un mal educado, un grosero, habla demasiado, pero tiene razón – Trump is ill-mannered, uses foul language, talks too much, but he’s right.
“Mexico has become too dependent on the U.S.,” she continued. “In fact, the whole world has become too dependent on the U.S. It’s time we start taking care of our own people, and it’s time the whole world did the same. We’d all be better off.”
She didn’t stop there.
“Trump wants to build a wall? Let him build a wall. As long as it’s on the U.S. side and we don’t have to pay for it, who cares? He wants to send Mexicans back to Mexico? We would welcome that! Our people would return better-educated and more able to become leaders here.”
Kathy asked the next question: “Tell me about the indigenous ladies in the villages who supply your shop with the huipiles you sell.”
“They’ve changed,” Sarita replied. “The Zapatista movement a few years ago gave them too many rights and too much freedom. This made them wanting more and becoming dependent on government.”
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The Zapatista movement arose in the 1990s when Mayan guerrilleros came out of the jungle of Chiapas wearing black ski masks. Many women joined the movement focusing on the rights of indigenous women.
The Zapatista movement not only improved life for the indigenous men and women, it also exposed Mexico’s oppression of them, according to historians. But Sarita doesn’t seem to like the change. To me, she sounded as racist as Trump.
Kathy and I were so surprised by what we heard, we had to learn more. We went on a small fact-finding trip to the villages to see for ourselves.
What we saw was a very different situation from the one Sarita described. Hundreds of creative, talented, and dignified women were working hard, proud of the fact that they carry on an essential thousand-year-old tradition of costume design. They live in sheds with dirt floors. Most slave at the loom all day, many starting at age 8, using their skill and talent to design and weave new frocks that take three or more days to make and sell for $25.
It is said that Trump has divided half of America from the other. Maybe he’s divided Mexico in half, too. Maybe he’s divided the world. How many other Saritas are out there? I never stopped to think about that. All I did was assume.
Maybe rural attitudes in Mexico are much like rural attitudes in America. Maybe there’s a worldwide longing for the way things used to be. Guess I’ll have to talk to many more Saritas before I assume anything else.
Our president should meet her. I’d bet he would like her as much as she likes him.