Stereotyping and the Mexican/American Border

800px-Border_Mexico_USA
The border wall between the San Diego sewage treatment plant built to clean the Tijuana River (left) and the city of Tijuana, Baja California (right).  [Image Courtesy of Sgt. 1st Class Gordon Hyde]
“When Mexico sends its people, they aren’t sending their best … They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with [them]. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime – They’re rapists.”

Donald Trump said this when he announced he was running for president in June 2015. It took him 18 seconds to say and I would be surprised if anyone has forgotten this blatantly racist statement.

Stereotypes, as a political tool, have been used to oppress people since before written records were even kept. They’re typically overgeneralized ideas about a group of people used to demean them and incite public ridicule or shunning. Undoubtedly, stereotypes have been used in terrible, awful ways throughout history. However, some – regardless of the way they’re used – are based on some aspect of reality.

This is the nature of overgeneralization. For example, a staple of Anti-Semitism is identifying a Jew as having a “giant nose”. Groups like the Nazis used this depiction (among other things) in their propaganda, which drove the Holocaust, an event too horrible for words. Yet, as a Jew myself, I’ve met many members of the tribe who exhibit the “giant nose” trait. It’s a plausible generalization, which makes it an easy target for stereotyping.

Just because a stereotype is sometimes true does not mean it’s the rule for all members of a group. Donald Trump followed up his ridiculous comments by attempting to soften them, saying “some, I assume, are good people.” At least he acknowledges exceptions to his insidious rules – but should something like this be considered an exception?

Chantal Akerman’s 2002 film “From the Other Side” talks to people on both sides of the Mexican/American border, people of all ages and sizes. While I felt the presentation of the 100-minute documentary was hard to get through, the power of the people interviewed on the Mexican side of the border was compelling.

Be it the elderly couple talking about their dead son or the young boy who failed at his attempt to cross the border alone in the growing security of a post-9/11 world; all the stories told shared a common thread, the struggle and loss of family in trying to find a better life through The American Dream. None of those whose stories were told are recognizable as the criminals or rapists Trump hoped to paint with his blanket statement.

That’s not to say there aren’t such criminals trying to cross the border from Mexico into the United States. With such a large basket, there are bound to be some bad eggs. This doesn’t mean we should judge the whole group like bad eggs are the norm, however. Every individual is different.

In Alfredo Corchado’s three part “Faces from the Border” series, published in the New Yorker in 2015 (Part 1 / 2 / 3 ), he shows that this mentality can apply not only to the immigrants, but to those guarding the border as well. Many who guard the border are children of Mexican immigrants themselves, yet they’re just as determined to deter illegal immigration. While there are some problem officers, as shown with the story of Margarita Crispin (a border guard who helped sneak drugs across the border), most are honorable people doing a difficult job to the best of their abilities. They all have their own stories just like the immigrants wanting to cross into the United States.

In a time of Globalization, where information is instantly available anywhere at any time, it can be difficult know what is truth or fiction. Entire groups of people can be summed up by statistics and figures on the World Wide Web, and anonymous people feel free to express their own thoughts and opinions without repercussion.  If we want to one-day move past stereotypes, anger and stigmatization, we need to remember that every individual has a unique life story, whether they’re anonymous or not. While lives may be similar in nature, it’s unfair to believe you know another solely due to things like their upbringing or skin color.


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