Retraumatization Series: Blog 3
In Mexico, the migrant community often faces public discrimination and racism. Throughout their journey, many people are intimidated by discriminatory comments made by Mexican citizens. This form of labeling creates fear among migrants and does not allow them to feel safe at any time. Instead, it criminalizes their past experiences simply because they come from a different country.
In 2019-2020, with the entrance and arrival of several large caravans from Central America, many Mexicans have felt apathetic towards the migrants’ situation. Most of these sentiments come from the idea that their own resources are being taken away by the newly arrived migrants. However, this type of ideology creates divisions among the people; just like these Central American migrants, there are many Mexicans who also flee to the United States to seek for better opportunities. Why is there a double standard about having access to a better life? The following quotes, illustrate the kinds of discriminatory encounters that migrants can face throughout their journey in Mexico.
“R,” an 18-year-old man from Honduras, shared that his main reason to flee was due to the economic instability that he and his family faced thanks to ongoing gang extortion. Overall, his journey was not easy. Along the way, he repeatedly faced hostile treatment from Mexican people. He explained:
En el transcurso que yo venia en el camino pase por muchos retenes y luego me decían, ‘Oye Centroamericano, bájate a la verga, té no eres Mexicano.
Throughout the time that I was on the trip, I passed through many checkpoints, and people would say to me, ‘Hey, Central American, get the hell off, you’re not Mexican.’– R, 18-year-old from Honduras
Constantly hearing these type of discriminatory comments could be very discouraging. Not only did it create a sense of “otherness” for “R,” but it also showed that there was lack of solidarity towards migrants and their struggles. Another encounter that “R” had with discrimination was when he arrived to Leon, Guanajuato and wanted to work at a taco shop. He went on:
Primero empecé lavando platos y luego me dijeron, ‘Te vamos a dar trabajo con una condición: la única condición es muy fácil y sencilla,’ decía, ‘Que aquí tienes que hablar como mexicano. Y si te preguntan de donde eres, que eres de México porque tu acento no pasa aquí.’ Me dijeron, ‘Mucha gente va pensar mal de ti o no se que, se van a ir los clientes y nosotros no queremos eso. Si aceptas eso entonces sí aceptas trabajar con nosotros. Entonces me dieron dos días para yo aprender hablar como un mexicano. A los dos días yo ya hablaba como uno mexicano.
First I started washing dishes and then they told me, ‘We are going to give you a job with one condition: the only condition is very easy and simple,’ they said, ‘That here you have to speak like a Mexican. And if they ask where you’re from, [say] that you are from Mexico, because your accent doesn’t pass here.’ They told me, ‘A lot of people will think badly of you, or I don’t know, the clients will leave, and we don’t want that. If you accept that, then accept a job with us.” Then they gave me two days to learn how to speak like a Mexican. In two days, I already talked like a Mexican.– R, 18-year-old man from Honduras
The expectations of the employer at this taco shop showed that he was afraid of the customers’ judgments about having hired a young central american boy. His demand that “R” speak like a Mexican not only stripped “R’s” Honduran identity. It also forced “R” to assimilate and agree to the employer’s conditions as an act of survival.
“M,” a 35-year-old male from Haiti, also had a long and difficult journey traveling through the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Chile, and eventually Mexico. He dreamed of getting an education and supporting his sister in Haiti, which motivated him to seek a future in the United States. While living in Tijuana he had been working at a gas station to make ends meet. During his interview, he expressed that he had experienced daily racism and xenophobia from his Mexican coworkers. He explained:
Aquí, te puedo decir, hay gente racistas. Todo esto molesto uno. Por que a siento que me ha tocado gente, mis compañeros de trabajo, acá mis compañeros de trabajo siempre me dicen, “ah, viniste a México a quitar trabajo de los mexicanos. Y yo no se … yo soy humano también.
I can tell you that here, there are racist people. All of this bothers you. Because I feel that I have met people – my coworkers, here my coworkers always tell me, ‘Oh, you came to Mexico to take jobs away from Mexicans.’ And I don’t know – I’m human, too.– M, 35-year old man from Haiti
Haitian migrants such as “M” face racism in Mexico simply because of their skin color. Just like in any country, it seems like Black people are always persecuted because they “look different” or are associated with crime. This treatment re-traumatizes migrants because it dehumanizes their experiences and judges them for fleeing their countries and wanting to seek a better life. In addition, over time, being harassed for being a foreigner in Mexico forces migrants to reject their identities and cultures from their home countries. In order to not face discrimination, many find themselves assimilating to Mexican culture so that they can live unnoticed.
Being from a different country and immersing into a new society is a difficult feat. “M’s statement on the treatment he received from his co -workers shows that he felt alienated. The fact that he did not feel comfortable at his own job suggest that he was stigmatized by Mexicans’ discriminatory treatment towards him. His last sentence shows that he wanted to feel supported by during his stay in Mexico.
“W,” a 39-year-old man from Guatemala, had been very optimistic about his journey to the United States. Even though he personally had not experiences discrimination for being Guatemalan in Mexico, he had seen other people go through it. The following anecdote he shared shows how during a trip to the store he witnessed a vendor being very unfriendly to a man, due to his suspicions that the customer was not Mexican. He recounted:
Entonces dice, ‘No, es que hay muchos centroamericanos [que] solo andan robando.’ ‘Pero yo no ando robando,’ le digo ‘y soy centroamericano,’ le digo, ‘yo trabajo.’ ‘No’ me dice, ‘Pero es que por unos pagan todos.’ ‘Ni modo.’ Esta es la única ocasión, pero ya de allí, hacia mí, gracias a dios aun no ha pasado.
So then he says, ‘No, there are a lot of Central Americans that just go around stealing.’ ‘But I’m not stealing,’ I say, ‘and I’m Central American,’ I say, ‘I work.’ ‘No,’ he tells me, ‘But everyone pays for the mistakes of one person.’ ‘Oh well.’ That was the only time, but from there on, thank God, nothing else has happened.– W, 39-year-old man from Guatemala
This example shows how some Mexicans have stereotypes toward people who do not present themselves as “Mexicans.” As a migrant himself, “W” felt the need to stand up for the other migrant and question the behavior of the vendor, by encouraging him not to be judgmental based on a person’s appearance.
“El Cibernetico,” a 34-year-old man from El Salvador, was also very conscious of Mexicans and their treatment towards him. He acknowledged that there had been many instances in which he was simply called out for being assumed to be Honduran. He offered:
Cuando estuve trabajando en Hyundai, tenia un jefe que me decía que si yo era hondureño me iba matar.
When I was working at Hyundai, I had a boss that told me that if I was Honduran, he was going to kill me.– 34-year-old man, El Salvador
After confronting his boss and asking him why being Honduran would be a big issue, he discovered that his boss’s statements and beliefs were due to his ignorance. The prejudice of “El Cibernético’s” boss made him feel discouraged and repeated the kinds of direct threats (even threats of death) from which he had fled.
Discrimination against the migrant community is very prevalent in Mexico. The examples above represent common encounters during migrants’ journeys or while they live in Mexico. Key findings throughout the interviews and my time observations at Casa del Migrante showed that discrimination occurred when Mexican people found the migrants’ appearance and accents different from their own. Their conservative mindset and personal beliefs led them to “other” migrants and make them feel like outcasts. Many migrants were intimidated by the discriminatory comments made by Mexican citizens. This form of labeling creates fear among migrants and does not allow them to feel safe.
The combination of the biased treatment from the governmental officials, NGO staff, and Mexican citizens, in sum, creates a significant amount of new stigma and even further trauma for asylum seeking migrants.