A Spanish-language version of this post is available on Texas Standard:
In his inaugural address last month, President Trump called for Americans to focus inwardly – his “America First" movement. But in response, Mexico has come up with its own cry: "Hecho en Mexico” (Made in Mexico).
Mexicans are rallying behind Mexican-made products and ditching American brands in what some are calling a newly found nationalism.
Dámaso Morales Ramírez teaches at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and is the vice president of Asociación Mexicana de Estudios Internacionales. He says the new rise in nationalism stems from Trump’s comments about Mexico, Mexicans and the border wall.
This conversation has been translated from the original Spanish to English. English translations have been shortened for clarity.
What is this new nationalism?
At first, the nationalist movement was led by Mexico's President [Enrique] Peña Nieto. Then it evolved into people wanting to boycott U.S. brands such as McDonalds, Starbucks, Walmart and others. But these brands came out saying they operate mostly with Mexican capital, so now people are rethinking the boycotts. Truth is, there is an awakening to a new Mexican nationalism.
You have said that Mexico tends to be a nationalist country when it's attacked from outside – that throughout history Mexicans have wrapped themselves in the flag and thrown themselves into a nationalism that could be irrational. What do you mean by that?
This is based on a historic event that dates back to the U.S. invasion of Mexico between 1846 and 1848 – the Texas war in which U.S. troops entered the Chapultepec Castle [in Mexico City].
The cadets who trained there – children really 12, 14, 20 years old – knowing everything was lost, rather than surrender the Mexican flag one of them wraps the flag around his body, climbs to the top of the castle and jumps to his death.
When we see signs of an exacerbated or radical nationalism we say ‘we are wrapping ourselves with the flag ready to jump.’ As a nation, we know our flaws but when someone from the outside – when a foreign entity highlights our flaws we feel it deeply. We wrap ourselves in the flag and we get ready to jump.
Do you anticipate a rise in genuine political nationalism in Mexico?
It all depends on what happens next. The last call between Presidents Peña Nieto and Trump in which – we don't know the exact details – but there are rumors that Trump said he would send troops into Mexico to fight the drug cartels.
We have this historical context of two U.S. invasions. They are very much a part of the Mexican ethos. So our reaction is: we will not allow it.
This is a complicated situation. There's a lot of confusion but also the potential for opportunity: on the one hand, we have internal challenges – high gas prices, national protests and presidential elections next year – on the other we have these international events. They have everything to do with Mexico, with being Mexican and with our national sovereignty. So the political class from left to right and in between has come together against these statements.
I suggest we pay close attention to what happens next. If there’s another statement from Donald Trump it could feed the fire behind this Mexican nationalism.”
How would you gauge the mood in Mexico? Is there more frustration and pessimism or do you sense that there is a rising optimism about Mexican assertion on the world stage – or even Mexican identity?
Yes. I see opportunity and opportunism because this discontent against Trump is something political parties could capitalize on during this campaign season.
There's a chance the political discourse will turn very nationalist so, from that point of view, Donald Trump could be a blessing or a curse. Intellectuals and some politicians see this as an opportunity – and I am one of them – an opportunity to look inwardly, an opportunity to rethink the comfortable relationship we've had with the U.S. – a relationship where, no matter how bad corruption got, there were no consequences.
One thing is clear: If there were to be a breaking point, Mexicans are likely to say "eff" America, "eff-you gringos" – this word that refers to the green uniforms of U.S. troops disembarking in Mexico – and people chanting "go green go" may restart the story, this old story between our two countries.