In this haven for foreigners tucked neatly in a placid, lakeside community with cobblestone streets and surrounded by striking green hills that seem to touch the sky, a billboard welcomes visitors with words that read: “Where Joy is a habit.”
But the Aug. 3 shooting deaths of 22 people, mostly Mexicans and Mexican Americans, hundreds of miles away in El Paso and the simmering racial hatred that fueled that massacre may be threatening to burst that well-ordered bubble for Americans here, many say.
“Here in Mexico a cough (from the U.S.) causes pneumonia,” said Allan MacGregor, 80, a retiree from Massachusetts, reflecting on the consequences of what he calls hate rhetoric and a smoldering cultural war emanating from the U.S. “That’s not good, especially as Mexico is enduring the aging American invasion.”
These days, aging baby boomers like MacGregor and his wife, Barbara Hildt, find themselves navigating the politics of hate after an alleged white supremacist drove 10 hours from North Texas to hunt down Mexicans at a Walmart in El Paso. The shooting spree in El Paso shattered a sense of peace, a feeling shared by American expats living here. Its ripple effects continue.
A common worry among residents here is whether President Donald Trump’s virulent xenophobic, anti-immigrant rhetoric, reflected in the shooter’s manifesto, will reawaken Mexico’s own rabid nationalism that still simmers below the surface.
“The root of the problem in the United States is hate,” said Hildt, 73, a former five-term state legislator from Massachusetts, a peace activist and civic volunteer here in Ajijic. “Hate knows no borders and that’s unsettling for everyone, though Mexicans are a very generous and kindhearted people.”
Added David Bryen, 71, a retired marriage counselor from Oregon: “We grieve with El Paso, and all the Mexican people in the United States who are subject of so much hatred by Americans ignited by President Trump. We grieve with a heavy heart and weariness.”
Ajijic is about 1,000 miles from El Paso, but the shock waves are felt well beyond the border and by Americans and Mexicans. Overall, the U.S. Embassy estimates that 1.5 million U.S. citizens call Mexico home, a number that’s growing and fluctuates year-round, depending on weather patterns in the U.S. In the winter and summer, for instance, the number of Americans rises, particularly from Texas.
This community of more than 11,000 people, about a 30-minute drive from Guadalajara, has long been one of the most popular destinations for thousands of Americans and Canadians. Over the generations, Americans have coexisted with their hosts, so-called Tapatios, as Mexicans are known in this western region in the state of Jalisco.
It’s a coexistence that’s largely worked because of mutual tolerance. Residents-turned-unofficial diplomats describe it as a marriage of convenience. The relationship mirrors the complicated ties between the U.S. and Mexico. It’s never been without tensions.
Taxi driver Gustavo Villaseñor, 34, says he often feels degraded when American passengers tell him he should learn English to earn better tips.
“I just nod my head and smile,” he said. “It’s humiliating, but why make it worse? Things are volatile enough that you don’t want the simmering fire to get out of control. You have to remember that we’re dealing with a man (Trump) who’s not all there, someone who inspires hate.”
Villaseñor sees the divisiveness exported to Ajijic from the U.S. via cable news and talk radio courtesy of Wi-Fi. He recalls seeing Americans, divided by Trump, throw punches in the picturesque plaza as Americans and Canadians sipped their cappuccinos and Mexican cab drivers and police looked on in disbelief.
“Finally, one of them walked away and the fight ended,” he said. “It was bizarre because everyone acted like nothing happened. But this massacre in El Paso is very upsetting because of what he did. You can’t ignore that.”
The confessed El Paso shooter, Patrick Crusius, 21, of Allen, surrendered to a motorcycle officer minutes after the massacre and said he was targeting Mexicans. Before the first shots were fired, an unsigned manifesto that reads more like a rant, titled “The Inconvenient Truth,” appeared online. Police say the author was Crusius who, in part, wrote that he feared the “Hispanic invasion” of Texas would lead to a “political coup.”
The rant omits the fact that the U.S. Southwest and beyond once belonged to Mexico.
“Who invaded who?” asked Michael Hogan, originally from Rhode Island and now a Guadalajara-based poet, historian and author of Abraham Lincoln and Mexico. “I’m astounded by the ignorance of Americans. The rhetoric has to go beyond Democrats and Republicans, Trump and AMLO,” Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
“We must get to the root of the problem because kids are being separated and now people are dying,” he said. “We need solutions, not hatred.”
Mexico vows solidarity, talks tough as the nation copes with the El Paso massacre
Eight Mexican citizens died in the El Paso massacre, prompting Lopez Obrador’s government to condemn the act as “terrorism.” Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard and the Mexican ambassador to the United States denounced the “xenophobic and racist discourse” that they say contributed to the deadliest attack against Mexicans and Mexican Americans on U.S. soil in recent memory.
“The intentionality of the attack against the Mexicans and the Latino community in El Paso is frightening,” the ambassador, Martha Bárcena, wrote on Twitter. “NO to hate speech. NO to xenophobic discourse.”
While Mexicans here applaud their government’s swift condemnation, many say the Lopez Obrador government needs to do more to protect their countrymen abroad and capitulate less to the anti-immigrant policies of the Trump administration.
In June, Trump threatened to slap tariffs on all goods imported from Mexico if the country didn’t do more to stop the flow of Central American immigrants to the U.S. That, said Ebrard, would have led to the loss of some 200,000 jobs in Mexico. Under pressure, Mexico responded by sending 21,000 national guardsmen to its southern and northern border to “rescue” migrants.
Many Mexicans dread the arrival of Central Americans who they see as competition for jobs, but they dislike even more their government’s reaction, which some referred to as “complicit.”
“It hurts our dignity, especially after the shooter targeted Mexicans,” said Ricardo Santana, a cab driver from Guadalajara, who has family in El Paso and once worked in California’s construction industry. “But what can we do? We’re codependent on one another, for better or worse.”
One high-ranking official insisted the government will study Trump’s language in the weeks and months to come as the 2020 election nears. In doing so, Mexican officials will determine whether the Lopez Obrador administration should change its approach to Trump, underscoring the delicate fine line Mexico has to walk.
Lopez Obrador has proposed meeting with Trump in September, though that reunion hasn’t been confirmed.
Francisco Javier Renteria, a construction worker, doesn’t like that. “I wish our president wouldn’t talk to him (Trump). Ignore him. Save face.”
MacGregor, a former civil rights activist and former educator, pointed to the changing demographics in both countries to explain their mutual dependence on each other. The U.S. is aging, while Mexico’s average age is 27 and its economy ranks 15th in the world.
Despite Mexico’s own problems with raging drug violence that claims many lives daily, “I feel safe here because the criminals are targeting one another, not Mexicans in general, or Americans. There are not as many gun nuts running around here,” he said. “There’s a sense of hope here that I don’t feel in the United States. Things are looking up, but we need them and they need us to thrive.”
For now, as Mexico’s Independence Day celebration approaches in September, some locals are making plans to reinforce the ties of friendship between both nations via special art exhibitions and other events. Bryen, a coordinator at Open Circle, is helping organize Moments of Grace, an event for Americans to show their gratitude to Mexicans.
“I have no fear living here. I love this place and the friendly, warm people,” said Bryen who has lived in Ajijic for nearly 10 years. “But as an American I am embarrassed by the hatred we’re seeing and by those who try to impose their culture on others. It’s embarrassing.”