Downtown Magnets High School

Opinion: Xenophobia against Central Americans in the Mexican community

Growing up Mexican in a Mexican dominated community, I would often hear other Mexicans pettily criticizing Central Americans they didn’t even know.

They would say hurtful things like “These Central Americans need to go back to their homes, why are they causing problems for us?” I never understood the tension between Mexicans and Central Americans until recently.

Due to Mexico’s long history of xenophobic behavior against Central America and its people, there are no concrete practices of solidarity among the Latinx community. Xenophobia in Mexico resulted due to Mexico’s superiority complex as a settler colonial state.

Being renamed “New Spain” by the Spanish in 1521, Mexico’s population of indigenous people started to drastically decrease following the mixing of Spanish and Native races.

As explained by Roberta Estes in a 2013 article published on the Native Heritage Project, “The system of castas, or genizaros was inspired by the assumption that the character and quality of people varied according to their birth, color, race and origin of ethnic types … It impacted every aspect of life, including economics and taxation.”

As a native, being mixed with European blood gave you a higher position in the caste system as mestizos (someone of Indigenous and European origins) were the third highest class in the system. As the Spanish would mix with the Natives to “whiten the race”, oftentimes without consent, many developed this idea that having a lighter skin complex meant being superior.

Seeing as Mexico was the central location of this mixing, it is no surprise that many Mexicans are white Latinxs (a Latinx that has more European ancestry than Native). Countries of Central America, with predominantly darker skinned Latinxs, became targets of discrimination and xenophobia from a colorist, xenophobic and nationalist Mexico.

Mexicans and Mexico need to start realizing that they are actively participating in the erasure of Central Americans and start taking responsibility because said cultural erasure results in Central Americans not being represented enough, Central Americans being confused for being Mexicans and hate crimes (ranging from xenophobia, nationalism, and colorism) against Central Americans by Mexicans being drastically high.

Though many may think of the Latinx community as indistinguishable, the truth is the complete opposite. The Latinx community contains various distinct types of people that each have their own traditions.

However, due to this misunderstanding of what a Latinx really is, Mexicans end up being the focus of the community and thus misrepresentation for Central Americans is created. Compared to Mexicans, Central Americans rarely receive proper representation and therefore lack a voice in the media. Many Central Americans, are not able to comfortably express their cultural identity due to misinformation.

In a 2018 article in Next City, Victor Interiano said former president Trump referring to MS-13 gang members as “animals” is dangerous language. 

“(That’s) one very small part of what El Salvador is,” Interiano said to Next City in 2018. “The narrative has been taken away from us. We’ve never had our story be told in our terms.”

Many times, Central Americans are misunderstood by virtue of misrepresentation.

Consequently, Central American’s ability to speak out about their culture is hindered due to misrepresentation and cultural erasure. As written in the Next City article, “For many Central Americans, growing up in the L.A. area meant confronting the pressures of assimilation not just from white U.S. culture, but also from the Mexican-American communities in which they were raised.”

The first steps to ensure that Central Americans can be seen by the media includes Mexicans coming to terms with their privilege as the face of the Latinx community. Until that’s done, the cultural erasure of Central Americans will persist. 

For Central Americans, it’s difficult to express one’s cultural identity when the general public remains ignorant on the topic of Latin American identities. Both non-Latinx and Mexican peoples routinely use Mexican and Latinx as interchangeable terms. Not only is this false but it is harmful to Central American communities as this further perpetuates their cultural erasure.

Although such circumstances make it onerous for Central Americans to be able to speak out about their culture, the youth of this community has already begun to speak up for themselves. Their fight toward their cultural identity gaining acknowledgement by the general public does not only include seeking proper representation in the media and abolishing their cultural erasure but it also encompasses confronting the violence that they face by Mexicans. 

Central American identity being acknowledged by others is difficult to achieve seeing as they receive little media attention and constantly face cultural erasure by both non-Latinx and Mexican peoples. On top of that, Central Americans are subjected to extreme cases of violence ascribable to nationalistic, xenophobic, and colorist Mexicans and government officials.

According to a 2018 article published in The New Humanitarian, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission reported that incidents of Mexican authorities abusing migrants have increased by 40% since the immigration crackdown.”

Unfortunately, so many Central American countries are overrun by corrupt government officials inducing high rates of poverty and violence that make the country inhabitable for civilians. Subsequently, the civilians are forced to flee the country in hopes of procuring safer communities, in many cases Mexico or the United States, in which to reside just to be met with violence from Mexican government officials.

In spite of that, violent behavior towards Central Americans stemming from Mexicans is not reduced to simply government officials. It also entails Mexican civilians who express abhorring reactions in response to Central American immigrants biding in Mexico.

According to The New Humanitarian 2018 article, “People who live on the dirt road near the old migrant shelter say they’ve gotten ferocious guard dogs or put stronger locks on their doors to protect themselves from migrants.”

What if one of them gets inside our house while I’m in the bathroom, kills my husband and robs us?“ Maria Lopez said to The New Humanitarian in 2018.

Preposterous conclusions such as the aforementioned one derive from false narratives created to paint Central American identity as a dangerous entity. It is pivotal to comprehend that the injustices that the Central American community encounter on a daily basis emanating from Mexicans are not solely limited to a government body but that it spans out to the civilian population to even participate in Central American discourse. 

When first met with such claims, it is expected for the accused to become defensive. Nevertheless, it is imperative for Mexican’s to come to terms with their privilege in the Latinx community and long history of violence against Central Americans. A common manner of countering the previous claims mentioned is by arguing that a couple of Mexicans do not represent the entirety of the Mexican community. However it is not just “a few Mexicans” that participate in Central American cultural erasure and acts of violence against the Central American community.

We cannot completely dismiss the fact that Mexico, as a country, works with the US to deport countless Central Americans. According to the International Crisis Group website, “Mexico effectively acts as an operating arm of U.S. immigration control. It stops hundreds of thousands of Central Americans from traveling north, deporting more of them than the U.S. since 2015.” Numerous Central Americans that are deported by Mexico are everyday people who only seek a safer domain.

It is understandable that Mexico and the US would work together to prevent gang members from Central American countries from entering into North America but the current organization in place handling this complication is exceedingly flawed. Consequently, an excessive amount of Central Americans that are in need of protection are turned away and sent back to the very place they sought to run away from.

Correspondingly, we must not forget that migrants, specifically women, coming into Mexico for the migration process face countless violent and sexual acts from the country.

As explained by Anjali Fleury in a 2016 United Nations University article, “In addition to the risks of extortion, kidnapping, and violence that migrants face, migrant women are also vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence, including rape and sexual assault. Women experience sexual violence and forced disappearances often near the border.” 

It cannot be just a couple of members from the Mexican community that partake in cultural erasure and violent acts against the Central American community when this issue is deeply rooted into Mexican government and history and is manifested into the actions of the public. 

Mexicans and Mexico need to start realizing that they are actively participating in the erasure of Central Americans and start taking responsibility because said cultural erasure results in Central Americans not being represented enough, Central Americans being confused for being Mexicans and hate crimes (ranging from xenophobia, nationalism, and colorism) against Central Americans by Mexicans being drastically high.

For those who are not knowledgeable on the concerning topic, it is for the best to read about and listen to Central American’s struggles and experiences. Mexicans should at the very least recognize their privilege amongst the Latinx community and hopefully work with one another to ensure that their actions and voices do not overpower those of Central Americans.

This ordeal serves as  a reminder that even in marginalized communities the act of discrimination exists and that as a society we should be concerning ourselves with the many unjust actions that have taken place and are taking place in our world.