Editor’s Note: Felix Sanchez is the chairman and co-founder of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
Felix Sanchez: Trump visits border but seems not to understand how much Laredo has changed
Sanchez: His anti-immigrant rhetoric, displayed on his border trip, is doing a lot of damage to GOP
Growing up in San Antonio, my parents never had any fear of driving my sister and me 2½ hours to visit my Aunt Ofelia and Uncle Henry in Laredo, Texas.
Trump, a New Yorker, who lives in a city with a much higher crime rate than Laredo, said he had put himself at “great danger” coming to the southern border. Yet another example of exaggerating the truth.
Trump paid the city of Laredo a drive-by visit Thursday, spending just enough time off his plane to say he’d been to the U.S.-Mexico border. The border is after all where Trump figuratively and now literally started his quixotic campaign for president of the United States.
Trump’s litany of incendiary characterizations against Mexican immigrants who have crossed the border has resurrected the 1988 George H.W. Bush presidential campaign playbook. Trump’s vitriol has attempted to transform Latinos into the new Willie Horton, the new American boogeyman readily acceptable for public crucifixion. Trump is fanning the flames of xenophobia in an older generation of American voters who fear the demographic shift that positions them in a less powerful status. I mean where do you go from having a black president for eight years?
Trump is creating his own “voodoo” immigration policy replete with the call for a new wall to be paid for by the Mexican government. Trump’s version of magical realism would turn back the clock, shut out the stranger among us and lead Americans back to white dominance.
But gone are the days when William Holden, Macdonald Carey and William Bendix walked the “Streets of Laredo” as the characters they depicted in the 1949 film about three outlaws whose lawlessness was excused by their attempt to rescue a damsel in distress.
The romanticized Laredo of yesteryear will never return because 90% of Laredo’s population is Mexican-American. Mexican-Americans are mostly multigenerational Americans who are the backbone of the American Southwest; they are not the culprits Trump attempts to “code-word” into scapegoats for all that is failing in America.
Trump’s fuzzy math on rapists, criminals and murders that cross our southern border is resonating with a key segment of the Republican Party – Trump’s rise in the polls confirm it. Meanwhile, the Latino perception of Trump’s message is reinforcing a gestalt that Republicans are anti-Latino.
The Republican Party remains paralyzed, unable to shout down Trump and kick the schoolyard bully off the campaign stage. While Lindsey Graham, Rick Perry and Marco Rubio have attempted to duke it out with Trump, all have been sullied by him over their own duplicity and stupidity of having previously courted the businessman for money and endorsements. Let no good Trump deed go unpublicized.
Laredo city officials, when asked Thursday about a wall, politely said they thought it was not necessary at this time. Trump maintained that a wall was needed in some parts of the border but did not give any specifics.
Republicans loved Ronald Reagan for tearing down the wall between East and West Germany, which brought about German reunification and ultimately helped Germany become a powerhouse in the world economy. And in the same breath, a critical segment of the Republican Party embraces the Trump rhetoric to build a new wall separating northern and southern border economies.
How does this politiconovela end?
The plot twist has occurred. The election date has been psychologically moved up from November 2016 to the summer of 2015. The virtual election is at a turning point – daily, on social media Latinos are saddling up with anyone but Trump and the Republican Party.
The negative political alliance between Trump and the GOP is being connected both consciously and subconsciously on a daily basis and soon it may be impossible to undo the damage. Following this trend, less than 27% of the Latino community (the percentage Mitt Romney got in 2012) will likely vote for the Republican presidential candidate, and no amount of “Ave Marias” from the Republican Party will bring it back to life after its death by Trump. The choice for the Republican National Committee is either to speak truth to power now or accept a loss of future power.
I wish Trump would emulate the storyline and role Rock Hudson played in the 1956 American film classic “Giant,” directed by George Stevens and based on a novel by Edna Ferber. The film, which also starred Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, Sal Mineo and Elsa Cárdenas, tells the story of a rich bigoted Texas oilman who cannot accept his son’s marriage to a Mexican woman. Yet Hudson’s character is transformed when he comes to understand the downtrodden Mexican migrants, who toil in the hot fields picking fruit and cotton. By the film’s end, Hudson, who sees himself through his grandson, becomes a defender of the Mexican people who share his great state of Texas with him.
If only reality could mirror fiction.