Frank Lara grew up in Calexico. His family still lives there and he visits regularly.
Trump, anointed El Trompas by many of us Spanish-speakers, visited the small border town of Calexico, California April 5. Located on the border between California and Mexico, Calexico (CAL-EXICO on the U.S. side and MEXI-CALI on the Mexican side) is an apt name for a city closely knitted to both sides of the border. El Trompas chose a city where 96 percent of the population is “Hispanic,” to address the issue of “border security.” Those of us from Calexico know there are issues with the border but not exactly the ones Trompas and his supporters want to address.
Calexico, like most border towns, has an interdependent relationship with our Mexican family across the person-made fence. The economies and societies are intertwined – so much so that weekends and outings consist of folks from either side crossing regularly to shop, dine, enjoy nightlife and culture, and most importantly work.
On a daily basis, hardworking Mexican and U.S. laborers (many U.S. citizens live in Mexicali because the cost of living is so cheap) cross the border to work the fields of “El Valle Imperial” (the Imperial Valley), one of the most productive agricultural regions in the country. The workers wait in line to cross the border starting as early as 2 a.m. so that they can get on the work buses heading to the fields at 5 a.m. They don’t return from work until 4 in the afternoon and don’t arrive at their homes in Mexico until late afternoon, only to repeat the arduous routine the next day.
Thousands of commercial trucks cross the border every day. Millions of dollars in business depend on the more than 1 million residents of Mexicali. The purchasing power of these residents has made the Calexico Super Walmart one of the most profitable Walmart stores in the country.
This level of activity is felt by drivers trying to get across, spending on average one and a half hours undergoing border inspections. It is not uncommon for drivers to spend four hours in smoldering heat waiting to get to the U.S. And contrary to U.S. propaganda, from both the Republican and Democrat politicians, Mexicans don’t want to come to live in the U.S.; they are happy in Mexico but like cheap consumer products and higher wages.
The real catastrophe
This context points to the absurdity of the visit of El Trompas. The real catastrophe at the border stems from the high levels of poverty – a direct result of policies by this administration and its predecessors. Calexico and the whole Imperial Valley depend on the super-exploitation of Mexican workers. Low-wage and part-time jobs completely dominate the region. Businesses hire Mexican workers and U.S. workers willing to live in Mexico because they don’t have to give these workers full-time work with benefits.
The cost of living, a major pressure point for struggle, is alleviated because on the Mexican side, it is not uncommon for rent and utilities to cost $200 per month for a small house. The best-paid jobs tend to be public positions like teachers and the police. Unfortunately, Homeland Security, the one department that seems to get unlimited funding from the federal government (similar to the Pentagon) is the major employer. It can pay an entry salary of $75,000 in a region where the average annual pay is closer to $30,000
Another major issue is the collapse of the real-estate market. Since 2008, the major expansion of suburban houses halted and the value of houses fell along with the economy. Many families were suddenly caught with loans on houses that were worth less than the price they paid. Today, multiple families live in a single home – a phenomenon more common in urban areas than suburban ones.
The story of Calexico is an all-to-common one under capitalist Amerika. Big banks, agribusiness, and the oppressive arm of the State all benefit from the super-exploitation of the working class on both sides of the border. El Trompas and his ilk could care less about the reality of our people. It is insulting that he chose Calexico as a staging ground for his infantile spectacle. Many are coming out and justly protesting his presence. May we also raise the struggles of “La Frontera,” and demand an end to the border that serves no purpose except to divide the communities that mutually respect and depend on each other.
- Full-time and well-paid jobs.
- Professional training for public-sector jobs.
- Investment in local businesses.
- Federal funding to build and improve public schools.
- Less rigorous border inspections for quicker border crossing.
- An end to the border wall.