On Wednesday, the refugee exodus that has been traveling throughout Mexico for several weeks was met with racist, anti-immigrant violence a few days after their arrival in Tijuana. As we bear witness to these threats, it’s important to make clear that they are more orchestrated than spontaneous, and that our voices can neutralize this hate.
The group of over 400 refugees, most from Honduras, were temporarily staying in Playas de Tijuana, which directly borders with Friendship Park in the United States. At around 8:30pm a group of right-wing Mexicans who identified themselves as local neighbors and “concerned citizens” began to gather directly in front of the refugees. They began giving speeches, but increasingly verbally assaulted, threatened, intimidated and harassed the Honduran refugees. Many of those refugees also identify as LGBTQ.
These individuals spewed racist, xenophobic, homophobic and anti-immigrant slurs we’ve heard from Trump supporters across the United States. Unsurprising for those who have heard this already from Mexico’s political elite since Mexico has its own share of racism and classism. But what is surprising is that they were combined with Trump’s predictable talking points about George Soros and the Democrats funding the caravan.
I imagine a U.S.-funded caravan wouldn’t have refugees sleeping in the cold streets of Playas de Tijuana.
As someone who was there attempting to dialogue and directly engage with the questions and concerns the protesters were raising, it was appalling to witness such vile hatred, misunderstanding, and racism towards the refugees. I had a chance to speak with some locals about their supposed “fears” about “immigrant invasions” but it quickly became clear many of the protestors were not there to talk, nor was this a spontaneous community response. They were there to incite hatred and to instigate violence.
The most violent and aggressive anti-immigrant voices were Trump supporters from Chula Vista attempting to make a name for themselves. One woman with a Facebook page called “Paloma for Trump” identifies herself as an “American from Mexico.” She consistently made the nonsensical (but now well-known) claims about how the Democrats and Soros were the main financiers of the caravan.
Notably, during a press conference on that same day, several self-described Trump supporters, namely “Frontline America with Ben Bergquam” and “Amy Sutton,” attended with the intent to disrupt.
We know, from Trump’s own words, that there are powerful political interests at play to criminalize the refugee caravan. Part of that effort includes this heightened level of fear between immigrants and refugees, and the local community. These anti-immigrant protests are clearly orchestrated from the top down. But the violence targeting refugees is real.
And it’s a stark reality check about the anti-immigrant lies being told by Trump, and being exported to other countries. These may be the early signals of anti-immigrant agitators based in the U.S. entering Mexico with the clear purpose to incite racism, to threaten and intimidate refugees. The question for the rest of us is whether we can play a role in ensuring that refugees can find a safe haven so far from home, and so close to the safety they seek.