David Cogswell | July 29, 2016 12:00 PM ET
Mexico Before the Wall
By the time you read this I will be in Mexico on a trip with Tia Stephanie Tours called "Art, Culture and Cuisine of Mexico City." You hear a lot of talk these days about going to Cuba “before it changes” and the same about Myanmar. Now I think it might be appropriate to say something similar about Mexico. I want to visit Mexico before The Wall is built.
As of this writing, Donald Trump is the nominee of the Republican Party and is leading in the polls to win the election and become the next president of the United States, beginning Jan. 20. Polls may be wrong, but right now there is a better than 50 percent chance that our next president will be Trump.
When he announced his candidacy he declared that he would build a wall along the border of the U.S. and Mexico, and he added that he would make Mexico pay for it. Apparently, the idea was well received by many Americans and Trump went ahead to mow down 15 other candidates to win the Republican nomination.
Some say he doesn’t really mean it and the wall will never be built. But we have also seen many people sorely regret not having taken Trump seriously up to now. There is more than an even chance Trump will be president and there is some chance that he will try to make good on one of his signature campaign pledges, building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
We can speculate about how Cuba will change, though we can’t really know for sure how that change will evolve, and the same is true for Mexico. Right now it is very uncertain what will happen with the wall, if anything. If Trump decides to go ahead with it, he has not yet revealed how he will “get Mexico to pay for it.” It’s likely to cost a pretty penny and I don’t get any signals that the Mexican government is going to happily foot the bill.
Since the Mexicans are apparently not jumping at the chance to fund the new Great Wall along their Norteamericano border, I have to assume that Trump has in mind some way to make them do it. He has built a legend of himself as a great dealmaker, so we might be wise to give him the benefit of the doubt. He may come up with an offer they can’t refuse that will persuade the Mexicans to construct his vision for him.
How will he coerce them? What does he have in mind? Will there be repercussions? Will the U.S. and Mexico become enemies?
Once the wall is built, who will be able to pass through? If the Mexicans build it, will they control it? Or will they finance it and then cheerfully hand it over to us to control? Trump obviously envisions the wall as a way to keep Mexican “rapists and drug dealers” out of the U.S. Will it also keep Americans out of Mexico?
I don’t have a clue as to the answer to any of these questions. The possibilities I refer to seem so far beyond the norm that discussing them seems like a joke. But they are logical questions to ask about the stated policies and intentions of the man who may be president a few months from now.
Meanwhile, I’m not letting the grass grow beneath my feet. I am looking forward to my first visit to Mexico City to explore its great history and culture. I’m especially eager to look at the homes and museums of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, two legendary painters and cultural icons of revolutionary Mexico in the early 20th Century.
Whatever happens in terms of the future of relations between the two countries, I will not have missed my opportunity to see Mexico City for myself. And I will secure for myself the right to tell my grandchildren that I made it to Mexico before the building of the wall.
I will be happy to tell them I lived at a time in history when the world moved toward an opening of borders and increasing cooperation between nations, a time when a U.S. president said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall.”
Though the world seems to be moving in the opposite direction now, I will continue to hope and strive for an opening between countries, not a closing off; to friendship and cooperation, not alienation.
I will continue to cherish the vision of my friend the late Alexander Harris, the founder of General Tours (now Alexander + Roberts). A Jewish-Polish soldier and war prisoner during World War II, Harris was one of the first to open up travel between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Red Scare of the 1950s. He dedicated his life to eliminating barriers between the peoples of the world and titled his memoir “Breaking Borders.”
Sometimes when I feel that we are plunging into a new Dark Age, I am reminded of the words of Winston Churchill, who said that if the world could stand up to fascism, “all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the light of perverted science.”
Sometimes it feels as if history has gone into reverse.
How wonderful those "broad, sunlit uplands" sound! Meanwhile, no matter how powerless we may sometimes feel in regard to these matters, we should take heart in remembering that these questions are ultimately in the hands of the people of the world, not just a few powerful men, though it often appears otherwise.
I take comfort in the words of Willis Harman, who said, “no matter how powerful the economic or political or even military institution it persists because it has legitimacy, and that legitimacy comes from the perceptions of people. People give legitimacy and they can take it away. A challenge to legitimacy is probably the most powerful force for change to be found in history.”
If we individuals continue to travel and act as individual ambassadors for our country, maybe we can help work against the hate and fear that seem to be engulfing many people. We can exercise a grassroots diplomacy that may help in the long run to build friendly relations and peace between countries.
That is why I believe now more than ever that travel is one of the great hopes of the world.
It may be reassuring to note that when the Berlin Wall did finally come down, it was not Gorbachev who tore it down but the people of Berlin themselves.
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