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American Argues 'Mexicans Can Make America Great'


When Donald Trump announced his run for the presidency, one of the first speeches he made, and one of the most quoted since, was about Mexicans crossing the border. He used words like criminals, rapists and drug dealers. And one of the people most annoyed by these comments might surprise you. Lincoln Smith calls himself a gringo from Oregon who spent the past decade working in Mexico. He wrote an essay titled "How Mexicans Can Make America Great" for the blog medium.com.

In it, he says there's a lot America can and should learn from Mexico. And we thought that was interesting, so we called him up. Lincoln, thanks so much for joining us.

LINCOLN SMITH: Oh, thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So, first of all, this is a pretty lengthy piece. You talk about NAFTA, you talk about family values, lots of different topics, seems like this was something percolating for a while.

SMITH: Yes. Actually, I've been watching this election play out from the border for the past year and just really can't believe the things that Trump has been saying. I work with Mexicans from all walks of life, and his vision of Mexico and Mexicans does not match reality. So besides - wanted to kind of put a different perspective out there from, you know, a white guy on the border. And besides the negativity of Trump, there's actually a lot of positives that could come out of a better relationship with Mexico.

MARTIN: Well, let's talk about some of these topics, for example, NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. One of the things that you say that a lot of Americans might be surprised to learn is that it's actually controversial among Mexicans. Why is that?

SMITH: Right. The purpose of NAFTA was to open up trade or encourage trade between the NAFTA-participating countries. The idea was that you'd have more importing and exporting between U.S. and Mexico as well. So when the borders and the rules started to change and trade started to open up, actually the very efficient American companies began exporting into Mexico and actually out-competing many of Mexico's industries, especially agriculture. And so you hear a lot of, I guess, negative comments from some people negatively impacted by NAFTA in the U.S., but many people aren't used to actually, I guess, conceptualizing that many of these big U.S. companies shipping over to Mexico actually outcompete in many of their industries as well.

MARTIN: Well, one of the other points you make is that on the border - that a lot of commerce flows in both directions, which is a stark contrast to the trade that we have with other parts of the world. For example, you point out that Mexico is actually the U.S.'s second-largest customer for American exports and that, you know, a lot of Mexican companies actually buy not just, you know, raw goods, but they also buy consumer goods. And do you think - is that something you think a lot of Americans don't know?

SMITH: Yeah. I think you'd be surprised how many actual U.S. companies - and not just on the border, actually even further away - and I visit many of these companies as far as the Carolinas are actually supplying raw materials over to Mexico for them to make goods, which will then be, you know, processed and shipped back into the U.S.

MARTIN: And I want to move into an area that - as I said, this is a lengthy piece. But you also talk about some kind of nuanced - how can I put it? - sort of issues of perspective. And this is one passage that struck me. You say that one of the things that you appreciate about Mexico is brutal honesty and open self-criticism. Tell me a little bit more about that.

SMITH: Mexicans are brutally honest about the situation in their country. They don't try to hide the things that they're not happy with or look at the totality of the problems, you know, or look to blame people for those problems. They're very honest about it. And I guess I contrast that with Americans. We have a tendency, it seems with Trump and with a lot of the supporters where it's about blaming Mexicans and Mexico for so many of our problems without actually looking, I think, first, you know, is that actually the cause?

MARTIN: To the other side of the question, though. You say several times that, you know, this might sound crazy to Americans, but this is actually - there are a lot of these habits of being that Americans could really benefit from. But let's talk about the other side of that. You can say you know what? Mexico has a very rich and important, you know, culture and a vibrant economy of its own. People actually love their country, and they don't want to leave it. On the other hand, there is a serious crime problem, and that is a driver for many people to want to emigrate. So I'm not defending the way he said it, but couldn't you look at that and say to - somebody like Donald Trump to look at that and say, well, you know, that's what I'm talking about?

SMITH: I wouldn't say that Mexico is perfect. But I definitely think that it is not the picture that Donald Trump has painted. And one of, I think, the most important points I try to make in this article, too, is that a lot of this instability and the violence and the issues that we have that they suffer from in Mexico, a lot have causes in the United States. The biggest one of those is the demand for illegal drugs. And definitely Mexico, this entire time, has been feeling the effects of that because normal citizens don't benefit from illegal drug trades. But they do feel the consequences of the violence, the instability that it creates. So the point of view of Trump is that, you know, it's out of control in Mexico without realizing of how much we're a part of that.

MARTIN: That's Lincoln Smith. He wrote an essay for medium.com called "How Mexicans Can Make America Great Again." We reached him at his office in Ciudad Juarez in Mexico. Lincoln, thanks so much for speaking with us.

SMITH: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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