Travel in the time of Trump: Election Day and after in Mexico

One of the interesting parts of our trip is finding out how the world reacts to President Donald Trump. We get to see the situation on the ground and hear from normal people, far from the rhetoric of politics. Since this isn’t a point of view you normally hear, these experiences provide insight into how things in the world have changed since the election. These posts won’t have as many pictures, they won’t be as touristy, and they may be uncomfortable.

The Mexican flag over a building in Mexico City.

When I picked Mexico as the starting point of our trip, we had just begun the 2016 election cycle insanity. Despite the election rhetoric in the U.S. at the time, the residents of Mexico City and the Yucatan were wonderfully friendly to us the whole trip.

Driving the Puuc Route in the Yucatan. The only day we were ever stopped at checkpoints was November 9, the day after the election.

The first mention of Trump in Mexico was on November 8, election day. We were driving the Puuc Route and visiting ancient Maya ruins. At one ruin, we were buying our tickets for entry to one ruin when the clerk asked “De dónde eres?” (Where are you from?) When we replied we were from the U.S., he laughed and asked “Why aren’t you there to vote?!” We laughed, too. “We already voted by mail. And we didn’t vote for Trump.” The three of us agreed that we hoped he wouldn’t win—it would be terrible for the U.S. relationship with Mexico. Then we skipped off to the ruins.

Carvings at a ruin along the Puuc Route.

When we woke the next morning, Trump had won the election. We penned this article out of sincere worry about what would happen, then spent the day being stopped at every police/military roadblock we passed through. The guards weren’t happy to see us, and took the liberty of rummaging through all of our backpacking equipment. They asked questions about every single pill in our first-aid kits and made veiled threats about locking us up if we were carrying drugs. We knew why. If a country had just elected someone to the highest office in the land that maligned and denigrated you and your people, you’d be angry too. Angry, but helpless to make change or retaliate against that country at any meaningful level. But if you’re a checkpoint agent, you can give someone from that country a hard time, and feel like you have done something.

At one checkpoint we told an agent in Spanish that we hadn’t voted for Trump. That didn’t help. The agent sputtered, then told us that it had nothing to do with that. “We’re looking for drugs! Tourists come down here with drugs and cause problems,” he insisted angrily. That’s an unlikely story, given that of the twelve checkpoints we passed through over the week before and after the election, this day was the only day we were stopped–twice.

We knew why they really stopped us. They knew why they really stopped us. And because we had alluded to it, suggested that they would be so petty, they gave us an even stricter search. The head agent demanded our passports. Worrying that the agents might not give them back, we asked if a photocopy would suffice. The agent said no. “You must have the original. It is the law that you need to take your passports with you everywhere.” So we rummaged through the disheveled mess that the agents had made of our stuff in the back of the car, searching for our passports. Stoytcho’s was easy to find, but mine wasn’t where it was supposed to be in the pack. “It’s not here” I told the agent, embarrassed. “You have to have it. Or else…” he made the motion of being handcuffed. I could almost feel the irony in his voice. “How does it feel? To be desperately searching in the dark for papers which prove your worth, with heavily-armed and terrifying government agents looming above you. This is quid pro quo. This is for what you’ve done to my people in your country.”

It looked like there were two choices: either I would have to beg to be let go, or let the agent book me. It was dark and we were exhausted from the day, so begging would be the faster way out of this situation. But I could feel a stubborn fury against authority rising in me, a desire to call his bluff. The paperwork on any booking is a pain, so what would he do if I was dead serious and said “I can’t find it. Cuff me.” Then again, they could also cuff me, throw me in a car, and have me sit there for a few hours, no paperwork needed. Thankfully, I neither begged nor offered my wrists, but instead called to Stoytcho, “Honey, have you seen my passport?” He remembered we had used it while checking into the hostel, and with a few moments to think we figured out where we put it afterward. We presented both of our passports to the head agent and he whisked them away.

What followed was a somewhat uncomfortable five minutes as we began repacking our belongings and the agents stood around the car. It was as if some spell had been broken, as if the agents had yanked a twisted mask from a figure only to find a regular person behind it. They mostly looked away from us, or down, or into the darkness where their commander had gone. One tried to make conversation with us. “Where have you been on your trip?” he asked. We told him in our broken Spanish about visiting Mexico City, and about our time in the Yucatan. That everywhere we visited had been fun and interesting. That overall we had liked Mexico. I could feel the fury in me from before ebbing, replaced with a mix of resignation and regret. I wanted to tell him that I was sorry for the way our country treated Mexican immigrants, and for everything the president-elect had said. I wanted to tell him that he had a right to be angry, and we were angry too. I wanted to tell him that I hoped things would be alright between the U.S. and Mexico. But I remembered what happened when we said we hadn’t voted for Trump earlier. I didn’t say anything.

The head agent returned and handed us our passports. “You’re free to go,” he said politely. “Thank you,” we replied automatically. He nodded, then waved at us and mechanically said “goodnight.” We replied “goodnight”, got into our car, and drove away from the checkpoint into the darkness.

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