Landing in Mexico City, the first thing that I was struck by was its size. It was incredible to see the expanse of the lights of the city against the night sky from up in the air on the plane. While I could see that the city was huge, I don’t think the scale of its size really hit me until we were on the ground traveling through it. This massive city is filled with diverse neighborhoods and people, and it was fascinating to experience its culture throughout our trip. The opportunity to speak with locals, eat the food, and view the architecture and art all around the city provided a unique glimpse into Mexican society and gave us some context for the election in progress.
We spent a large portion of our trip meeting with the different parties, candidates, and others involved in the election. We started with a variety of meetings in Mexico City. Our first stop was the U.S. Embassy, where we met with a spokesperson, a political officer, and an economic officer to discuss the state of Mexican-American relations and the interests of the U.S. in the Mexican election. I thought this meeting was particularly interesting because we had just arrived from the U.S. It was helpful to hear the .U.S perspective on the the potential consequences of the election. The embassy officials highlighted the election issues important to the U.S., including migration, foreign policy, and economic issues. They described what they believed the candidates would do on these issues and how that might have an impact on the U.S. They also emphasized the importance of trade between the U.S. and Mexico. There is $1.6 billion in trade every day between the two countries, so even though there have been tensions between the two nations, trade ties have remained strong. It was also incredible to see the number of Hoyas actively involved in Mexico, particularly in foreign service and politics. Two of the three people we met with at the embassy were Hoyas, as were others that we met with throughout the trip. It was extremely exciting to hear how they got from the Hilltop to their current positions.
Another meeting I really found interesting in Mexico City was with Agustin Barrios Gomez, an entrepreneur and former Mexican Congressman. Agustin highlighted the way that voting system works in Mexico and drew some comparisons between the political systems of the U.S. and Mexico. Something of interest in our conversation with him was his explanation of the voter identification system in Mexico. He emphasized that in order to have a voter identification system that does not lead to disenfranchisement, you need to be willing to put in the effort to ensure that everyone has access to it.
After a few days in Mexico City, we hopped on a bus to Leon, Guanajuato, to experience the more local side of the elections. We met with some candidates from the PRI, Green, and Morena parties to hear their thoughts on the election and their constituents. We also attended a rally of the PAN party, the most conservative party in Mexico. We listened to speeches made by two local candidates, as well as by presidential candidate Ricardo Anaya. The rally was a really exciting environment. There was music, chanting, and shockingly enough, a pride flag waving in the crowd. One member of the #HoyasInMexico team was able to chat with the man holding the flag, who described how he had been a supporter of the PAN party for many years, but felt that they needed to do better with connecting with the LGBTQ community.
This rally took place on the last night of campaigning. In Mexico, campaigning has to stop three days before the election in order to give citizens time to process all of the information and make their decisions. We also learned that each of the Mexican states has dry laws around the election, banning the sale of alcohol around the election. The exact laws vary from state to state, but in Mexico City, alcohol cannot be sold after midnight on the night before the election.
While we did spend a lot of our time in meetings, we also made time for fun touristy outings! One of my personal favorites were the pyramids of Teotihuacan. We climbed up the “Piramide de la Luna” (Pyramid of the Moon) and then the even taller “Piramide del Sol” (Pyramid of the Sun). The views from the top of the pyramids were incredible! I also loved our boat ride dinner at Xochimilco. Even though it was raining (read: thunder and lightning) for a good portion of the ride, we had a lot of fun getting food from the various vendors in boats along the canal.
We also spent time doing a walking tour of Mexico City, including Zocalo, the main square. We walked through the beautiful Palacio Nacional, where we saw murals by Diego Rivera. These parts of the trip were very fun, but also helped us get a better sense of Mexican history and culture.
As someone who doesn’t speak fluent Spanish, I was extremely out of my element in terms of communication. Everyone around me was constantly speaking in a language that I did not understand. Being unable to communicate with people around me was an extremely humbling experience.
I couldn’t believe how patient everyone was. All of the Mexican people that I attempted to communicate with, whether it be ordering food in restaurant, shopping in a market, or getting a ride in an Uber, really worked to understand what I was trying to say. Never was anyone offended by my lack of Spanish-speaking abilities. With everything going on in America right now, Mexico is often seen in a very negative light. People consider it a dangerous and hostile place. This could not have been farther from the hospitality we experienced. Every person we met graciously welcomed us to their city and seemed happy to have us there.
Something that I have been asked a lot since returning from Mexico is if I am happy with the result of the election. My response to this question has been very mixed. AMLO is being touted in the news as a leftist candidate. While in Mexico AMLO is to the left, he is not left for people familiar with U.S. Politics. Furthermore, throughout our trip and all of the reading that I did on the election, it seemed that while AMLO’s stance was very focused on being anti-poverty and anti-corruption, he didn’t really have any specific plans to fix these problems.
In my opinion, none of the candidates were particularly strong. However, we often heard that, because AMLO held such a large lead in the polls prior to the election--if he didn’t win, there could be major issues throughout Mexico. So in that sense, in order to keep the peace in Mexico, I am glad AMLO won, but I was not particularly rooting for him or anyone else to win as President. It will be interesting to see if and how he lives up to his campaign promises, and how he handles relations with the U.S. in the coming months and years.
I am incredibly grateful to GU Politics for providing the opportunity to experience Mexican culture and gain a deeper understanding of its political system through following this historic election!