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Celebrating Mexico’s Independence Day Under the Shadow of a Giant Wall

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The horns I can hear reverberating around the streets aren’t from football fans streaming out after a match: its the sound of Mexico’s independence night approaching. But with thousands of disappeared people, high unemployment, and privatized services on the one hand, and racist attacks on Mexico and Mexicans on the other hand, celebrating the country is not so straight forward.

My neighbor said she would be having a quiet dinner of pozole – a traditional soup often eaten on Independence Day – with her family, while others told me they would be protesting.

Tonight, the state governor here in Puebla will remember the independence heroes at 11pm from the main balcony of the Municipal Palace with a grito (shout of independence), and many people will set off their firecrackers and smash painted eggs against their heads, while in the capital, thousands are already marching, calling for President Enrique Pena Nieto to resign. Tomorrow, formal civic-military marches will be held around the country.

With 60 percent of the country working in the informal sector – mostly selling goods in the streets or on transport, the national day is also an opportunity to earn some extra cash, and today the streets are full of people selling fire crackers, sombreros of all sizes, flags, mustaches, braids, giant soft toy chilies in sombreros and holding cans of tequila, hair ribbons, flag colored horns, handicrafts, flavored pulque, wigs, chalupas and burgers, figurines, and the painted eggs.

The butcher is wearing his sombrero with a Mexican-flag ribbon around it, waiters have Mexican flag bow-ties, and there’s papel picado (perforated paper ) adorning shop fronts and the streets.

But Limberth Villanueva didn’t feel that there was much to celebrate. People celebrate Independence Day “out of habit, like Christmas. It’s an excuse to eat and drink. It’s increasingly distant from its origins,” he said. And, rather than independent, Mexico is “dependent, reliant, and obedient, (especially) now with globalized economic neocolonialism”.

“We live under a government that has sold our country,” Jessie Cedillo told me.

On the other hand, with the likes of Donald Trump calling Mexicans “rapists”, perhaps being proud of the country, if not the government, is worth something.

US use and abuse of Mexico

Still, anti-Mexican prejudice is just the tip of the iceberg, and those who aren’t happy have good reasons. For over 20 years the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Mexico, the US, and Canada, has seen subsidized US corn flooding Mexico’s market, putting farmers out of work. The agreement has been“destroy[ing] Mexico’s own industries and jobs,” according to analyst Perez-Rocha and US companies like Walmart and Krispy Kreme have conquered Mexico’s markets.

Without NAFTA, Mexico could have had “European living standards today,” Economist Mark Weisbrot argued in the Guardian, pointing out that before NAFTA Mexico’s GDP per capita had nearly doubled, while since its signing, it has grown by less than 1 percent per year.

On top of that, the US-concocted war on drugs in Mexico has lead to a huge death toll. With the US spending over $1.3 billion on training Mexican security forces, crimes like killings, torture, and other abuses by those forces have dramatically increased.

And Insight Crime has found Mexico to be the country with the most people living in slave-like conditions, many of those people used by drug cartels to carry out illegal activities. Undocumented migrants in Mexico are also vulnerable to exploitation, and nearly 6,000 migrants have died on the Mexico-US border – that infamous area where Trump wants Mexico to build him a wall.

Resign already

At the same time, most Mexicans feel their own government isn’t looking after them either. Today’s #RenunciaYa (Resign Now) marches in the capital and other cities around the country have the slogan “there are more than enough reasons”.

It will be the fourth year in a row that when President Pena Nieto does the traditional grito, there’ll be more people protesting and booing, than celebrating.

Local newspaper, Sinembargo reported that in 2013, Pena Nieto’s first grito, the federal police entered the main square, the Zocalo, with tanks and removed hundreds of teachers who had been protesting education reforms. Last year, people screamed, “Nos faltan 43” – we’re short 43 people – in reference to the 43 teacher students who were violently disappeared in one night.

This year, as with other years, there are accusations of the government paying people to attend the grito. One contact who can’t be named said he had “friends” working in travel agents who were paid by government representatives to bus people in. Those people were apparently paid 400 pesos and given lunch.

Meanwhile, hundreds of riot police are lined up blocks away from the Zocalo to prevent protesters arriving there and calling on Pena Nieto to resign when he appears on the balcony of the presidential palace tonight.

People have recently criticized Pena Nieto for reportedly plagiarizing his university thesis, for inviting Donald Trump to Mexico, and for his neoliberal policies.

And Trump himself isn’t getting off lightly either. He is another reason they are marching today.

“He was invited (to Mexico) by the federal government, even though he has openly discriminated against us,” Ixchel Cisneros, told me.

A poll in Reforma, a daily newspaper, found that 85 percent of Mexicans believed inviting Trump was a mistake. His racism isn’t welcome here.

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Tamara Pearson is a long time journalist based in Latin America, and author of The Butterfly Prison. Her writings can be found at her blog.

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