Fuerza Mexico: After the earthquake

Trump: It’s a word that strikes frustration into the hearts of many. But what is it really like being his neighbour? In earthquake ravaged Mexico, it’s not easy…

Feature by Kate Morling | 07 Dec 2017

It hasn’t been the smoothest of years for my beloved, adoptive mother, Mexico. Dealing with a belligerent neighbour whose antics have devalued the Mexican Peso, and dehumanised her people to ‘murderers’ and ‘rapists’. And now, as her year draws to an end, Mother Nature has cruelly sent a series of earthquakes across the south and central regions, leaving thousands homeless, jobless or simply dead.

Death: it’s something we don’t like to think about often. In fact, for most of us, we have become incredibly adept at ignoring the big white skeleton in the room. Sometimes it takes an earthquake to shake you from giggling at the latest Trump meme on your iPhone, and to reconnect you with the fragility of human life. On 19 September, Mexico City and surrounding areas received that very shake.

“When do we beat Mexico at the border? They’re laughing at us, at our stupidity...” Donald Trump (16 June 2015)

I’ll never forget the night I watched Donald J. Trump elected into power. We sat eating pizza, laughing at the unfolding mess the world was plummeting into, the value of the Mexican Peso, and our paycheques, plummeting alongside it. We were indeed laughing – at the stupidity of it all. That a man with no political experience, a handful of bankrupt companies and enough tasteless ‘pussy’ quotes to keep John Oliver in material for centuries, was now the leader of ‘The Free World’.

The following day I was anxious to leave the house for fear of a backlash from those assuming I, an Australian, was an American. But the jeers never came, only a wave of ironic smiles that said, “Hey, at least you’re on our side of the wall.”

“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Donald Trump (16 June 2015)

On 19 September at 1.14pm my boyfriend, a Mexican, watched an apocalypse of falling buildings and gas pipe explosions from the swaying 43rd floor of one of Mexico City’s tallest buildings. My former employer and friend, a British citizen, lost everything she owned, but luckily not her life, when her apartment building collapsed with her still inside the lobby. My friends, a mixing pot of Mexicans, Americans, French, British and Venezuelans were scattered across our crumbling city, stranded due to traffic, panic and widespread damage, and struggling to contact loved ones due to poor cell coverage.

As a community, we watched the buildings fall. As a community we pulled our loved ones from the rubble.

There was a silence across Mexico City the following day. An eerie mourning of a country broken, bleeding and scared. The fear of aftershocks was silent yet drowning. You can somewhat protect yourself against robberies and violence, but how do you protect yourself from the Earth shaking beneath you without warning? Buildings in my neighbourhood still remain teetering like games of Jenga, waiting for the final block to be pulled. Others are empty lots where rubble once fell.

Three hundered and seventy people lost their lives in the S19 Earthquake, with at least another 6000 people injured. While much of the media focused on Mexico City itself, millions in surrounding areas to the south, in the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca were left isolated and without the resources to rebuild.

“People in the city centre are more likely to have the money, resources and support systems to get back on their feet,” says Alfonso Padilla, who two months after S19 continues to dedicate his time to one of many Centro de Acopios, or Aide Collection Centres, run by the community. “Not everyone has these means, which is why much of this aid is being sent out to rural areas, such as Oaxaca.

“In the days immediately after, it was about saving lives. Now our focus has shifted to preserving lives and giving these people their quality of life back.”

“The border is wide open for cartels & terrorists. Secure our border now. Build a massive wall & deduct the costs from Mexican foreign aid!” President Donald Trump (31 March 2015)

When Hurricane Harvey made landfall in the USA in August, flooding Houston and leaving a trail of destruction worth nearly $US200 billion and 77 dead, Mexico was one of the first countries to offer aid. Carlos Sada, Mexico’s deputy foreign minister for North America, called it “a demonstration of our neighbourliness; a show of solidarity.”

Following S19, Mexico has relied heavily on its neighbours, including the USA, and the wider global community, in its attempt to rebuild. But as the focus of the mainstream media moves on, the Mexican people are endeavouring to return to a state of normality, after facing their mortality.

In Mexico, death is faced the same way as life; with family, food, and ‘fiesta’. Day of the Dead falls on 2 November and is a celebration of the lives of loved ones who have died. Families and communities gather to create elaborate ‘ofrendas’ or offerings which allow passed relatives to cross back into the world of the living, to visit family, in a celebration through food and dance.

This year’s celebrations have been marked by an acknowledgment of those lost in the S19 Earthquake, as well as those who risked their lives to pull others from the rubble.

“You have to celebrate that you are alive, while moving on in a conscious way,” says Alfonso. “The trend on social media [of donating and volunteering] has passed, but we need to help keep the conversation going, as many continue to need help.”

"God bless the people of Mexico City. We are with you and will be there for you." Donald Trump (19 September 2017)

The Mexican culture is one that has captivated many. The food is rich and heavy, the music is fast paced and intoxicating, but most importantly the people here are warm and community-minded, something the current, global-political rhetoric fails to acknowledge.

I’m often asked by family and friends: when will I return to Australia? Why would I choose to live somewhere so dangerous and third world? And my answer is always simple – community. Every country in the world faces dangers, both natural and man-made. How we face those dangers says much about us as human beings.

Mexico is a country striving to secure its place in the first world, while battling social injustice, internal political corruption, natural disasters, and a problematic neighbour. And yet, as she rises from the rubble, she and her people are setting the world an example of how to truly ‘Love thy neighbour’.