David Lida on prejudice against Mexicans, and visiting San Miguel

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Since I began to work as a mitigation specialist, it became clear to me that in many communities prejudice against, and racism toward, Mexicans was pretty much “our daily bread,” among at least some whites. It would be very clear when I interviewed white people in those communities — teachers and school administrators, for example — and listened to their opinions and viewpoints about the Mexicans living in their midst. It occurred to me that many white Americans form their ideas about blacks, Mexicans, other Latinos, Muslims, and virtually anyone who is not white, without actually knowing anyone in that group. What they “know,” or think they know, comes from what they hear on Fox News, or read on the Breitbart web site, or from similar sources. Most towns and cities in the US no longer have downtowns, or downtowns where people hang out and get to know their neighbors. Most white Americans, therefore, live in isolation, in suburbs and strip malls. I believe things might be different if they actually knew people from those groups and realized how many values they shared with them.

Ever since I became a mitigation specialist, lawyers always stressed that the defense team wants to do everything in its power to avoid a trial and reach some kind of a settlement with the prosecution. Because you never know who you might end up with on a jury — some members might be very racist and very uneducated, and very eager to sentence our client to death. Now more than ever this seems crucial to me, especially in cases where we are working with a client who is Mexican. The jury pool has absorbed a message that Mexicans are criminals — from the President of the United States, no less.

I always like to do events about my books in San Miguel de Allende. There are many people — both Mexicans and people from the U.S. — who make fun of the U.S. community in San Miguel. I’m sure you’ve heard the old joke:

Q. What’s the difference between Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende?
A. In Guanajuato, the mummies are in the museum.

But I’ve done a bunch of events in San Miguel, and find that the community is intellectually curious and engaged, full of people with a good sense of humor, who are very much alive. In general, we share the same political beliefs; they’re kindred spirits. I’m 57 years old, so let’s just say I’m looking toward a horizon with less time than I have already lived. I hope that, should I be lucky enough to live to an old age, that I can do it an as satisfying a way as many of the people I’ve met in San Miguel.

– David Lida

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