MEXICO CITY – They’re laughing now.
The last two years have brought tension and some anger between this country and the United States, stoked by Donald Trump’s rhetoric and his remarkable ascendance to the American presidency. Trump’s promise of a border wall, paid for by Mexico, strained what has usually been a friendly relationship.
But on Thursday, in Estadio Azteca and elsewhere in the Mexican capital, there was more mockery than menace three days before the United States men’s national team plays Mexico in a crucial World Cup qualifier here.
“Ha ha ha, bad, bad, he sucks,” said Alejandro Garcasona, 33, when asked about Trump during El Tri’s 3-0 World Cup qualifying victory over Honduras.
And the wall?
“It’s a [expletive] stupidity, to build it,” he said. “Really, a joke.”
This week, a video from former Mexico president Vicente Fox – addressed to “the president of the electoral college of the United States” – made the rounds on social media. Fox insisted that “under no circumstances will we pay for this stupid, useless, racist monument.” He also unveiled a “schematic” he found on the “dark web” which “bad hombres” would use to defeat the border wall.
He unfurled a drawing of a ladder.
The wall is now somewhere between a laugh line and a point of pride for many Mexicans. Every day that passes without it is another indication it will never happen. And if it does?
“We are Mexico,” Garcasona said. “Our people will pass to the other side anyway, wall or no wall.”
One of the fans chiming in on the American president was an American.
“I voted for Trump,” said San Diego resident Joe Budano, who is here for the Mexico-USA game. “I just wish he would stop being a dumbass. Simple as that. We all want him to succeed but he can’t get out of his own way. He’s an amateur in an ocean of professionals. And it shows.”
Budano said he wouldn’t vote for Trump again. He called the idea to build a wall along the border “ridiculous.”
“We need a more steady hand, somebody who doesn’t use Twitter as much,” Budano said. “Now he’s had enough time and he hasn’t figured out how to be a president.”
Budano was at the Mexico-Honduras match with his wife, Martha, who was born here. She said she felt “insulted.”
“It’s tough because of the way he treats foreigners,” Martha said. “I’m a foreigner in the U.S. It’s very tough.
“He [Trump] doesn’t understand the point of a border, how people live in a border town. He doesn’t get that concept.”
Mexico’s soccer matches against the U.S. in this final World Cup qualifying round have come at interesting political moments.
Last November, El Tri traveled to Ohio in the days after the election and stunned the home side with a late goal to end a string of 2-0 losses on American soil. There was some fear of a clash between fan bases, but a canvassing of Mexico fans before the game revealed some optimism about the newly elected president.
“Maybe Trump will do something good, who knows,” one Mexico City native said.
There was no visible rancor between U.S. fans and Mexico fans that night in Columbus, as team captain Michael Bradley predicted days before. Said Bradley: “I would hope our fans do what they always do, which is support the team in the best, most passionate way possible. I would hope they give every person in that stadium the respect that they deserve.”
Nearly seven months later, the pre-match vibe is different. The wall’s future seems tenuous. Trump’s threats to pull out of NAFTA have been tempered, since he has alerted Congress of his intentions to renegotiate instead. Mexico’s stock market has mostly regained its November losses as the country’s economy posted its 15th straight quarter of expansion. And even some televisions here were tuned to the James Comey testimony on Thursday.
A couple of college students, taking selfies by a fountain before the Mexico-Honduras match, shrugged at the mention of the wall.
“It’s stupid,” said one student named Anna. “We’re Mexicans. We will find a way.”
It’s not that the worry has vanished. Immigrants living in the U.S. have felt nervous about Trump for many months (although some pointed out President Obama was known in a few circles as the “Deporter-In-Chief”). Anna said she has relatives in America, and she felt it “dangerous” to travel there in such a political climate. But she said she would anyway. Things are calmer now, at least around here.
Meanwhile, El Tri has done its part to make Mexico great again. Juan Carlos Osorio’s team is on a tear in World Cup qualifying, sitting atop the CONCACAF standings with 13 points (4-0-1), five clear of second-place Costa Rica and six ahead of USA. Budano wonders if the old days have returned when Mexico never lost in its home stadium, although he gives the U.S. a “50/50 at best” shot to win on Sunday.
The Estadio Azteca is known for its rowdiness – on Thursday night, there were mounted police officers everywhere and multiple pat-down checks for fans entering – but the atmosphere gave off a sense of giddiness and maybe some gloating. There isn’t much fretting about Sunday’s showdown or about the leader of the visiting country.
“We didn’t think he would be that radical,” Garcasona said. “We know they were stupid people but not that stupid.”
That got a chuckle from his friends. Then they turned their attention back to the action on the field.
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