By MARSHA MERCER
The nation watched with hope as Mexicans struggled together in the aftermath of a violent earthquake Tuesday that killed at least 250 people.
A doctor volunteered to climb through the ruins of the collapsed Enrique Rebsamen school in Mexico City, risking his life to search for children trapped in the rubble.
Dr. Pedro Serrano crawled on his stomach in crevices to a classroom, only to find a girl, a woman and a man dead, he told The Associated Press.
Then Mexico’s elite volunteer rescue team Los Topos, the Moles, combed through the school’s debris by hand, carefully removing pieces of concrete and lumber in their search for survivors.
Los Topos raised fists to command silence in hopes of hearing faint sounds of life. More than 25 people died at the three-story school when a wing fell onto itself.
As anguished family members waited, strangers rushed to the school and to similar scenes around the capital, bringing water and food and staying to pray. The 7.1-magnitude quake toppled dozens of buildings in the capital alone.
“This is the spirit of Mexico,” a volunteer in Mexico City told CNN. “That’s our community in general; it crosses classes – if you are rich or poor – and any other divide.”
The images were heartbreaking and heroic, just as they were after hurricanes in Houston, the Keys, along the East Coast and Puerto Rico.
Sadly, heroic is a word we seldom associate with Mexico.
Our politicians for generations have promoted a dark cartoon version of our southern neighbor.
Since after World War I, some politicians have blamed Mexicans for bringing crime and drugs into the country, although most Mexicans come to work and employers rely on them.
In 1919, a page-one headline in The New York Times warned: “Anarchists Flood Here from Mexico – Dangerous Aliens Smuggled Across Border at Rate of 100 a Day – Stricter Laws Needed.”
“During the 1920s, politicians and pundits in the Southwest made the eugenic argument that Mexican immigrants would `destroy white civilization,’” historian Neil Foley writes in his 2014 book, “Mexicans in the Making of America.”
During the Depression, the United States deported half a million Mexicans when jobs here were scarce, but during World War II, the U.S. welcomed tens of thousands of “braceros,” mostly farm workers, from Mexico.
In the 1950s, Operation Wetback again deported Mexicans, writes Foley, chair of the history department at SMU. A Mexican American, he received his undergraduate education at the University of Virginia.
The latest politician to malign Mexico and Mexicans to his benefit is Donald Trump.
“They are not our friend, believe me,” Trump said when he announced his candidacy for president in June 2015 at Trump Tower. He blamed Mexico for stealing our jobs, hurting our economy in trade and exporting its problems.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” he said. “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems . . . They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists,” he said and added, grudgingly, “And some, I assume, are good people.”
His vow to build a wall along the 2,000-mile border with Mexico and make Mexico pay for it was a centerpiece of his campaign, and he still says that will happen.
After Mexico suffered an earthquake Sept. 7 that killed at least 90 people, Trump was criticized for his slow response in offering sympathy and support. This week, though, he quickly extended a hand, tweeting a couple of hours after the quake: “God bless the people of Mexico City. We are with you and will be there for you.”
He called Mexico President Enrique Pena Nieto Wednesday to offer condolences, assistance and rescue teams, the White House said.
The snapshots from earthquake-devastated Mexico and the hurricane-ravaged United States show that more unites than separates us. As humans, we all suffer from the capriciousness of nature.
The president is right to stand with Mexico in its hour of need. We’ll see how long the era of good feeling lasts, but it’s a start.
We need each other – as heroes more than scapegoats.
©2017 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved,