eyes on the U.S.

Latino Pride Is Bigger Than Any Wall Trump Can Build

Donald Trump shows disdains for both Latinos in his own country, as well as some basic tenets of international relations.

Protesting Trump's wall on July 20
Protesting Trump's wall on July 20
Eduardo Barajas Sandoval

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ â€" The best indication of Donald Trump's political clumsiness is his idea that the Mexicans will pay for the wall he would build if elected, in order to block northward migration through the U.S.-Mexican border.

Beyond the feasibility of walling off an entire 3,000-kilometer frontier, the proposal is both anachronistic and contemptuous of the principle of national sovereignty. It flies in the face of an international system built, for better or worse, on the idea that all states are equal in their sovereignty.

The border separating Mexico and the United States is not just one of the 10 longest in the world, but perhaps the most restless frontier of our time given the thousands of possible crossing points, both the legal and illegal ones. Fixed after a complex history of advances and retreats, and military, political and cultural strikes and clashes, it remains a highly sensitive crossing point. It not only separates two divergent versions of the New World, which are the respective heirs to New Spain and New England, but also clearly demarcates two worlds at different stages in their developmental progress.

Mexico and the United States have long played a difficult game in maintaining relations that are characterized by both proximity and distance, and which involve their governments and peoples. After the various phases of territorial claims, and their corresponding conflicts that naturally bequeathed a legacy of resentment, the neighbors now have an intense relationship via a frontier that both separates and joins them.

In terms of numbers, that means no fewer than 350 million crossings a year in both directions. It is also, unfortunately, the line crossed daily by thousands of people originating from literally every corner of the world.

Latino culture

Trump's proposal for a wall, and that Mexico should pay for it, is simple enough to show he has but a vague idea of the scope and dimension of the two states' relations. Among other elements he seems oblivious to the tremendous progression of Latino culture across the U.S., with Mexicans leading the way in this cultural transformation of so many aspects of everyday life there. A reminder of this increasing importance so bothersome to Trump is the fact that two of his strongest rivals in the pre-presidential race â€" senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz â€" were of Hispanic origin, and will continue to play an important role in the Republican Party.

Lost in the forest of his own rhetoric, Trump has said so many things that were later modified that many have even hoped he might substantially change his positions toward the Mexicans. This has not happened. Hours after his flash meeting with President Enrique Peña Nieto last month, the candidate repeated his wall proposal, speaking in Arizona, with the same initial conditions. Maintaining this threatening attitude, he loses credibility as a possible world leader.

If internal electoral contests become based on imposing obligations on other states, we would return to the most primitive instances of international relations. Why have we made so many efforts to build international institutions to assure the principle of non-intervention in state affairs, if we are to return to imposing arbitrary conditions on foreign countries?

The Mexican president has faced virulent criticism for inviting the U.S. presidential candidates for conversations, but it is Trump's ineptitude, when trying to win office in a country where Latin votes are so important, that should have become the object of condemnation. Because in addition to further alienating these voters, he is showing his ignorance of some of the essential traits of his southern neighbors. No Mexican president will accept paying for a wall, should this ever be built, nor will Mexicans permit it.

If Mexico has been consistent in one respect, it has been in its sense of national dignity. It is not something that any two-bit foreign politician can ever take away.

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Society

The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation

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Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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