What Mexicans Really Think of the United States

*members of a young adult delegation participating in a border awareness experience talking with Mexican children through the border fence; July, 2018

by Wesley Cocozello

I recently visited Corpus Christi parish in Ciudad Juárez, MX, where Columban missionaries accompany the local community. Juárez is across the border from El Paso, TX. If you look at the two cities from the top of the mountains that surround them, you might think you were looking at just one big city.

Corpus Christi is the parish church for Rancho Anapra, a poor neighborhood on the northwest edge of Juárez, which has become a place of refuge for parishioners in a city well known for its violence. 

I was visiting the parish with a group of young adults from the United States. My group had the chance to sit down with the parish’s youth group. We only spoke English. They only spoke Spanish. One of the Columban priests served as our translator.

Our two groups were there that night to get to know each other. To help ease the language barrier, the youth group coordinator handed everyone a blank sheet of paper and a marker.

“Draw three boxes,” she said. “In one, draw what you like about your community. In the second, draw what you do in that community. In the third, draw what comes to mind when you think of the other group’s country.” After several minutes of drawing, we each took turns explaining our pictures.

One man said that he helps train the new altar servers. One woman told us that she works for the city. Another talked about how she attends protests against government corruption, another about how she studies psychology. One guy explained that, despite being Mexican, he doesn’t like chilies. Everyone in the youth group was outraged by his comment, and told me not to publish it.

But what most grabbed my attention during the activity was what they all thought of the United States. I suddenly realized that I’d never heard an opinion about the United States from one of its neighbors. I got out my marker and wrote down everyone’s responses.

What follows is how nearly 20 young adults Mexican who live less than three miles away from the border describe the United States . I've edited the list for clarity and deleted duplicate responses.

The United States is…

  • Confused
  • Diverse
  • Only as strong as its weakest link
  • Violent
  • Racist
  • United
  • Discriminating against the poor
  • Clean
  • Separating families
  • Receiving others with love
  • Full of large buildings
  • Protestors
  • The wall
  • Not supporting others
  • Always wanting to be #1
  • Narcotraffickers
  • Divided
  • Opportunity

I was amazed by one response in particular. Half way through the group sharing, one woman described her pictures of the United States this way: “The United States is an ordinary place, like every other ordinary place. Sometimes countries are united and sometimes they’re divided. Sometimes countries do bad things and somethings they do good things.”

When everyone had finished sharing their pictures, the Columban priest that served as our translator expressed how thankful he was to be a part of this experience and invited us all to give the “Sign of Peace.” For a gringo used to shaking hands during this part in mass, I did not expect what came next: hugging 20 total strangers.

a group photo taken at the end of the night

Driving down the desert road back into Texas, I realized that I needed to leave my country in order to see it more clearly, almost as if for the first time. These observant outsiders, unburdened by cultural blind-spots, free from political clichés and easy buzzwords, could state the truth about my country more simply and more insightfully than I could.

Sitting together in our circle of chairs felt like an intervention, 20 concerned friends urging us to take a hard look at what we really are. Are we happy with what we see?