It was the summer of 2015 when the shabby rug was harshly pulled out from underneath and people lost their footing. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” said Donald Trump in his presidential announcement speech on June 26, 2015. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
It is challenging enough to move to another country and adapt to a different culture while pursuing a higher education degree. Becoming a flashpoint in presidential campaign makes the challenge exponentially harder. That’s exactly the position thrust about Mexican students who came to the U.S. for college.
Studying abroad is an experience of a lifetime. However, as much as there are good experiences, there are the bad and the ugly. While studying in New York City, Mexican college students have faced situations they did not expect when they came to live in the most diverse city in the United States.
Javier Beltranena, a 19-year-old sophomore studying business and finance at New York University, was in his dorm room on Election Night. He and his roommate had not exactly hit it off initially. “While I was watching the results of the election, he was just literally laughing at my face.” Trump supporter or not, to Beltranena the incident did not seem like an isolated case of bigotry.
This year, two incidents of anti-dreamer vandalism were found in NYU’s Bobst Library. Although that’s not the immigration status for all Mexican students, it still feels unwelcoming. Around the city, Mexican students have been faced with questions about what they think about DACA, what they expect, and if they defend fellow countrymen or not.
Off-campus, Mexican students routinely encounter drivers and store clerks assuming they are undocumented immigrants and not in the States with a student visa. In other cases, “you don’t look Mexican” is carelessly dropped in conversations, following a debate questioning these student’s identities, challenging their ancestry, talent, and physical appearances.
Mexican students have faced situations where peers did not know Mexico was a federal republic with a governing system similar to the U.S.. The lack of knowledge of Mexican history, its government, and other cultural factors - besides immigration and dancing skulls - has reinforced even further stereotypical assumptions of what Mexico truly is and what these foreign students’ lives were like in their home country.
Questioning about students’ English proficiency by faculty members and peers is recurrent. People are surprised when foreign-born Mexican students speak English fluently, increasing the surprise when these students reveal their home country.
In a conversation between Mexican students at NYU, one of them commented an American friend of theirs did not know Mexico had states. In another instance, this same student – green-eyed, light-skinned – was asked in the middle of a club meeting if she was Italian when she was speaking Spanish to another Mexican club member with similar physical traits. The club’s participating student body is diverse and international. Still, prejudices prevailed.
Jesus Guerra, a 20-year-old sophomore planning to major in history at Columbia University, has had his own share of experiences. After the presidential inauguration in January earlier this year, Guerra was invited to a Mexican student meeting to discuss Trump’s anti-Mexico policies. That’s how MEXSA, Mexican Student Association, at Columbia University was born. “It was almost like a response to Trump's policies,” said Guerra.
“When I talk about Mexico, people are surprised,” Guerra said. “They’re surprised by the fact that Mexico is also a country with a government, laws, other cultures – by the fact that there are other things outside the migrant Mexican community in the U.S.”
Even among other Spanish speakers, the Mexican students in New York often feel left out. When Guerra started at Columbia, there was no “institutional presence” of Mexico-born, international students. There was a club for Chicanos and Mexican-Americans, Chicanx Caucus, which has been running for more than 30 years.
The lack of political and economic stability in Latin America has led Mexican students to seek institutions abroad that offer a higher probability for a successful and safe future, reported Times Higher Education.
In the 2016-2017 school cycle, Mexican students in the U.S. placed in the ninth position of biggest international student populations in the U.S. with 16,835 students, reported the Institute for International Education. From those 16,835, more than half were undergraduates, number of Mexican students in the U.S., 9,395 to be more precise.
Liza De la Garza is a 20-year-old sophomore at Pace University majoring in Arts and Entertainment management, and spends countless hours at Broadway Dance Center. Wanting to continue her dance training and study something related to dance and show business, Pace’s offer was the ideal major for her. “I did not find this major anywhere else,” she said.
Liza decided to move to New York for college and dance because it’s the perfect place where business and dance meet. However, as a Mexican dancer, she has lost opportunities when choreographers are hiring dancers for paid jobs. “When I tell someone I’m Mexican, that’s the moment doors close and the ‘thanks for participating, you’re no longer considered’ treatment appears,” she said. “A lot of choreographers ask you where you’re from and just with that decide if they hire you or not.”
De la Garza puts up with this shut-down because there’s no West 45th Street in Mexico. There is no opportunity left for her down south. “I have no other choice,” she said. “There’s no way for me to get the knowledge and training I am getting here in Mexico right now, so I have to put up with it and keep improving.”
Like Guerra and Beltranena, De la Garza and other Mexican collegiate students in New York got a shot to pursue their dreams in the city because of talent and merit. “We Mexicans are hotshots, we deserve to be here,” said De la Garza.