When Donald Trump uttered the words “bad hombres” during the final presidential debate last night, I shuddered.
Not just because he mispronounced it as “bad hambres” (or “bad hungers”) but because he dared to use my native language and the language of Latinos’ ancestors to demean undocumented immigrants.
On Wednesday night, when moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump about immigration policy and reform, he began, as he often does, painting undocumented immigrants as violent criminals. (Despite research repeatedly proving native born citizens are more likely to be linked to violent crime than immigrants.) Then the GOP nominee moved on to drugs, drug lords and, again, the need to deport “bad people”:
We’ll get them out, secure the border, and once the border is secured, at a later date we’ll make a determination as to the rest. But we have some bad hombres here and we’re going to get them out.
Politics aside, the language Trump uses is just as important as what he is, or rather isn’t, saying. Sure he’s repeatedly spoken about immigrants as if they were a biblical plague of sombrero-wearing, mustachioed criminals yelling “arriba! arriba!” as they run across the border with taco bowls filled with drugs. But on Wednesday night he turned to Spanish to make his point.
Why was that oh so very wrong? First, undocumented immigrants and the immigration issue as a whole has never been synonymous with Latinos. Yes, Mexico is the source of the largest wave of immigration from a single country in U.S. history but it’s hardly the one and only source.
Both Asia and sub-Saharan Africa have contributed to the increase of undocumented immigrants living in the United States in recent years, with immigrants from China, South Korea and India now outpacing immigrant populations from Mexico and Central America in growth. Which means Trump’s plan to build a yuge wall at the U.S.-Mexico border would prove obsolete, especially since Mexican immigration has actually reversed since 2009 and many undocumented immigrants never even crossed the border to begin with but instead simply over-stayed their visas.
But it’s not about pointing the finger at another demographic or another point of entry when discussing illegal immigration. What these facts should stress is that immigration reform affects a wider range of people than just Latinos and issues surrounding immigration cannot be fixed with a border wall, obviously.
But what’s worse is that using Spanish while discussing immigrants in a negative fashion is almost meant to prompt voters to link the entire Latino population with something negative. And that leaves Latinos, regardless of immigration status or place of birth, vulnerable to being seen or portrayed as “foreign” or “others.” If you don’t believe me just ask U.S.-born federal judge Gonzalo Curiel, whom Trump said should recuse himself from a Trump University case because his “Mexican heritage” made him biased.
So when Trump casually used “bad hombres” last night, what he was trying to do was use our own language against us. Off-the-cuff or not, that’s just all sorts of WRONG! ... to put it in the Donald’s own language.
While many reacted with quips and memes to Trump’s awkward use of “bad hombres,” what I heard was a corruption of something I felt to be mine. My mother tongue, the language in which I uttered my first word as a child, the language that feels like family, culture and home in my mouth, being used by a man set on vilifying my community and immigrants. And in this case Donald, no se puede.
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