Sunday, November 29, 2015

Emily Tsitrian Writes From Mexico City--And Makes A Case For An Open Border

     Note:  My daughter Emily was born and raised in Rapid City, SD.  She's a graduate of Rapid City Stevens High School and the University of California, Berkeley.  This is from her facebook page, posted today.  ("DF"=District Federal, aka Mexico City)

     Musings after my first trip to Mexico City: A five-day vacation in Mexico City confirmed what I’ve
Emily Tsitrian
South Dakota-bred, World-educated
(photo from dad)
previously suspected - that this city is extraordinary, friendly, clean, and cosmopolitan. Many folks here are young, educated, hip, relatively wealthy and well-traveled, and have no interest in moving to the   United States. There is this idea north of the border that Mexicans would “flood the border” if they could and that’s simply not true, especially in DF. Citizens of DF are fascinating, indeed. Though many are more European descendants than Mestizo, they are proud of their country's history, both pre-Columbian, and post-Revolution. Remember: this is a city where, even before the rise of the Aztec empire in around 1300 AD, there were 150,000 inhabitants with nearly 30,000 participating in the daily trading at the city's markets. Sit with that fact for a minute. Yes the cities of Boston, Philly, DC are fantastic destinations for history buffs, but if you are really looking for North America’s first true city look no further than DF. Nowadays, Mexico City is beyond livable and it joins my list of possible places to live as an ex-pat someday 
smile emoticon It’s experienced a dramatic drop in crime, is full of world-class museums, restaurants, bike-friendly zones, parks, and schools, is a gay-friendly city (same-sex couples proudly hold hands and can marry here), and should be a destination on every North American’s bucket list. Why isn’t it? Many North Americans would rather isolate and vacation in the sterile, no-Mexicans-allowed destinations such as Cancun. This is a real shame, as Mexico City is a short flight away, easy to navigate, and an important part of North American history. I was even struck by, at times, how much more “American” Mexico feels than “Latin American” - perhaps that’s an effect of having lived so much of my life in California.
     Everyone we met was pleasant and helpful, and why shouldn’t they be? A smile and a bit of the local language always goes a long way to facilitate happy exchanges. Every time I travel internationally, I am reminded that people are just, well, people with the same basic needs and desires and fears.
     Social class divisions are evident here as most places. The lifestyle of many DF citizens is evidence of a burgeoning Mexican middle-class that can and should be embraced and encouraged to participate
Mexico City
Distrito Federal
(photo from
in the world economy and culture. In addition to the powerful middle class in DF, there’s evidence everywhere of the mass migration that took place post-NAFTA. Rural indigenous folks who have no option to farm anymore sell trinkets and snacks on the streets, no doubt many of them tried their luck crossing “la frontera” and were deported - much like one of the taxi drivers we had. He had worked in California for twenty years (sin documentation), picking grapes in the Mojave and washing dishes at Chinese restaurants in Temecula, sending wages back home until he was discovered in a raid. Now he drives a taxi in DF and is scared of what Donald Trump represents. He described him as “loco” “racista” - and I had to agree it’s a scary thought of the aggravated geopolitical divisions his popularity represents. Both the US and Mexico are much stronger as a united front as we have many common interests and cultures. I was glad to be able to be an example to him that not all US citizens feel that way towards Mexicans.
     I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to have a virtually open border with Mexico, easy ways to obtain temporary work permits (for both sides!) and much better collaboration in the fight against the violence of the cartels and economic assistance for rural farmers in need of help (which are completely related - cartels have been capitalizing on the desperation of the rural poor by providing economic security in order to “win” them over). Drug cartels have terrorized Mexicans for years now, aggravated by the last two presidencies, and yet the mass beheadings and shootings somehow do not meet the terrorism definition and do not thusly receive the attention they deserve. I think both countries could do a much better job of collaborating on common interests, but unfortunately the xenophobic rhetoric that plagues our political culture at this moment is not incentivizing politicians to take this on.
     Finally, for anyone who made it through this entire post, I tell you this: I believe traveling the world is one of the most important things you can do, especially as an American. Honestly, it felt almost like a political act to travel out the country during an official State Department warning about international travel in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, but please keep in mind that things of this nature are EXTREMELY RARE - a statistical zero! We are all much more likely to die in a car accident or mass shooting in our own country, and basic precautions in any large city, international or not - go a long way to keep the vast majority of travelers safe. I also believe that travel does make the world a safer place because the exchange of goods, ideas, culture, and identity brings us all closer to the humanity we all have in common.
n the words of my hero Frida Kahlo, “Viva la vida!"


  1. Awesome post! Open borders are a political non starter for reasons good and bad. Just defining what it means seems difficult.

    But having said that, it occurs to me open borders were the rule until just a little more than a hundred years ago.

  2. You and your wife should be very proud John. What a brilliant young mind, you have helped to give our planet at a time when they are so badly needed.