Donald Trump, Anthony Bourdain, and the Plight of Their (Indentured) Mexicans

Off the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

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Published on From Filmers to Farmers on June 10th, 2016

Discuss this article at the Geopolitics Table inside the Diner

 

(photo by Gage Skidmore)

No doubt you've heard of presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump's infamous wall, the one ostensibly meant to keep out all those alleged Mexican "criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.," as well as to keep all those 8.1 million undocumented workers Trump intends to (somehow) deport from getting back in. On top of all that, while 3,200 km walls don't just pay for themselves, Trump had nonetheless promised to (again, somehow) make sure that the Mexican government ends up footing the bill for said wall.

After months of the now routine mockery and scorn laid upon Trump, Trump finally came clean with the method of how it was that he was supposedly going to force Mexico to cover the $8 billion tab for his pet wall – by halting money transfers from the nearly $25 billion that (underpaid, overworked) Mexican labourers send back home as remittances every year (a total that actually equates to about 2% of Mexico's GDP). As should go without saying, the vast majority of those 8.1 million undocumented workers are employed in the service industry as maids, cooks, and groundskeepers, as well as in the farming and construction sectors, earning some of the lowest wages in the country to send home to family members in need. In other words, Trump plans on paying for his infamous wall by extorting money from the Mexican government under the threat of confiscating money from the poorest of the poor. As would come as little surprise to many, that Trump "love[s] the poorly educated" was, and is, of course, nothing but a ruse.

Not only then did this zany fiasco to "Make America Great Again" attract its share of derision, but it inherently comes with the threat of "Making Mexico Even Worse": cut out that 2% from Mexico's books, and Mexico could very well be headed for recession, which would probably only stoke antagonism towards the United States. Irrespective of any of this, Trump went ahead and made an offer that Mexico couldn't refuse: "Make a one-time payment of $5-$10bn to ensure that $24bn continues to flow into their country year after year."

(photo by Lwp Kommunikáció)

It turns out though that while pulling all that money out of the Mexican economy would likely be a disaster for Mexico (and particularly for poor Mexicans), pulling out all those Mexican labourers out of the United States' (service) economy would also be a disaster – of sorts – for the United States. As American chef, author, and television personality Anthony Bourdain explained it, "If Mr. Trump deports 11 million people or whatever he's talking about right now, every restaurant in America would shut down." Perhaps Bourdain is overstating it a bit, but his point comes through. In my rough translation, Bourdain seems to be saying that "Mexicans hold the American restaurant industry upon their shoulders – or perhaps better yet, upon their stooped backs," with a side of "Are we really going to let Mr. Trump put our restaurant-hopping lifestyles at risk?"

In case you're like me and don't know your celebrity chef from your celebrity online gamer, here's another statement Bourdain gave while critiquing Trump's shenanigans, conveying a bit of his history and outlook:

I rolled out of a prestigious culinary institute and went to work in real restaurants. I walked into restaurants and always, the person who had been there the longest, who took the time to show me how it was done, was always Mexican or Central American. The backbone of the industry — meaning most of the people in my experience cooking, preparing your food. Twenty of those years in this business I was an employer, I was a manager employer. Never, in any of those years, not once, did anyone walk into my restaurant — any American-born kid — walk into my restaurant and say I’d like a job as a night porter or a dishwasher. Even a prep cook — few and far between. Just not willing to start at the bottom like that.

(Oops. I didn't realize I wasn't supposed to work that dishwasher job back in my university days.)

In other words, count yourself lucky non-Mexican Americans (and you token Mexicans who non-Mexican Americans can refer to as their "but I have a Mexican friend" friend "who isn't an underpaid labourer," or who can be pointed to as having TV shows), because you (like, say, non-Mexican Canadians) get to live the high(ish)-life while Mexicans (and a few others) do the menial work in perpetuity that makes that high(ish)-life possible in the first place.

That raises an even larger point: putting aside the lifestyle crimping notion that the United States' one million restaurants would supposedly shut down upon the deportation of all its undocumented Mexicans, who would be out in the fields planting and harvesting all the food if it weren't for said wage slaves? Who would be working the vines to cultivate and harvest the grapes to make the wine with? Who would be scrubbing those things where the effluents of all that food and wine are deposited into? Surely, one would guess, not the ones living it up(ish).

Hustling and bustling for Trump, Bourdain, and all the acolytes! (photo by Americanspirit)

(Or living it down. In the southern Ontario town next to the one I grew up in, Bradford, a "reclaimed" swamp was drained and turned into Canada's "vegetable basket" some hundred years or so ago. Migrant Mexican workers can be seen working those "fields," and it's not a generally regarded fact (but nor a secret either) that many natively born Canadians would much rather go on the dole than work those "fields," be it alongside (documented) Mexican migrants or not. And with the example that the more well-off Canadians give of avoiding the land like the plague, it isn't exactly easy to blame them either.)

It should go without saying then that without those documented and undocumented Mexican workers, not only would many of the United States' restaurants supposedly shut down, but the United Statesian way of life itself would likely be put at serious risk. Moreover, since fractional-reserve banking and interest bearing debt means that the American economy (like any other) must keep growing (or at least give that impression) in order to avoid imploding in on itself, this requires not only a static supply of Mexicans to keep the pyramid propped up, but an ever-expanding base of Mexicans (and/or equivalents) to do the scoffed at jobs that non-Mexicans generally don't want to do themselves. (That is, until Google's AI department comes up with a fossil-fueled alternative, or Elon Musk bestows upon us an army of benevolent replicas of the Jetsons' Rosie, running, of course, on (ahem) fossil-fueled "renewable energy.")

In other words, whatever would the United States (and Canada) do without their cross-border supply of malleable and readily replaceable Mexicans? Senator John McCain, as was said, suggested an answer to this: "Couldn't the children of illegal immigrants do those jobs?"

Awk-ward.

Fortunately, somebody did respond to that erstwhile comment of McCain's, none other than born-to-immigrant-parents Marco Rubio, a recent member of the Donald Trump love-in and now flop-flipper in that ongoing GOP love-hate relationship. As he was said to have put it, "Pardon me, Senator, but I have to say that the children of those illegal immigrants will be doctors and lawyers." Although there is at least a smidgen of truth to that statement (take Rubio himself as an example), it's mostly a cute sentiment offered by one of the fortunate/lucky few, since many if not most of those children will become burger flippers and, if they have enough pizazz and edgy enough haircuts, perhaps even baristas.

(photo by Eli Christman)

But supposing that said upward mobility were to a rather large extent actually true, that poses a serious problem: If the children of indentured service workers are able to escape the fate of their parents and climb that spiral staircase of the American Dream, who would raise and feed their kids while they're at the office and on all their restaurant jaunts? Who would work the fields harvesting all their food? Who would scrub all those unmentionables? Answer: more Mexicans (and their equivalents), documented or not.

So regardless of what some politicians may say in order to win votes, and what some chefs may say in order to win a larger following from armchair cooks, the United States – the United Statesian way of life – can't do without a steady supply of cheap labour to prop up the lifestyle of its Trumps, Bourdains, and all their acolytes. And when Bourdain states that United Statesians are "just not willing to start at the bottom like that," that "bottom" should refer to the fields, not simply dishwasher jobs at restaurants, and nor should such "bottoms" be something to scoff at as somewhere to merely "start," but a place to dig in and become familiar with, a place to build an affinity with.

Another post will be required to elaborate on that, recognizing the fact that this kerfuffle we face is ultimately an issue of ceilings and floors.

5 Responses to Donald Trump, Anthony Bourdain, and the Plight of Their (Indentured) Mexicans

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