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Politics Foreign Affairs Culture

The Taco Truck Delusion

Six months in Mexico taught me what a Latin American future for the USA really entails.

Mex: Travel: Tijuana's Resurrgence

Five years ago, a 20-year-old college student in Iowa named Mollie Tibbetts vanished while jogging. Police soon found her decomposing body in a cornfield, stabbed to death. A 24-year-old illegal farmhand from Mexico was convicted for the murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole, even though his trial was moved from where the murder occurred in Poweshiek County (3 percent Hispanic) to nearby Woodbury Count (19 percent Hispanic) to provide him with a more sympathetic jury.

Mollie’s father went out of his way to deny any racial angle to the murder, famously maintaining that Hispanics are “Iowans with better food.” Mollie’s father fell for the taco truck meme, the belief that open borders will just mean more taco trucks and otherwise no major changes to the American quality of life.

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The problem with the taco truck meme is that it isn’t true. I just spent six months living in Mexico. It’s a failed state. The country is ranked number one in the OECD for child abuse, number one in the world for dead journalists, and number four in the world for murder. It is also ranked number three in the world for animal abuse, which, judging from my experience, is no surprise.

Mexico is bursting at the seams with dogs. These dogs are not family members. They are alarm systems, beasts of burden to be used, abused, and thrown away. Locals will sometimes say, “They are working dogs,” but this is not a good enough reason to chain your dog to your roof and neglect it for years. Walking down streets full of starving, chained-up dogs exposes one to a constant stream of psychic pain much like that which famously drove Friedrich Nietzsche insane. As the story goes, one day in 1889, Nietzsche saw a horse beaten to death in the streets of Turin. He lost his mind, had a mental breakdown in the street, and never wrote again. (Of course, Nietzsche may have actually lost his mind because untreated syphilis ate his brain.)

I saw an unlimited number of unneutered dogs with sad eyes cooped up on tiny brick patios, languishing in their own filth, chained up on roofs, starving in the street, sometimes rotting by the side of the road. What I didn’t see was local dog-owners walking their dogs, in contrast to the leafy First World suburb where I grew up. There, it’s impossible to look outside the window without seeing a dog being walked by its attentive owner at any given time of day, despite the fact that the leafy suburb is significantly more sparsely populated than the streets of Mexico.

Travel blogger Jake Nomada affectionately refers to the “lack of common sense found in many areas throughout the region” as “the Latin Hammer.” Some examples he lists include getting stuck in traffic for hours because road workers were on a siesta break, getting scammed by landlords, and bribing narcos.

For me, the Latin Hammer manifested itself in power outages, ant infestations, and a lack of hot water. I lived in three different AirBnBs; at each one I had to wait for several hours to check in because the host forgot about me. My early attempts at ordering Amazon failed, with packages usually failing to arrive at all, so I quickly abandoned e-commerce altogether. 

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My neighbor ran an unlicensed tattoo parlor from his AirBnB room and advertised it with a flier on his door, facing a street with lots of foot traffic. In a First World country, he could expect the cops to shut him down in under a week, but here he knows the cops don’t care. Every pharmacy sells a wide array of anabolic steroids sans prescription.

I will never forget being serenaded to sleep every night by feral cats brawling outside my window, coupled with blaring Mariachi music. But if the neighbors want to party into the wee hours of every morning, who am I to move in one day and tell them to stop?

Every single day I would see infants sitting in the front seats of cars without car seats, something I never saw in the U.S. or Canada. I once saw out of my window a man scampering up multi-story scaffolding without any helmet, boots, or harness. The constant disregard for safety was shocking and made me think maybe I’m not as libertarian as I thought I was.

Blogger Steve Sailer posits that Mexicans dislike safety precautions because “they sense that keeping their country perilous and shoddy will keep the gringos from swamping it.” If Mexicans do subconsciously maintain shoddy standards in order to ward off gringos, it’s not working. The number of Americans living in Mexico surged by 75 percent last year compared to 2019. The Los Angeles Times reports that this has angered locals, who are “fed up” with Americans coming to their country, speaking a foreign language, raising rents, and displacing their culture. For these Mexicans complaining about being replaced, I am playing the world’s smallest violin.

Not only did I not fit in with the locals, I didn’t fit in with the expats, half of whom seem to be Russians escaping being drafted to the Donbas (and who can blame them?), the other half self-styled “life coaches” devoted to clubbing, cocaine, healing crystals, and Instagram. I guess there aren’t many wandering, scholarly cowboys left in a Second World blanketed by wi-fi, Bumble, Starbucks, and OnlyFans. 

Hunter S. Thompson, of all people, began his career as one of these wandering cowboys that I was hoping to find. The Rum Diary is based on his 1960–62 trip through Puerto Rico, Colombia, and Brazil, working as a fledgling freelance reporter. As his journey kicked off, Thompson boasted, “Here was a white man with twelve Yankee dollars in his pocket . . . hauling a typewriter, grinning, sweating, no hope of speaking the language, no place to stay.”

As his journey progressed, according to one biographer, “Thompson became increasingly cranky, impatient with bugs and recurring health problems and ground down by the unrelenting poverty [and] bumpy truck rides.” I find myself in the same boat. I am utterly exhausted by the Latin Hammer. Perhaps I am a coddled and delicate güerito (slang for a blond gringo), but after half a year, it’s time to call it quits.

Auguste Comte apocryphally said, “Demography is destiny.” In 2022, illegal crossings at the Mexican border broke the previous annual record by over 1 million. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, “The Hispanic population is expected to reach about 106 million in 2050, about double what it is today.” America’s destiny, then, is barbed wire—or, just as often, crushed beer bottles—adorning every fence in every neighborhood.

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