MEXICO CITY— “You want to go to Mexico or some other country? Good luck,” Donald Trump told U.S. manufacturing companies during Monday night's presidential debate against Hillary Clinton.
Thousands of miles away, the 200 people packed into Pinche Gringo, a Texas-style barbecue restaurant in Mexico City, broke into cheers and clinked their glasses frothed with beer.
It was just one of Trump’s six references to Mexico last night, and a signal to drink for U.S. expats watching in Mexico.
The patio, filled with wooden tables, a bar pouring draft beers, and a kitchen designed to look like an Airstream trailer, was packed with Democrats and Hillary Clinton supporters who would raise their glasses and yell Salud! everytime Trump mentioned “Mexico.” Predictably, there weren't any/many Trump fans in the bar—or anywhere else in Mexico, for that matter.
Mexicans and Americans gathered at Pinche Gringo got a chance to bond over pork ribs during a watch party organized by the bar and the local chapter of Democrats Abroad.
“Many Mexicans have preconceived notions about the U.S., like it’s all about shopping malls and frozen food,” said Dan Defossey, a young expat from New York who’s been living in Mexico City for more than seven years and co-owns Pinche Gringo, which translates more or less to “fucking” gringo. It’s a popular phrase every Mexican has uttered at some point in their lives. The owner says the name gives an American restaurant in Mexico an aura of humility.
Defossey says he opened the restaurant so Mexicans could get a taste of real U.S. culture.
“We are a place that bridges gaps; we don’t have walls here,” he said.
“The United States is our biggest trade partner and we share so many connections due to the migrant community,” said José Manuel Ruíz, a 25-year-old Mexican lawyer wearing a Hillary Clinton t-shirt.
The crowd was laughing, cheering and at times booing the TVs. “I love that! That was soo good!,” screamed Mexico City resident Edgar Lopez Vallejo, when Clinton zinged Trump with: “You know what else I’m prepared for? Being President.”
But it wasn't all fun and games at Pinche Gringo. There were also some nervous laughs from the crowd and a group of older volunteers trying to get expats registered to vote.
“We already gave up the country when President Enrique Peña Nieto invited Trump to Mexico City in August, and it will go down as day of infamy in Mexican history,” said Paloma Díaz, a Mexican-American volunteer registering expats to vote. “We need to avoid a catastrophe.”
Díaz said her group managed to register about 10 people. It's part of their greater weekly efforts to meet with Democrats Abroad and other expat groups to register people to vote.
“Trump is having a huge effect. His comments have really helped gin up interest,” says Doug Hall, who has traveled back and forth from Atlanta for 30 years, and has lived full-time in Mexico City for the past two.
“There is a lot of momentum this year. We are registering a lot of people,” he said.
Hall says Mexico has a strong tradition of voting absentee for Democratic candidates. He noted that in 2008 Obama held his biggest fundraiser outside the U.S. in Mexico City.
“We hope to capitalize on this energy and sustain the organization in between elections,” he said.
The Pinche Gringo event is one of many that are popping throughout Mexico City to raise awareness about what’s at stake in November.
On Sunday, the global activist organization Avaaz built a mock wall in front of Mexico City’s iconic Angel of Independence monument. Dubbed “#Gringosavotar” (Gringos get out and vote) the voter-registration and Trump-bashing event drew a sizable crowd of Mexicans and Americans. People paused on their Sunday bike rides down Avenida Reforma to take photos with a paper-mache Trump figure.
“There is a massive voting bloc of eight million American citizens living in other countries. Here in Mexico, it is up to one million,” Joseph Huff-Hannon, of Avaaz, told Fusion. “Mexico is the number one country of U.S. citizens outside the U.S.”
Avaaz has organized events not only in Mexico City, but also London and Berlin in the past week, as part of their absentee voting campaign.
“We make it as easy as possible for people to register to vote, so anyone anywhere who is a U.S. citizen can get their ballot,” says Huff-Hannon.
Avaaz and Democrats Abroad estimate they registered 100 voters at last weekend's event.
Carlos Altamirano is a documentary filmmaker from Mexico City who studied in San Diego. He is a dual citizen who registered to vote on Sunday. “I have family in the U.S., and hopefully they vote too. Trump is a big threat to Mexico.”
The anti-Trump sentiment at the Angel and Pinche Gringo is shared by Mexicans as a whole. The Mexican polling company Consulta Mitofsky found only 2.9% of Mexicans favor Trump, while 30.4% favor Hillary Clinton.
That's no surprise considering Trump has been demonizing Mexicans during his campaign. But similar to U.S. voter intentions, that fear and hate of Trump hasn't necessarily translated into enthusiasm for Clinton.
Expats claim they haven’t sensed any hostility or blowback in Mexico over Trump’s rhetoric in the U.S. But many expats say they're embarrassed about what’s happening in the U.S. election.
“Trump reflects a long history of U.S. aggression towards Mexico,” Kimberly Hursh, a 26-year-old graduate student from the University of Virginia, told Fusion. Hursh, who studies Mexican History and is spending a year in Mexico City to conduct research, registered to vote Monday night at Pinche Gringo.
Hursh, who avoids referring to herself and others as “Americans” and instead uses estadounidenses, says Trump reminds her of how Teddy Roosevelt used Latin America to benefit his political agenda.
At around 9:30 p.m. some of the emotion in the bar had died down. After a long day at work and a belly full of food and one too many IPAs, people were losing interest in Trump v. Clinton.
Instead, many people were more preoccupied with Twitter, watching their phones for updates on how Mexico’s peso, which continues to slump amid fears of a Trump presidency, was fluctuating during the debate.
“The markets are speaking,” said Viridiana Rios, a Harvard grad and Wilson Center expert who participated in a panel discussion after the debate. “Right now the peso has gone down to 19.60….Hillary won.”
The moderator kept trying to shush those who were still drinking and making noise in the background as the panel experts tried to make sense of it all.
“Did Hillary get people excited? That’s the real question,” said Carlos Heredia, a professor of international relations at Mexico City’s CIDE university.
What is clear is that Mexico is watching the U.S. elections closely.
“What happens in the elections doesn’t just impact the U.S., but the whole world," said debate watcher José Manuel Ruíz. "Especially us Mexicans.”
Rafa Fernandez De Castro is a Fusion consultant for Mexico and Latin America. He covers Mexican youth, politics, culture, narcos and funny stuff once in a while.