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Trump's border wall was never just about security. It's meant to remind all Latinos that we're unwelcome.

The White House's xenophobia has empowered others to say that Latinos don’t really belong in America.
Image: Fernanda and Evelyne Lopez, right, speak with their father standing in San Diego on the other side of the border fence in Tijuana, Mexico, on Dec. 15, 2018.
Fernanda and Evelyne Lopez, right, speak with their father standing in San Diego on the other side of the border fence in Tijuana, Mexico, on Dec. 15, 2018.Mario Tama / Getty Images

The easiest way to explain the U.S. Latino community's understanding of President Donald Trump is the Spanish-language proverb, “Dime con quién andas, y te diré quién eres” (“Tell me who you walk with, and I'll tell you who you are”).

For most U.S. Latinos, when candidate Trump launched his presidential campaign in 2015 by calling Mexican migrants rapists, we knew that Trump was walking with those Americans who feared that the country was getting "too brown," too quickly for their personal comfort.

But at that time, it seemed that nobody outside our community really wanted to listen to our concerns about a presidential candidate openly courting anti-Latino racists, and there were enough Latinos — yes, you, Republican Cuban-Americans — who didn’t see how racist his opening comments were because they seemingly believed that "anti-Mexican" comments weren't inherently anti-Latino. We were told to calm down, to relax, that Trump would never win and that there was never any way that he would enact policies based on the fears he was stoking.

But as the Trump presidency approaches the end of its second year, it’s pretty clear that the xenophobic narrative of all Latinos as somehow "other" has become a central part of his administration’s policies. From the Central American children dying preventable deaths at the Southern border, to ending temporary protected status for Haitians, Nicaraguans, Salvadorans and Hondurans who fled wars and natural disasters, to making it more difficult for victims of domestic violence to apply for asylum, to parading around white people whose family members were victims of crimes by undocumented immigrants (even though immigrants are less likely to commit serious offenses and now less likely to report being victimized), Trump's rhetoric about "Mexicans" was as much about bashing Latinos in general as about Mexican Americans in particular.

And, it seemed that whenever Trump was in trouble or needed a boost in support, pivoting to the propaganda of Latin American “invasion” was always going to be his play.

The president continues to insist, for example, that Mexico will ultimately pay for a border wall (even though he shut down the federal government in an effort to ensure billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars for it) that will never be built because in Trump’s world — and the base to which he caters — south of our border is home to drug traffickers, gang members, murderers, rapists or yes, even terrorists. We must stop the residents of “shithole” countries from coming here, he tells us.

The Trump White House knows that shifting the media narrative to stoke his base's fear of Latin America is a clear political strategy. Problems with the Mueller probe? Quick, yell “MS-13!” at a crowded press conference. Desperate to stop the political bleeding in the 2018 midterms? Call up troops to end the “invasion” of Central American families. Losing the immigration debate? Not a problem, create a “zero tolerance” policy that separates parents from their kids and put them in cages, proving that Trump really wants to take away the Deporter-in-Chief title from Barack Obama.

And let’s not forget how Trump blamed Puerto Ricans for the thousands of people who died as a result of Hurricane Maria. Why would President Paper Towel show any compassion? Besides, Puerto Ricans are (supposedly) just second-class American citizens who can’t even speak English.

Such attitudes from the White House have enabled others to feel empowered to vocalize that yes, Latin Americans as a community don’t really belong in this country. When Idaho school teachers dress up as a border wall for Halloween, or a midtown New York City lawyer rants about people speaking Spanish, you can tell that few in his base thinks Trump's comments about Mexicans are just about a handful of people from Mexico. (The same goes for the Los Angeles woman who threw hot coffee at a Latino worker or the Illinois man who harassed a Puerto Rican woman in a park.)

We are seeing the normalization of hate of Latinos — so much so that you have Florida’s new governor teaching his daughter how to build a border wall with blocks (not that Ron DeSantis needs that much inspiration for racism). There is literally a border wall toy set being marketed to children these days.

The normalization of anti-Latino hate has come with tragedies, not just toys. This year, we lost seven-year-old Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin, Roxanna Hernandez, Claudia Patricia Gómez González and Felipe Gómez Alonzo after they crossed the border, as well as more than 260 migrants who died in the borderlands this year alone. And then there are the increasing stories of parent-child separation, like the Michigan father who left his American citizen wife and kids due to a deportation order after being in this country for close to 30 years.

You would think all these examples of tragedies would deflate us, but they also show that Latinos will not simply fade away. For instance, the Honduran mother who was tear gassed with her children at the U.S.-Mexico border last month has now won her legal right to seek asylum in this country.

And the midterms showed that Latinos do indeed vote, leading to the highest number of elected Latino and Latina officials in the history of Congress. (The biggest star of this new crop of leaders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is as unapologetically Latina and Boricua as Washington has ever seen, which has struck such a big chord that she has become a running topic on Fox News before even being sworn into office.)

The Trump administration might be trying to erase the existence of Latinos in this country, but it won’t happen. In fact, Trump has very likely done more to mobilize Latinos than Obama ever could — and 2020 isn't that far off, when Trump and his ilk might find themselves facing a veto led by Latino voters.