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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Gov. Mike Pence, warn your buddy Donald Trump. You know “That Mexican Thing” you mentioned in the vice presidential debate — it’s coming for you.

Like La Llorona and El Chupacabra, the folkloric spooks that Mexican parents tell stories about to scare the bejesus out of their naughty children, That Mexican Thing is not to be trifled with. It has its eye on you.

Trump’s calumnies against Mexicans and other Latinos in the U.S. are well known, and they don’t have to be rehashed here. It’s worth noting, however, that these comments aren’t gaffes or tics. In a recent civil deposition, Trump admitted that in his peroration on Mexican rapists — the speech with which he kicked off his campaign — the offense was premeditated.

Indeed, it is impossible to regard this provocation as anything other than part of a strategy to blow up the Republican Party and reconstitute it in the mold of populist white nationalism. After all, it was only four years ago that the GOP searched its soul after failing to unseat Barack Obama and concluded that it must reach out to Latinos. Alas, what innocent times those were!

Pence, who is cut from crustier Republican cloth, seems ill at ease with Trump’s “alt-right” style of racist agitprop, but then again he doesn’t seem to get what a big deal it is. That explains his exasperation when his opponent, Sen. Tim Kaine, repeatedly brought up Trump’s rapist remark in their debate.

“Senator, you whipped out that Mexican thing again,” Pence said peevishly before doubling down on Trump’s view of Mexican immigrants as, essentially, criminals.

In doing so, Pence showed that he, too, thinks of Latinos in nebulous terms, not quite as human beings, as U.S. citizens and voters, but rather as an undifferentiated mass in the category “problematic.” For those of us Americans of Mexican descent, it showed that bigotry against us is embedded in the Trump-Pence campaign. It’s not going away.

You know what else is not going away? Us.

Numbering 55 million, Latinos are 17 percent of the population, the largest ethnic minority. For years, demographic trends have foretold a watershed moment when Latino citizens will be able to exert a significant impact on national elections. 2016 might be the year.

In doing so, we will be partaking of a grand American tradition — that of immigrant groups taking their place in the American body politic.

Latinos are hardly the first minority to come up against organized political bigotry. Trumpism and the alt-right have a forerunner in the Know Nothing movement of the 1850s, a deplorable and sometimes-violent party organization that formed in backlash against the arrival of millions of Irish Catholic and German Catholic immigrants.

Political cartoons of the time depicted the Irish as ape-like murderers and ruffians. They were said to be drunks, criminals and agents of the pope, inimical to American republican values.

I guess certain American political tendencies don’t change, but the targets do.

Like the Irish before us, we Latinos won’t be taking it lying down. Immigrants have been rushing to upgrade from permanent legal resident to U.S. citizenship in time to vote, creating massive naturalization events during the past year. Many have cited Trump as the impetus.

Voto Latino reports it has registered more than 100,000 new voters since last November. And that’s just one Latino group working to encourage a strong turnout.

Trump’s words are the leverage. People know when they are being disparaged. Casual asides don’t fool anyone — as when Trump qualified his rape slander of Mexicans thus: “Some, I assume, are good people.”

That’s not mitigating the offense; it’s accentuating it.

It’s classic Trump. And now Pence joins in with his “Mexican thing,” showing how clueless he is about his running mate and his country.

No other nation has as long and as rich and as complicated a history with the United States as Mexico. Major portions of the U.S. used to be Mexico. Our blood and our cultures are mixed. No modern political candidate can undo that.

Mexicans and Mexican-Americans know the nuances of immigration policy, trade deals and border security in ways Trump can never fathom. The details are embedded in our family histories, in the traditions and beliefs passed from generation to generation well beyond our families’ migration.

A week before the election, millions of Americans will celebrate Día de los Muertos — Day of the Dead — a Mexican holiday now widely observed in the U.S.

Día de los Muertos is about respect — respect for the souls of our departed ancestors and friends. We tend to their graves to welcome their spirits back.

Respect is important to us. By mocking us, disparaging us, Donald Trump has awakened That Mexican Thing. Our displeasure will be known Nov. 8.

(Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via e-mail atmsanchez@kcstar.com.)

(c) 2016, THE KANSAS CITY STAR. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC

IMAGE: A voter registration sign is seen on a taco truck, as part of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s “Guac the Vote” campaign, in Houston, Texas, U.S. September 29, 2016. REUTERS/Trish Badger

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