The word has been used as a slur against US-born Latinos as a way to dismiss them as foreigners, according to academics.
In the latest example, Trump used the word against US district judge Gonzalo Curiel, an American of Mexican origin. It came after Curiel agreed to unseal the details in a class-action lawsuit by people who say they were victims of fraud by Trump’s property business education venture.
“The judge, who happens to be, we believe, Mexican,” Trump told a San Diego crowd in a rant against Curiel. “Which is great. I think that’s fine.”
But when pressed over his remarks about the Indiana-born judge, Trump suggested Curiel lacked the ability to be objective because of his ethnic background.
Curiel has “an inherent conflict of interest” because Trump is “building a wall,” the billionaire property mogul said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. He also told CNN that Curiel is “of Mexican heritage,” dismissing the fact that Curiel was born in Indiana
Trump’s remarks, however, drew strong condemnation from Latino activists and Republicans. The Republican house speaker, Paul Ryan, called Trump’s remarks “the textbook definition of racist comments”. Roger Rocha, president of the League of United Latin American Citizen, the nation’s oldest Latino civil rights group, said Trump’s statement “epitomises racism and is a slap in the face to minority judges across the country”.
Alexandro Jose Gradilla, a Chicana and Chicano studies professor at California State University, Fullerton, said the way the word “Mexican” was used to describe a Mexican-American judge likely helped fuel the widespread criticism
“Donald Trump’s use of the term represents the long history of the word in the US,” Gradilla said. “‘Mexican’ was often a stand-in for one of many closely related epithet targeting Mexican-Americans.”
“That’s what Trump is playing with when he described Curiel as simply a ‘Mexican,”’ Gradilla added.
Even as late as 1954, US Supreme Court justices were confused about the legal status of Mexican-Americans. During oral arguments about a case challenging a Texas law that allowed some Mexican-Americans to be excluded from juries, justices repeatedly called the residents in question “Mexicans.”