I was struck today by President Obama and Donald Trump sitting next to one another after their private meeting. Trump, who has accused the president of not being a U.S. citizen, said this was the first time he’s ever met the president. And, Trump acknowledged what a great conversation they had and how he plans to seek President Obama’s counsel. What? Did I hear what I think he just said? Of course, Trump may be disingenuous, but I wondered if coming face-to-face with the man and not the stereotype made it difficult for Trump to say something mean or sarcastic. It’s tough to dehumanize someone who is nice to you.
Frida wasn’t free from her own stereotypes. Before coming to the United States, she had had some experience of Americans because of the many artists and writers who had visited or lived in Mexico in the 1920s. She’d also experienced some of the tensions between the United States and Mexican governments. But, in 1930, she finally had the opportunity to experience this foreign place first hand. Most writers say that Frida disliked gringos and gringolandia, but that’s too simplistic. There were things she criticized about the United States and gringos, but she made many friends, some of them remaining close over her lifetime. It took connecting with people to help break down some of the stereotypes she’d brought with her. At that time, Frida was not a well-known artist, but now that she has become known throughout the world, she is a cultural ambassador, introducing people to her art and life, which is intimately connected to Mexican art, culture, and history. This is one reason I love writing about Frida.
It seems obvious to say that we need to interact with people from all different walks of life to avoid stereotyping and demonizing; yet, at this moment in time when tensions are high concerning the issue of immigration, both in the United States and around the world, it’s worth repeating. As many have expressed on the Internet and through social media, we who believe in building bridges and reaching out to one another, have to continue to do so, now more than ever.