Carta desde México
Things have been a bit hectic for me, Jess, ONDA, the U.S., and Mexico since November 9. After a period of initial hysteria, I’m now calm, collected, and motivated. To those of you who provided me with counsel, support, and love during a time of dire uncertainty, I am forever grateful. Without the wisdom, camaraderie, and affection of our communities, we cannot succeed. Periods of great tumult give us clarity, creativity, and innovation. Now that the dust has settled, I want to share my reaction to Trump’s victory with you. The following was written on November 16, 2016. –Lauren
Swinging in a hammock looking at the sunlight filter through a jacaranda tree in Mazunte, Oaxaca, Mexico, one would never suspect that I was in the midst of an existential crisis. One would be quite mistaken. Less than a week ago, the world that I and my friends, family, and colleagues inhabit, was turned upside down like an hourglass. So, I did what any normal wayfarer would do: I ran away to a hut on the beach.
Yes, those of us who could not have imagined that 2016 would become 1984 have all been negatively impacted by Trump’s victory. Some of us have moved through The Five Stages of Grief. Others are stuck on Stage Four and continue to weep on a daily basis. The size of the crater left by the collision of this asteroid with each of our planets varies greatly. Regardless of the depth of the cosmic valley of one’s sadness, most people I know will continue to show up at the same job tomorrow, next week, next month, and likely even next year. I, on the other hand, will not. The asteroid has annihilated life on my personal planet
You see, for the past two years, I’ve been laboring to start a company that is now [editor’s note: was for a week while I was in mourning] a negotium non grata in the investment world. My company, ONDA, imports traditional food products made in collaboration with women-owned cooperatives and businesses in Mexico. ONDA is the culmination of years of learning, working, studying, and traveling. To grow ONDA into a global consumer packaged goods (CPG) company that stands for more than just delicious food has been a long-term dream of mine. But the election of this carnival barker has brought my entrepreneurial efforts to a standstill.
Things have been going well for our nascent enterprise. I finished grad school in May, and have been living out of a suitcase in Oakland, Mexico City, Dallas, D.C., New York, and Boston ever since. Jess has been hard at work in Santa Cruz. Now I’m living in Mexico City. I just found a women-run cooperative in Puebla equipped to serve our demand for amaranth-based snacks like alegría, galletas de amaranto, and churritos de amaranto. I was preparing to order our first batch of products to sample and promote in the U.S. I was finally ready to start fundraising in earnest. Trump Risk was always there, but as a mere specter akin to the fear of dying alone – it’s definitely possible, but given the statistics, it’s highly unlikely.
On the night of the election, as things began looking grim for Hillary, I began to panic. My Mexican roommate questioned me in disbelief. “What’s happening!? I don’t understand.” I tried my best to explain the changing tides, but all we could do was surrender and let them carry us out to the open seas. The truth of the matter was: no one understood what was happening [editor’s note: this is still true.]. Even David Brooks was speechless. We both stayed up to watch Trump’s acceptance speech. The next morning, we sat in disbelief as I continued to try and explain the inexplicable. The tidal wave of reality hit me: it was not only my pride in my country that was tarnished that morning, but also my professional ambitions.
What does one do in the first stage of grief? Deny, deny, deny. I couldn’t sit still. The reality was too much to bear. I left our apartment seeking gastronomical succor. It was appropriately raining outside. I walked to my favorite bakery (Panadería Rosetta) and was happy to find that they had the pan de muerto that I had previously failed to obtain on three separate occasions. This was by far the best part of my day. That night I made plans with some expat friends of mine. I needed to commiserate. We all felt like chilangos were looking at us on the street with a mixture of pity and confusion. The peso lost 13% overnight. My roommate and friend, a Mexican swimsuit designer (check out her amazing line! Dulce Armenta), was also concerned about her business.
A week later, the only thing that is certain is that uncertainty reigns supreme. Will Trump really repeal NAFTA, thereby eviscerating the American auto industry so heavily dependent on Mexican manufacturing and labor? Will Trump really build a wall? Does Trump know that if the peso continues to fall and the Mexican economy deteriorates further, even more Mexicans will want to come the U.S.?
Since this writing, we have learned a few things: Trump wants to build a fence, not a wall. He has nominated the CEO of Exxon Mobil to serve as our Secretary of State and the former Governor of Texas Rick Perry to head the Energy Department. A power-hungry, misogynistic, racist firebrand will be whispering terrifying plans into his ear. With the appointment of Tom Price, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which provides health insurance to millions of American entrepreneurs like me, will likely be gutted or repealed, and our reproductive rights gravely threatened (for more information on how this would happen, see this Brookings Institution explanation). The Mexican economy is bracing for the worst. Investments are slowing. Many Mexicans that I know refuse to come to the U.S. for fear of racism and in protest of the President-Elect. Mexicans already living in the U.S. fear mass deportation and incarceration, while Muslims are experiencing rampant discrimination and threats of Japanese-internment style registration. But alas, we cannot let ourselves be driven by fear. Fear is what got Trump elected into the White House.
In spite of the many negative repercussions of Trump’s victory, ONDA is not just going to survive, but it is going to thrive. Consumer preferences for 1) new, global flavors; 2) ancient grains; 3) transparent, mission driven brands; and 4) healthy indulgences remain the same. Stock markets are rallying. Even in the worst-case scenario, the repeal of NAFTA, ONDA will be profitable due to our healthy margins thanks, in part, to the falling peso. American liberals want to do something, and by buying ONDA products, they can vote with their dollars – asserting their commitment to and concern for the 95% of the world that lives outside of U.S. borders. In short, ONDA is now a grata negotium.
ONDA’s mission is now more relevant than ever before: 1) to provide Mexican women with access to the American market and increase their incomes; 2) to share the tradition and splendor of Mexican cuisine with curious Americans; 3) to connect people on both sides of the border through the universal language of food – this is what ONDA is all about. To that end, we are continuing to build an honest, collaborative, and energetic brand that recognizes that there is no “other,” but only “us.” We are forging ahead, more confident than ever that ONDA and other like-minded companies have a key role to play in standing up against fear and hate to find unity through sharing the joy of food.