In Mexico, beers and cheers during Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump debate

Locals and Americans watching the US presidential debate in a bar-restaurant in Mexico City, on Oct 19, 2016.
Locals and Americans watching the US presidential debate in a bar-restaurant in Mexico City, on Oct 19, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

MEXICO CITY (AFP) - Every time Mrs Hillary Clinton or Mr Donald Trump said "Mexico" during their final presidential debate, pints of beer were raised at a restaurant south of the border called Pinche Gringo BBQ.

Some 200 people watched the debate late on Wednesday (Oct 19) at the Mexican-American-owned barbecue joint in Mexico City whose name refers to an insult against Americans ("damn gringo").

The crowd was a mix of American expats and Mexicans, highlighting the deep interest and concerns that the US election has generated in Mexico - especially after Mr Trump caused so much anger with his anti-immigrant rhetoric.

"I abhor him. This man has no respect," said Juana-Ines Abreu, a 77-year-old retired Mexican museum director, who sat with friends on one of the restaurant's long table benches.

"What worries me is that he has awakened the 'ugly American,'" she said. "He's a xenophobe. He's a vulgar man. He's a dangerous man."

During the "final pinche presidential debate" - as a restaurant sign put it - people were encouraged to raise their glass and cheer when Mexico was mentioned, which they obliged a handful of times.

 

Mrs Clinton, the Democratic candidate and former secretary of state, clearly had more fans at "Pinche Gringo" than the New York Republican billionaire.

Some in the crowd laughed during the discussion on immigration when Mr Trump used the Spanish word for man: "We have some bad 'hombres' here, and we're going to get them out" of the United States.

But Ms Aline Salazar, a 31-year-old Mexican communications and social media strategist, saw little humor there.

"It goes back to the same point of intolerance and little openness to minorities," she said.

The patrons booed when Mr Trump called Mrs Clinton a liar but they raised their glasses and cheered when he triggered the key word by complaining that US jobs were fleeing to "Mexico".

Mrs Clinton was applauded when she said that illegal immigrants were paying more federal income taxes than Mr Trump, who has admitted to not paying them in around two decades.

Mr Dan Defossey, an American who co-owns Pinche Gringo with a Mexican partner, estimated that the crowd was about half Mexican, half American, at the restaurant, which serves dishes like barbecue ribs, brisket and macaroni and cheese, and has a brick wall decorated with wooden planks painted as the US flag.

"This election is not important just to the US, it's vital to Mexico as well," Mr Defossey said, noting that the peso has dropped or gone up according to how Mr Trump has fared in opinion polls. "Mexicans are interested, just as much as we are."

Mr Jorge Mondragon, a 32-year-old graphic designer, had beer during the debate, which inspired him at the end to draw an unhappy face and the phrase, in English: "Don't let that bastard be president."

Mr Trump is despised by many in this country for calling Mexican migrants rapists and drug dealers and demanding that their government pay for a giant wall across the border.

But many Mexicans are also unhappy with their own president, Mr Enrique Pena Nieto, for meeting with Mr Trump in Mexico City in August and not forcefully condemning him during a joint press conference.

Mr Jose Manuel Ruiz, a 25-year-old lawyer who wore a "Hillary for president" T-shirt, said it was important for Mexicans like him to see the debate because "we have many links to the United States" thanks to immigration and economic ties.

Mr Ruiz was interested in the discussion about Supreme Court nomination - a fairly domestic US issue - but he had a dim view of Mr Trump's wall idea.

"It's a stupid idea. It's impossible to go through with it," he said, because the border is so massive and the project would be too expensive.

But Mrs Clinton was not his first choice. Mr Ruiz would have preferred her primary rival, Senator Bernie Sanders, to have won, but compared to Mr Trump, "the least worst is Hillary Clinton".