During the last presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Trump said: “we have some bad hombres here”. This was said in clear reference to the Latinos coming to the United States (US). As CNN commentator Van Jones explained: “The only time this man has used Spanish in the entire election was used to stereotype and smear Latino immigrants.” Although you probably meant it, you didn’t smear me, señor Trump.
I was born south of the border in Tucumán, a city in northern Argentina, to be more precise. My father, a highly cultured person, was also the worst merchant I ever met. Because of some bad financial decisions—for which he didn’t take any tax advantage—we had a modest upbringing.
I was able, however, to obtain my MD degree and later in Buenos Aires my PhD degree in biochemistry. In Buenos Aires, I carried out research at the research institute Fundación Campomar, whose director was Dr. Luis F. Leloir, a Nobel laureate in chemistry.
After five years of doing research in biochemistry I wanted to explore the alluring possibilities of research in microbial genetics, of which very little was done in Argentina at the time. So, together with my wife and one-year old daughter, I came to the US in 1971. I experienced a tremendous cultural shock.
I confronted a culture quite unlike the one in which I grew up, with a different set of values. In addition, my knowledge of English was much more precarious than I thought at the time and found communicating with my colleagues extremely difficult, at least at the beginning.
The death of my father six months after being in New York was an extremely painful event, made worse by the fact that I was unable to go to Argentina and join my family in mourning.
Unlike you, señor Trump, who was lucky to have had a rich father who allowed you to inherit a substantial sum of money, we came to the US with only $500 as our total capital and two pieces of luggage. We didn’t have any friends and the only positive thing was that Dr. Paul Margolin, my boss at the Public Health Research Institute where I was to do research, was an extremely kind man (not a gringo like you, señor Trump).
I conducted research in microbial genetics for several years and then, through a complex process, I changed professional orientation and became an international public health consultant for several United Nations agencies and other international organisations.
I was able to do that not because of any personal merit, though. I could do it because of the extraordinary help and efforts of my wife. While working full-time to complement my meagre fellowship from Argentina, she obtained a Masters degree in American literature and later a PhD in linguistics at New York University.
My wife is not, I can assure you, a nasty woman, señor Trump. Even so, should you ever meet her, I would advise you not to try anything funny. You may get the surprise of your life.
As you can see, señor Trump, I am one of what you call “bad hombres.” Like millions more, I am a hard working immigrant who looked for the land of opportunity in the US, something that will not exist, señor Trump, if you become president of the country.
Your no amigo, César Chelala.
César Chelala is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award and two national journalism awards from Argentina.