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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

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The Truth About Mexico’s Relationship to the United States

What Americans Should Expect from Their Southern Neighbors


Mexican President Cordial, Honest, and Mistaken

In his speech to the Congress of the United States of America on May 20, the earnest and polished President of the Mexican United States (Mexico’s official name) Felipe Calderon appealed to the American public directly, by speaking in English instead of Spanish.  In a cordial and even friendly manner, he covered wide range of issues, from drug trafficking to assault weapons trade to, of course, immigration, and other issues of importance to both countries.  While the bulk of the speech was tempered as he clearly, and very reasonably put forth Mexico’s point of view on the above subjects, much has been made of the President Calderon’s criticism of Arizona’s recently-adopted controversial law attempting to address the problem of illegal immigration.  The president said:


However, I strongly disagree with the recently adopted law in Arizona. It is a law that not only ignores a reality that cannot be erased by decree, but also introduces a terrible idea of using racial profiling as a basis for law enforcement.   And that is why I agree, I agree with the President when he says that this new law carries a great amount of risk when core values we all care about are breached.  I do not want to deepen the gap in feelings and emotions between our countries and between our peoples.


Of course, the president was factually incorrect in saying that the law “introduces” the idea of using racial profiling.  In fact, it expressly forbids the use of race entirely in its application, while federal law still permits it in this context.  What the law actually introduces is the notion of state-directed enforcement of immigration laws.  That the Mexican president respectfully criticized this law of an American state is not particularly outrageous or even unusual.  What is unusual is that Democratic representatives of the people of the United States of America openly sided in their applause with a foreign leader against one of their own states, not to mention the overwhelming majority of Americans who support the Arizona law. 


Mexican Leader Speaks for Mexicans in the World, Who Does for Americans?

At another point, President Calderon spoke in Spanish, addressing his expatriates in the U.S., assuring them he would fight for their rights.  The Democrats gave him a standing ovation.  This reaction raises a couple of questions.  The first is just how many congressional representatives are bilingual and actually understood what he said at that moment?  The second is who do they think he is ‘fighting’ in that context?  The Mexican president articulated clearly, appropriately, and with dignity, that while he sought cooperation and friendship with the U.S., he was determined to advance and protect the interests and welfare of his people.  Perhaps the Democrats in Congress could benefit from a civics lesson taught by the Mexican leader.


On the other hand, Republicans ought to be careful about making too much out of Calderon’s legitimate complaints on the assault-weapons coming from the US.  The fact is, President Calderon is about as good and reliable friend as the U.S. can expect to have in Mexico. The Mexican president has every right, and in fact, it is his obligation, to point out the damage the influx of assault weapons is doing to the social and political fabric of Mexico, the effects of which are already bleeding back into the U.S.  He is not obligated to care about our second amendment issues, which he politely acknowledged.  A flood of weapons coming from the U.S. has been followed by a wave of murders across Mexico, with 26,000 dead so far.  What do they expect him to say?  Those who claim to have religious or otherwise moral views that call upon them to care for their fellow man have a moral obligation to fix this problem.


Mexican President’s Honest Hypocrisy

In a surprising, honest admission of hypocrisy, in an interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN, Calderon admitted that Mexico has enforcement policies similar to those of American border states.   He did add that Mexico decriminalized illegal immigration into Mexico from its own southern border (Mexico has long had a problem with illegal immigrants from Central America) in just the last year, whereby it is no longer a felony.  Nevertheless, he openly acknowledged that what Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona are trying to do to control illegal immigration is the same thing Mexico does along its own southern border, saying “I know. And that is a very powerful argument. But that is one of the reasons why we are trying to change our policy.”


Past Grievance Colors Mexican View of All Things American

So, what can we expect from Mexico?  The reality is that Mexico’s leadership has to answer to the sentiments of the Mexican public.  And that sentiment is a complex mixture of admiration, envy, and deep resentment of the United States that traces its roots back to the Mexican-American War, when Mexico lost so much to the United States.  During the 1820’s and 1830’s, Anglo settlers began to migrate into what were then Mexican lands.  Soon, they outnumbered the Mexicans themselves.  Mexico had abolished slavery, but the Anglos, many of them from southern U.S. states, wanted to bring them into Mexico with them.  Mexico grew alarmed at the influx of Anglo immigrants, and tried to halt it.  Mexico feared, correctly, that American expansionism was eyeing Mexican lands, and they would lose control to the growing number of Anglos moving in.  Eventually, the clash of cultural, political and social interests, combined with Mexico’s internal instability, resulted in Mexico’s worst fears realized.  Since then, Mexico proceeded down a path of political turmoil and economic regression, while its northern, victorious neighbor proceeded on a path of ever-greater prosperity and power.


The attitude of Mexicans towards the United States is not unlike that of a younger brother who was pushed around and taken advantage of by a bigger older brother, who then went on to become rich and powerful, leaving the younger in his shadow.  Just as that younger sibling would experience a mixed range of emotions that would produce a feeling of inferiority, a bristling resentment, and a sometimes neurotic response to even well-meaning actions from the elder brother, so it is with Mexico and the United States.  Even educated Mexicans wrestle with those emotions when dealing with Americans.  Uneducated ones, especially those lacking economic success and whose sense of worth is largely dependent on nationalistic identification, revel in dreams of “la reconquista,” the notion of a Mexican re-taking of the lost lands in 1836 and 1848. 


When they see Americans self-flagellate, it does not make them more conciliatory or less demanding – it feeds their sense of self-righteousness and entitlement.  The task of forging a mutually beneficial and working relationship with Mexico requires a delicate balance between showing respect for Mexico and its interests, while maintaining unapologetic self-respect that discourages Mexican indulgence of intransigence and self-pity.  Unfortunately, just as Republican conservatives seem unable to see beyond immediate national self-interest for the sake of a broader more beneficial international relationships, Democrats appear unable to master the art of national self-respect which is essential for all successful international negotiations (to wit: Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner admitting that he brought up to the Chinese our ‘short-comings’ in human rights issues in Arizona “early and often.”  Today, we read that nothing of substance was gained in the China summit. More on this next week).


For that reason, it will be a long, long time, before Mexicans are pre-disposed to acknowledge gratefulness or appreciation for anything the Americans do, no matter how benevolent or generous, or self-effacing (setting aside that often our actions are anything but), or to give Americans any benefit of the doubt; and why they will delight in pointing out any moral, economic, or political failure they perceive, no matter how unfair or unsubstantiated, and no matter what is true of themselves.




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