Fast approaching is Cinco de Mayo (5th of May). Or, as some of my Tequila shot-drinking students gleefully anticipated, “El Sinko de Mayo.” They (and others, badly informed, until my classes) often said they were celebrating “Mexican Independence Day.” Not so. That would be “Dieciseis de Septiembre” (16 of September 1810), against the Spanish.

It was on the 5th of May 1862, that the famous “Batalla de Puebla,” (Battle of Puebla) took place. That date celebrates in Mexico the (temporary) defeat of French colonial imposition. Mexico had already endured invasion by the US in 1846 and lost one-half its national territory (lest we forget; they can’t). But Cinco de Mayo marks the beginning of Mexican nationalism. 

Cinco de Mayo fervor crossed over the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo river, and, later, stimulated roots of Mexican American pride and assertiveness. Mexican forces had defeated French troops at Puebla. But actually those troops returned soon after, establishing a brief empire, headed by Napoleon II.  He imposed in Mexico, Austrian-born Emperor Maximiliano and Empress Carlota, a regime lasting until 1867. You may have seen their palace at the end of Avenida La Reforma, Chapultepec Park.

Thereafter, Mexico’s sovereignty was restored. After the defeat of the French, Don Benito Juárez, Mexico’s first Indigenous (Zapotec) president, returned. Mexico had already outlawed slavery in 1829. She had lost the Texas territory, annexed by the US in 1845, as White Southerners pursued another slave state. Juárez and President Abraham Lincoln (1861-65) became mutual admirers. 

Fast forward to the present; still so much we Estadounidenses (“United Statesers” or US residents) don’t know about Mexico and should learn. We should learn to know and appreciate those 130 million people. They are inextricably involved in our current form of capitalism. And we are lucky they, with reservations created by history, now get along reasonably well with their powerful neighbor.  We are now closer than ever. For example, the US is the honored country to be featured in October of this year, during Guanajuato’s famous Cervantina festival. 

Moreover, Mexico is the US’s second largest trading partner–$260 billion, after Canada, $300 billion (Visual Capitalism, 31 May 2022). Texans do—or should—appreciate our good neighbor even more than most. It is right here on our Mexico/Texas 1,250-mile border. (The entire border, Brownsville to California, is almost two thousand miles.) Economically and culturally, we are inter-dependent. So, Viva, Texas! Viva, especially, the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, a unique connection between countries!

We should know more about Mexico’s domestic economy. Their national minimum wage is currently 207 Pesos (US $11.54) a day–not an hour, a little higher in the northern Free Trade Zone. Perhaps that is one of the reasons a Mexican would seek employment here? Ask almost any Rio Grande Valley resident who might employ a reliable gardener, construction worker, house-cleaner, or baby-sitter. Note: US Federal minimum wages ($7.25 an hour) are not always paid to Mexican workers. 

Gracias a Dios–Thank the Lord–they still come; we need them; they are good workers and prolific shoppers. But many Mexicanos cannot–for family or other reasons—make the trek across the river. They decide to stay. They are hopeful. Many think they see improvement in the Mexican economy. They may be right. Mexico seems to be rising.

Mexico is the second largest economy in Latin America; it is among the 15 largest economies in the world. Its economy grew slightly more last year than analysts expected (Bloomberg News, 31 Jan 23). There is even more potential. The trend? The US is supplanting Chinese production and commitments with Mexican partnerships. Mexico’s advantage is its proximity to US markets. 

And what of Mexico’s record of safety? Is there a way to look beyond the misinformation (often produced by US racism); the threats to both economies (the “Wall”); the reality of cartels; the violence (toward women, toward journalists)? And will our government be able to reduce the “iron river of ‘crime guns’” that flow into Mexico from the US? (AFT, Reuters, NBC News18 April 23).  An ominous mix. What does the next year portend? 

We can’t predict exactly. But politically, we should at least be aware of some relevant information: Mexico will hold presidential and other national elections in early July 2024. Campaigns are heating up, candidates vying for position. Mexican political parties are courting potential voters living in the Rio Grande Valley and other parts of Texas (Texas Tribune, 17 Feb 23).

The current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO),serves one six-year term or sexenio; hecannotsucceed himself. By the 1917 Constitution, a president is limited to one term, no re-election, a sacred tenet since the Mexican Revolution (1910) deposed the dictator, Porfírio Díaz. However, AMLO might like to retain as much influence as possible in his political party (MORENA, Movimiento de Regeneracíon Nacional, or National Regenerating Movement) and in the government after elections. Indeed, for a while, upper classes, who dislike him tremendously, feared he might try to stay in office. 

While the likelihood of that has diminished, AMLO still tries to weaken the influence of institutions such as the INE (Instituto Nacional de Elecciones, or National Elections Institute). He just recently closed Noticias Mexicanas or NOTIMEX, the state news agency. He explained “no need; we have my Mañanera,” his own, long daily message–or harangue, if you are the target of his criticisms (Mark Stevenson, Associated Press, 13 April 23).

AMLO’s attempts at control are not as brazen as the invasion of the US Capitol, January 6, 2021, but he has the compliance of a large majority in the Mexican legislature and among governors of many states. His party is dominant. The acronym, “MORENA,” alludes to the Virgin Mary, “la Virgen Morena,” or the brown Virgin, la Virgen de Guadalupe, captured in the famous painting in the main basilica, often believed to be supernatural, leading the troops in Puebla, and beyond. Again, not as brazen as some US evangelicals believe, suggesting Trump is “of God” or to be followed unquestionably, but persuasive for so many of the masses.

The opposition is in disarray. They hesitate to name a candidate or party, lest they be trashed daily by AMLO. It will be a new coalition, since the memories of corruption and/or favoritism to the rich, through the older parties, PRI and PAN (“PRIAN,” some call the elites), remain fresh. Think Salinas de Gortari, Fox, et. al. MORENA, nationally and locally, is the nominal party of the poor, the masses. That “sleeping Giant” has now been aroused and is “fed” enough (help for the elderly, for the poor) to keep it loyal and voting. Mexico City is key, but severe problems abound there—safety (the Metro), services, transportation, contamination, crime. The upper and middle class are not happy.

So, here are the more viable candidates (MORENISTAS): Marcelo Ebrard Casaubón, former mayor of Mexico City and current Secretary of Foreign Relations; Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo, current mayor of Mexico City; and Adan Augusto López Hernández, Secretary of Government (Gobernación, a powerful, traditional hybrid cabinet post, like the US FBI, and Department of State combined).

Outside of Mexico, Ebrad is better known. He has “been the face of Mexico internationally for five years” (Christopher Sherman and E. Eduardo Castillo, The Independent, 16 April 23). The upper classes see Ebrad as their best option if they cannot beat MORENA. He is not as folksy as AMLO and is currently trying to connect with the masses more but emphasizes help for the “middle classes.” 

Ebrad describes himself as a “nationalist and progressive” and promises to maintain AMLO’s programs designed to reduce inequality. However, AMLO’s favorite seems to be Sheinbaum, of Jewish descent from her father. “Claudia” is tighter with MORENA. Ebrad might be harder to control. If she wins nomination, that would probably mean she becomes Mexico’s first female president. Oh, did I “bury the lead?” “Jewish Female poised to become President of Mexico!”

Will Mexico’s Left “eat one another,” a la the French Revolution? Will the upper classes be able to compromise, understanding they must give a little (or a lot) to the 40% in poverty in Mexico?  The resolution will be confusing and fractious but probably not violent on a widespread scale. Mexico has a talent for synthesis, at least cultural fusion (cuisine, art, fashion, friendships). By and large it has succeeded in achieving those benefits in its politics as well. The US would do well to watch and learn. 

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by UT-Rio Grande Valley Professor Emeritus Dr. Gary Joe Mounce. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the author. Dr. Mounce can be reached by email via: [email protected].

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows the emblem of Guanajuato’s Festival Internacional Cervantino.