Connections – sometimes apparent, sometimes hidden – exist between Mexico and the U.S.
They exist among peoples of Mexico, Latin America, and among Mexican Americans in the U.S.
It is important to find and illustrate them. This is made more difficult because Mexico, itself, is understudied and, all too often, underappreciated. She has problems, but is also full of great people, full of great promise.
The “Latin Connection” – issues, regions, and peoples of Latin America – compels us to pursue its importance. It presents us with problems to solve but also visions to inspire. South Texas, home to many Mexican Americans, has been for many years a bridge between the US, Mexico, and beyond – to Latin America. Our countries and cultures are inextricably inter-related.
As we study and connect, a larger, sympathetic public will develop. One goal is to influence policy-makers in both continents of the Americas. Can they see we “sink or swim” together? Inter-connections between and among Latin Americans, Mexicans, and Mexican Americans are varied and growing in number and nature. For individuals, as for governments, the best starting philosophy for study and practice is to “think globally, act locally.”
These two continents – North and South – are inextricably fused, demanding as wide a vision as possible, also as focused a policy perspective as practical. The tools are at hand; here in south Texas they include better communication (just think: the “Rio Grande Guardian”) and better public education (just think: The University of Texas Rio Grande). The levels of analysis are the personal, micro level (“en cada cabeza, un mundo” – in everyone’s head, a whole world) and the macro level (broader national policy for specific problems and practical solutions).
We are fortunate. Latin America is one of the least troubled spots on the globe. Crime, cartels, poverty exist but there are no major border disputes or military invasions. We mustn’t forget – or forgive – past atrocities: genocide in Central America against the native population or “Guerra Sucia” – dirty wars – in the southern cone (Argentina, Brazil, Chile) against real or alleged “leftists.” Those were aided and abetted by the CIA, even the Church. The fallout continues: violence and cartels in Central America, leading to out-migration, leading to U.S. domestic alarm, leading to regressive, repressive policies.
Viewed alongside Middle East and other “hot spots” Latin America is calm. But we see a revival of stereotypical, racist attitudes in the U.S. toward Latin America, and lying comments by US top officials. Leading intellectuals set the stage long ago; we are still haunted by Henry Kissinger’s snobbish, Eurocentric advice: “there is nothing of value below the Rio Grande.” Not so. Think: beef and soy-beans. Think gold, copper and, oh, yes, oil.
There was a brief moment of hope: a change in policy by President Obama, who restored relations with Cuba. That change could have precipitated a new “island of development.” Now, hopes are dashed. Current U.S. officials not only reversed that policy but now side with authoritarian racists, such as Bolsonaro, of Brazil, as he trashes Brazilian Blacks, indigenous peoples, and burns the Amazon. Where is there a moderate force?
She is here – “Mother Mexico,” a leader in Latin America. Mexico is proud. Her own longtime political stability stands out in contrast to other Latin American countries. She is a leader in UNESCO, in UNICEF, and has played a crucial role in ending conflicts between the U.S. and Central American nations. She changed from “a perfect dictatorship” to an imperfect but democratic, three-party system. Current dilemmas (poverty, violence, cartels, corruption) loom but do not negate the very real changes and opportunities that exist.
Mexico’s proximity to the U.S. is fortuitous. She is the U.S.’s third trading partner; the U.S. is Mexico’s first trading partner. Other nations are envious of Mexico’s luck of geographical position. No more do we share Dictator Porfirio Díaz’s fear: “pobre deMéxico, tan lejos de Dios y tan cerca de los Estados Unidos” (Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the U.S.”). Mexico provides us cars and computers, aguacatesand tequila,not to mention labor and, oh yes, oil.
A link between Latin America, Mexico, and the U.S. lies right before our eyes: Mexican Americans. Beyond simply the potential “Latino vote” is an actual “bridge” between the U.S. and Mexico, between the U.S. and Latin America as well. The link is their language, to a great extent their religion, and their inherent empathy for the underdog. The role of Mexican Americans in Texas and the U.S. southwest merits focus. Connections of those subjects and appreciation of them are growing exponentially, in the media, in academia, and among average people.
Some discount a major “sea change” in electoral influence as a result of the “Hispanicization” of the U.S. (or “turning Texas blue”). But, to the extent those changes do resonate, those persistent trends will create measurably different new policies. We should see changes in immigration, health care, minimum wages, and, of course, more Mexican American faces in or vying for higher office (viz: Secretary Julián Castro and others).
Hope persists, but obstacles exist; e.g., Draconian cuts in higher education; opposition to the “Dream Act;” previous elimination of Latin American Studies; failed attempts to end Mexican American Studies. Yet, support remains for wonderful cultural events – Cinco de Mayo,Semana Santa,Dia de losMuertos,even a musical at the university by Dr. Robert Moreira, “Malinalli,” based on the life of Cortez’s mistress, “Malinche,” and the “first Mexican,” their son, Martín. The culture and the strong myths and memories, if not the political power, thrive.
These unique historical events and aspects of the culture are fascinating in and of themselves. But they need to be explained and conveyed to the other cultures—to the dominant Anglo culture but also to African American and other sub-cultures. Only then may we be prepared in a better way to extend pluralism and tolerance. Only then may we be more likely to perform better as a nation in which diversity stimulates democracy to thrive.
The centripetal forces, the divisions, seem (for now) to overwhelm the inevitable centrifugal, unifying forces. Yet, the whole picture suggests the possible emergence of a “security community” among nations of the continents, envisioned long ago by visionary social scientists. In that scenario, at least North America and perhaps all of the Americas enter into a new era of increased trust and mutual dependency, fostered by greater and more complex communication, and – necessarily–more sharing of information and the benefits of society. Perhaps a good start would be to heed the call by President Andrés Manuél Obrador of Mexico for a “Marshall Plan” for Central America, through US and Mexican cooperation. All benefit.
President Kennedy spoke about such dilemmas and developments long ago; he noted characters in the Chinese written language for “Crisis” may lead to “fight or fright.” But those same Chinese characters can also mean “Opportunities.” Dangers face Latin America, Mexico, and Mexican Americans, but also possibilities exist for socio-economic progress. Most peoples of the Americas can expect a brighter future, if and when regressive leadership in the U.S. is changed, if and when there is a return to positive, scientific responses to problems. Optimism, if not always justified, serves to maintain enthusiasm and encourage increased activism.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column comes from the website of William Paterson University in New Jersey. It shows students waving the flags of Latin America.