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Mexico warming to Mexican-Americans

Mexico warming to Mexican-Americans
by Rodolpho Carrasco
Saturday, May 22, 1999 in San Gabriel Valley Newspaper Group
(Rodolpho Carrasco is associate director of Harambee Christian Family Center in Pasadena, Calif. and a columnist for the San Gabriel Valley Newspaper Group. Check out more articles by Rodolpho Carrasco here.)

The occasion of Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo's visit to California must be interpreted as proud Mexico's extension of a hand to Americans of Mexican descent.

It's an about-face of Mexico's vision of Mexicans who go north. This entire century, Mexico has looked down on such "norte americanos." Some of these people, like my great uncle Lorenzo and his wife Eugenia, left Mexico during the 1910 Revolution and didn't stay to rebuild the nation. While they lived in the sleepy mountain town of Tehachapi, Mexico regarded them as less Mexican for doing so.

Others who left Mexico in waves throughout the century have been seen as traitors of sorts. Every migratory wave is an indictment against proud Mexico, that it cannot provide for its poorest citizens. A Mexican saying - "Poor Mexico! So far from God and so close to the United States!" - sums up how Mexico has felt about these migrants embracing America.

But this decade the official Mexican line began to change. The $5 billion a year that Mexicans in America send home is like a megaphone. The need for regional trade partnerships like NAFTA places people bridging the two nations at a premium. In the meantime the number of Mexico's poor has boomed even while economic growth remained ashambles. Mexico has no choice but to come calling.

A friend of mine remembers the day she heard Mexico's first overture. Before the war over Proposition 187 erupted, a high-ranking Mexican cabinet offical addressed Mexican-American civic leaders in Los Angeles. This Chicana, an activist from the 60s who is a regular appointee to commissions and foundations, remembers talk about how Mexico values Mexican-Americans as keys to the development of the entire Mexico-California region.

"I had never heard a Mexican politician talk like that," she says.

She says it with an ambivalent glimmer in her eye. It feels good to be courted. But the courtship reminds us of the culture of snubbery endemic not just in Mexico, but also among Mexican-Americans.

Language is a huge "snub" issue. I've felt snubbed often and by many because of my lack of Spanish fluency. Someone is always ready to stand up and say spew derision about how shameful it is that many Mexican-Americans don't speak Spanish fluently. A prominent columnist expressed disdain this week that Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and other Latino officials recently sojourned to Cuernavaca's world-famous language schools to "polish up their Spanish."

These critics usually make points about colonialism and language, or anti-bilingualists or racist. Truth be told, these are very important and valid points. But the arguments are usually made in a way that condemns the person who doesn't pass this ethnic authenticity test.

Mexican-Americans, the courted, stand between two proud nations, each with its own litmus tests for authenticity, each its pre-conceived notion of what a good Mexican-American should be. We risk alienating the very people who could help the most. I think of the countless bi-racial Latinos, usually the offspring of Latino and White unions, who have a heart to serve the Latino community but struggle with whether they are Latino enough to be accepted.

They are a squandered resource. When we overlook them, we shoot ourselves in the foot. Alongside enemies like racism and "the system" we can list the Mexican immigrant and Mexican-American communities - ourselves - every time we push these "not Latino enoughs" away.

So who cares if a couple of pochos are snubbed? Well, Mexico, for one.

On Tuesday night I stared, mesmerized, at a web site video feed of Zedillo standing in the California State Assembly, flanked by Villaraigosa and Bustamante. The Chicanos were holding the cards, and Zedillo made nice. Tripped me out.

But to leave the matter at mere good feelings for finally being included, for at last being considered a player, is to miss the point altogether. There is an opportunity here. The opportunity is inherent in a story circulating about Villaraigosa.

Earlier this year, at a dinner in Mexico City hosted by prominent Mexican business executives, Villaraigosa was asked to explain the differences between Mexico and the United States. "That's easy," he said. If his people had stayed in Mexico, Villaraigosa would be serving the executive his dinner. Instead, the executive was holding the dinner in his honor.

As he spoke, and as I write, countless Mexicans continue to attempt increasingly hazardous routes into el norte, even though t.v. and radio constantly report the discovery of dead Mexican migrants in California's deserts. They come as did millions of Mexicans before them, throughout this century, for whom the crossing worked.

My mother crossed legally, with a green card, in 1950. But given our family's circumstances, I believe she would have come illegally if she had to, so I count myself among the offspring of the undocumented.

At this time in history, we the descendents of the documented and undocumented who walked, drove cars, and rode buses and trains, are poised to support changes in Mexico for democratic elections and free market reforms - a true Mexican revolution.

Some Mexican-Americans might consider the support of such reforms to be a responsiblity, and others will consider it none of their business. I consider it an opportunity that could benefit the United States and Mexico's poor. The opportunity is that, for millions of Mexicans, migration to the United States could change from being a necessity to an option.


The copyright for these materials are owned by Rudy Carrasco.  These materials were use with permission by TechMission