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Memo From Mexico | THE EDUCATION OF A GRINGO IN MEXICO, Or How Living in Mexico Helped Transform Me Into A VDARE.COM Contributor
To experience another culture is like seeing the world through another set of spectacles. It's a highly enriching experience, and I highly recommend it. It might even help transform your thinking on the National Question—it certainly did mine.
I moved to Mexico without a particular interest in the subject, and after spending a number of years here, I became a full-fledged immigration reformer. Who knows, had I stayed in the U.S., I might be cheering on the efforts of President Bush, Paul Gigot and others to open wide our borders and balkanize our nation's cultural unity.
I have lived here in Mexico since 1991, working as an English teacher. In 1996, I married a Mexican citizen. We have one son we are raising to be bilingual. I believe that I have integrated into Mexican society more than many, maybe most, Americans who reside here. (There are a million of us living down here.) I have associated with various sectors and socioeconomic levels of Mexican society: with the rich, the poor, the middle class, campesinos, laborers, professionals, Catholics, Protestants, Secularists, etc. I have lived in what many Americans would consider a Mexican slum, I have traveled extensively in Mexico, and I have taught a Bible class (in Spanish) at the church I attend.
Furthermore, I consider certain aspects of Mexican society to be superior to our own. Mexico has a more cost-effective and efficient free-market medical system. Its educational system is better than ours in many ways. And its immigration system is much better.
I share my own background to show that (1) I'm not some gringo who's spent all his time at beach resorts or border towns; and (2) I certainly don't consider myself "anti-Mexican."
I certainly did not move here intending to become an immigration restriction activist. Rather, like Shakespeare's description of those who have "greatness thrust upon 'em" (Twelfth Night Act II, Scene 5), I have had immigration restriction activism thrust upon me by my experience and observation living in Mexico.
The great transformation in my thinking on the subject did not come about overnight—it took me years to figure out what is really going on. I have observed how Mexican society is structured, how upper-class Mexicans view lower-class Mexicans, how Mexican society views immigration to the United States and what its effects are here. And I have not only observed, but also experienced, how Mexico manages its own immigration system. Plus having spent a lot of time in South Texas, I've seen the growing linguistic Balkanization that is actually encouraged by our own government.
So when I actually ran across a copy of Peter Brimelow's Alien Nation, I was prepared to hear what Brimelow had to say, and something clicked. The situation described in Alien Nation corroborated my own observation, and vice-versa. The die was cast. I eventually wound up becoming a U.S. immigration reform activist residing in Mexico.
What I have learned is that Mexican society sees the immigration phenomenon very differently from the way Americans do. This diametrically opposed perspective should cause us to re-consider the present mass people movement of Mexicans to the U.S.A.—especially when that movement is combined with a multicultural spoils system which encourages them to see themselves as having separate interests from other Americans.
The problem is not that Mexicans are "anti-American", because the majority of them are not (to be sure, much of the professional commentariat is). In fact, American culture, or more properly the popular-commercial version of American culture, is extremely popular among Mexicans, especially younger ones. The average Mexican knows more about the U.S. than the average American knows about Mexico. At the same time, the more traditional and deeper features of American culture are much less known and poorly understood.
While you can find much admiration in Mexico for many things American, Mexican society as a whole does not respect the sovereignty of the United States of America - and it's ridiculous to expect it to. By "Mexican Society", I refer to the chattering classes (politicians, media, intellectuals) and also to the conventional wisdom on the street. Certainly, in conversations with individual Mexicans, I have heard sympathy for the American side of the problem and even bemusement that the gringos could allow themselves to be so abused by immigrants.
(That's my Mexican wife's point of view. When she hears the by-now-familiar litany of immigrant abuse of the U.S., she says "¿Quién tiene la culpa? Ustedes los gringos."—"Whose fault is it? You gringos." Her point is it's our fault for allowing it—and she's right!)
I began to understand that Mexican society has no respect for U.S. sovereignty when I spied a headline in the newspaper, back in the early '90's. The headline was decrying a "racist blockade". It sure sounded bad, so I had to check it out. Upon my perusal of said article, I discovered it referred to none other than a nefarious attempt by the gringos to control their own border at El Paso, Texas (the successful Operation Hold the Line). So simple border control was considered by the Mexican press a "racist blockade".
The next big outrage was California's infamous Proposition 187, which sought to—can you believe this?—deny government benefits to illegal aliens. Prop 187 was virulently attacked here in Mexico, by the media, by politicians, by intellectuals and by ordinary people. How dare the state of California deny government benefits to illegal aliens—it was racist, xenophobic and anti-immigrant. California's Governor Pete Wilson was viciously slandered and was probably for a time the most hated man in Mexico. I even saw an editorial, which associated Wilson with Adolf Hitler. (Which doesn't make much sense - after all, the Jews weren't trying to sneak into the Third Reich.)
Proposition 187 provided grist for the mill for several months. Almost nobody noticed an ironic fact: Mexico does not provide government benefits to illegal aliens here. And when the measure was approved by the majority of voters, I was verbally insulted by an administrator in the school I was working in—ironically the same administrator who demanded that I produce my Mexican government work permit required to allow me to work in the school.
The stuff I have read in the Mexican press throughout the years is simply amazing—breathtaking in its chutzpah. I've seen the U.S.-Mexican border referred to as a "slaughterhouse", likened to the Berlin Wall (a ridiculous analogy, when you think about it, see Hitler above), and called " a modern Nazi zone" by a Mexican congressional committee. The sufferings of innocent Mexicans in Gringolandia are painfully recounted and dwelt upon in the print media, television, the movies and popular music.
There is no social stigma attached to breaking the immigration law of Mexico's northern neighbor (most of those who do emigrate are already looked down upon by Mexico's elite for racial and social reasons—but not for the simple fact of their emigration). Vicente Fox has called illegal aliens "heroes", but he was not the first to treat them as such. Even vicious Mexican murderers on death row in the United States are—and I am not making this up—treated as victims! America is doubly wicked - wicked for attempting to bar the entry of every single Mexican who wishes to enter the country—and wicked for mistreating them after they successfully, often illegally, enter the country.
Which, when you think about it, is contradictory—if they are treated so badly in the U.S., wouldn't we be doing a favor to keep them out? But logic is the last thing to expect to hear in such Mexican diatribes against U.S. immigration policy.
Although couched in indignant rhetoric of human rights and humanitarianism, it's important to understand that the principal beef with U.S. immigration policy is not the occasional ugly incident when an illegal is mistreated—it's the fact that the U.S. tries to control its border at all.
The reaction to the deaths of Mexicans who die each year on the border are illustrative of this fact. These misguided and imprudent people cross the border far from populated areas, in the desert without sufficient water, they fork over exorbitant sums of money to predatory human smugglers who sometimes abandon them, or they get lost in the desert. As a result, hundreds of illegal aliens die each year on the border. But rather than blame the society which encourages them to engage in such life-threatening activities, or say that they themselves made bad choices, their tragic but avoidable deaths are blamed on the U.S. attempt to control its own border. The Mexican media explanation is this: since operations like "Hold the Line "(El Paso) and "Gatekeeper" (San Diego) have successfully closed the border at populated areas, the illegal aliens "are obliged" to cross the border in desert areas. Notice that they are said to be "obliged" to cross the border- implying that they have to cross the border somewhere, and the United States is evil to prevent this—evil to prevent entrance into our own country.
Objectively speaking, Mexicans are treated quite well in the U.S. Even illegal aliens receive government benefits and can bring suit for discrimination, and some even vote! Their children born on U.S. soil are automatically declared citizens, and Mexican immigrants and their descendants are entitled to preferential treatment over "non-Hispanic whites," and this preference is applied even to those Mexican immigrants who are themselves white! But here in Mexico, the common viewpoint is that Americans don't like Mexicans and Mexicans are routinely mistreated. Seriously, I've had people I just met tell me stuff like that!
It's also significant to point out that the majority of Mexicans have relatives in the United States. That means that, according to the present nepotistic chain immigration policy practiced by the U.S., the majority of the population of Mexico could legally migrate to the U.S. It also means that the majority of Mexican families are linked to Mexicans in the U.S. and their interests as their own (and vice-versa). Furthermore, it makes possible the existence of a vast social network on both sides of the border. This network functions as an intelligence service, providing information to prospective illegal immigrants as to where the easiest places are to cross the border. It functions as a placement bureau to set illegal aliens up in jobs and give them places to stay, and it explains why illegal aliens can so easily blend in with the Mexican community in large U.S. urban areas.
For a prospective Mexican immigrant to the U.S., all he or she has to do is tap into this informal network of kith and kin, and find somebody who knows somebody, a friend of a friend of a friend, and the information and connections necessary to a successful foray to the north are easily to be obtained.
So many Mexicans have told me that they have worked in the U.S. Being a courteous sort of fellow, I don't ask them if they worked legally or not, though it's rather obvious that most of them didn't. But some have made a special point of telling me that they were illegal aliens (one even proudly showed me his Texas driver's license). There is definitely a "macho" element at work here—evading the "migra" is a game that inflates the pride of the many who successfully play it.
In contrast to the romanticized and paternalistic view of immigration often promulgated by its defenders, your average Mexican contemplating immigration to the U.S. does not see himself as part of the "poor, tired, huddled masses yearning to breath free ".They don't emigrate for freedom or rejection of their government like the Cold War era dissidents from communist countries did. They don't go to the U.S. to culturally enrich our country, they don't go because they are attracted by our values, they don't go to keep interest rates down. They go to make money.
Furthermore, the average Mexican contemplating emigration to the U.S. does not have a burning desire to become an American. To be sure, American citizenship is a highly-prized acquisition, but not for the traditional reason. Citizenship is no longer seen as the symbolic crossing of the Rubicon in which one loyalty is exchanged for another. Nowadays, U.S. citizenship is viewed here as a means to an end—a means of access to even more U.S. government benefits and "rights" without responsibilities.
The growth of double citizenship implies that more and more people are thinking this way. Double citizenship, by the way, has existed for a long time, it existed even before the Mexican government became interested in it. What some Mexicans do is make sure their children are born on the U.S. side of the border, even though they continue living in Mexico. They do this not to contribute anything to the United States—but so the child will have that U.S. citizenship ace in the hole. It might come in handy some day.
The growth of the Hispanic population in the United States, and particularly the Mexican-American population, is viewed quite gleefully here, especially among the chattering classes. Nor is this due to sheer sentimentality—Mexico's elitists definitely see it as a way of expanding their influence. Ethnic identity politics is the guiding star. I heard one radio commentator applauding the increase in Hispanic government officials in the U.S. Why? The commentator didn't say it's great that these officials are integrating into American life and contributing to the country of which they are citizens. No, the commentator said it's great that there are more Hispanic officials so they can defend the rights of Hispanics—nothing was mentioned of their duties as American citizens nor their responsibility to their constituents regardless of ethnic background.
Even more important than the growth of Hispanic power is the growth of specifically Mexican power. After all, what's considered good for other Hispanics might not be considered in the best interests of Mexicans. A case in point is the influence of the Cuban-American lobby, which is greatly resented here. It's unfair, goes the argument, that the Cubans, greatly outnumbered by the Mexicans, should have so much more pull. In a column published May 5th, 2000, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser did some bellyaching about the Cubans, and called for the mobilization of Americans of Mexican ancestry as a tool of Mexican foreign policy. In fact, Aguilar Zinser said it was the top priority of Mexican foreign policy! Where is Aguilar Zinser now? On the Mexican cabinet, serving as Fox's national security adviser!
There is a huge contrast, however, between the immigration and assimilation program that Mexico demands for the United States, and the one practiced here in Mexico. I've had personal experience with the Mexican immigration bureaucracy - and by the way, they don't feel the need to speak to me in or provide documents for me in English, whereas the INS provides services in Spanish for immigrants. The government of Mexico requires me to have a work permit to live and work here. One year I was required to produce my university diploma, a master's in English, and have it officially translated (for a fee, of course). In contrast, even the majority of legal Mexican immigrants in the U.S. don't have a high school diploma!
Don't get me wrong. I accept the right of Mexico to manage its own immigration policy as it sees fit. What's disconcerting, however, is that the same government that requires me to have a permit defends the right of its own citizens to enter my country without a permit.
The Mexican immigration system, unlike ours, is designed in the interests of the nation. It allows very few immigrants. Those permitted are selected to exclude the poor—only immigrants with marketable skills or financial independence are allowed. Most Mexicans aren't even aware of this—I've been asked why the U.S. has immigration controls but Mexico doesn't, when in reality Mexico has tighter immigration controls than the U.S.!
Mexico also understands the importance of national unity. It does not encourage immigrant ethnic power blocs. Although a Mexican congressional committee called California's referendum to abolish bilingual education "racist and discriminatory", Mexico itself does not offer bilingual education or native-language instruction to immigrants or their children. It's learn Spanish by the immersion method—sink or swim. (And it works, I had a Bulgarian student who in short order had learned Spanish without the aid of any Bulgarian-speaking instructors.)
Spanish is the native language of at least 90% of the Mexican population and the linguistic vehicle of the nation's political, cultural, social and religious life. Immigrants are not encouraged by politicians to think of themselves as members of their ethnic group rather than citizens of their adopted country, as they are in the U.S.
It seems that, whatever influential Mexicans say about what the U.S. should do, in their own country they know the importance of a unified culture; and their policies reflect that.
Back at the height of the furor over Proposition 187, I recall one Mexican commentator ridiculing the very idea that Mexicans need a visa to be in California, since California was formerly part of the Spanish Empire and (briefly) Mexico. It would require very little extra effort, I think, to arrive at the full-fledged "reconquista" ideology, several forms of which are being propagated in the U.S. Southwest. The reconquista idea pops up from time to time in the Mexican press. Mexican author Elena Poniatowski openly applauded it on a recent visit to Venezuela.
How widespread is such an idea in the general Mexican public? Many Mexicans aren't even aware of any "reconquista" movement. But the preparation has been made for the acceptance of the doctrine by the educational system and the media. Generally, Mexican schools teach Mexican history rather poorly, as a result many if not most Mexicans have a poor grasp of their country's history. But the system ensures that one historical episode is sufficiently impressed on the minds of young students - that the U.S. took away half of Mexican national territory in the 19th century. The media continues to remind people of this episode in articles related to contemporary American-Mexican relations. The idea has even been promulgated that America is rich today and Mexico is poor today because Mexico lost the Southwest to America—as if economic, social and cultural factors had nothing to do with it.
It's not at all difficult to see how this much-rehearsed historical memory at the back of many Mexicans' minds could, combined with other factors, transform itself into something more concrete. It appears that such a transformation may already be occurring.
Samuel Huntington, a friend of VDARE.COM, has described it this way: "Mexican immigration looms as a unique and disturbing challenge to our cultural integrity, our national identity, and potentially to our future as a country."
My own experience and observation here in Mexico have brought me along to the same point of view. The present mass immigration of Mexicans to the U.S., combined with multiculturalism, can only end in disaster for the United States. Take it from me, "Good fences make good neighbors."
Allan Wall is an American citizen who has lived and worked in Mexico since 1991. Presently employed as an English instructor, Allan has legal permission from the Mexican government to live and work in Mexico under the rubric of an FM-2 migration document. His VDARE.COM articles are archived here; his Frontpage.com articles are archived here. Allan Wall welcomes questions or comments (pro or con) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
October 26, 2001