My Two Mexicos

A number of readers of my novel Mexico Way, published a couple of months ago by
Chronicles Press, apparently expected to find in it a
portrait of

at odds with the

the book presents.

I can`t blame them. The Mexico of Mexico Way is a hard
irreducible place, at once harshly real and hauntingly
sympathetic. Those who have read my reports from

south of the border

will not be surprised by my treatment
of the country and its people in the novel. But people
familiar only with my writing on the immigration issue
may be struck between what might seem a clear
discontinuity between the attitudes toward Mexicans and
Mexico suggested in Mexico Way and those

directly expressed
in my

political articles
and in my book criticizing
immigration policy, The Immigration Mystique.

This confusion, though understandable, suggests a
failure to appreciate the distinctions between the
literary and political, or the imaginative and
rhetorical. As a traveler and a novelist, I have quite
different responses to

than I do in my

capacity as a U.S. citizen and journalist
with the

critical issue

Mexican immigration.

I personally see no contradiction here. Advocates of
immigration restriction are regularly attacked for being


and "racist".
Of course, there is no connection, except in the minds
of cynical ethnic politicians and liberal ideologues.
The fact that I do not wish to see my country overrun by
an alien people from the south does not mean that I am
them, or anybody.

Truth be told, I have a fondness for


, and have had for at least as long as I
have been writing on the subject of Mexican immigration.
Indeed, there is much in
Mexican society
and its people that I find superior
modern American society
and to modern Americans.

Among them is that existential quality of irreducible
reality, of an unflinching recognition of the human
condition in respect of its relation to both the natural
and the supernatural worlds, that we Americans too once
had, but have since lost. It is this quality that I`ve
attempted to realize in my book—preceded of course by
such writers as
Ambrose Bierce

Graham Greene,

Eugene Manlove Rhodes,

Charles Bowden,

Cormac McCarthy

Mexico Way

recounts the grueling adventures of a naïve and

American male who arrives at a belated
coming-of-age through a terrifying ordeal that exposes
him, in his quest for physical survival, not only to the
rigors of nature, but also to the existence of the

power of evil
—and of good. [Read
Chapter One

] On another level, the novel is a
billet doux
addressed to the people of Mexico.

It is by no means, however, an apology for my views
regarding Mexican immigration. The two attitudes are
entirely separate, and need to be understood as such.

I began writing
Mexico Way
the winter of 1993 when I spent four months in

as writer-in-residence for The Arizona Republic,
which had hired me to write a biweekly column on local
topics of my choice. This assignment came after I`d
explored the Southwest, the

border country,
and northern

for four years, and published accounts of my travels.
(These sequentially related

comprise parts of my book The Hundredth Meridian, published by Chronicles Press in 2005.)

Sixty-five miles south of
, the two Nogaleses—Nogales,
, and

Nogales, Sonora
—are exotic and interesting
communities. Also, they are one of the chief regional
gateways to northern Mexico. And so I spent a good deal
of time that winter of `93 poking around down
there—which is how the idea of a story about a

U.S. Customs Inspector
kidnapped into Mexico by drug
smugglers after

them on a
he`d entered into with them occurred to me.

Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay Mexico is that
going there makes me want to write. So Mexico Way came to be written.             

The typed first draft of the novel was 183 pages long.
(The printed book comes to 130 pages.) I brought it
back, half-completed, with me to
Wyoming in
May, and finished it over the summer. When I had a
strong second draft, I mailed it to
, my agent in
New York
, who showed the
manuscript round to a number of publishing house

No takers; not even, as I recall, a response, as is
commonplace in publishing nowadays.

Meanwhile, I began writing my
"Hundredth Meridian"
column, about life in the modern American West, for
as a kind of extension of the expired


expressed enthusiasm for
, I
made a copy of Mexico Way and left it for him to
read on one of my trips east to

Rockford, Illinois.
Following my return to

, Tom placed the manuscript at the corner of
a side-table in his office where it remained for years,
quietly gathering dust and gesturing feebly to me with
its ruffled topsheet each time I visited the magazine.

I remained pleased with the book, but went on to write
others, each of which Tony circulated in turn in
New York
, occasionally with
happy result. Several years ago, I removed the
manuscript from my files and gave it to a secretary to
keyboard for an electronic copy. This copy also I sent
to Tony, who tried gamely once again to make a sale to
New York

No go. One publishing house, which had produced an
earlier novel of mine,

him for over a year, and then tried to
convince him they`d never received the book.

Meanwhile, Tom Fleming and I traveled by bus together
from Ciudad Juárez to Ciudad Chihuahua on a fact-finding
trip related to the preparation of Immigration and the American Future,

edited by me and published by the Rockford Institute

last year.

We had a fine time in northern Mexico, which made a huge impression
on Tom. Although the U.S. Senate was concurrently
debating the amnesty bill and getting huge coverage on
Mexican television, we were received warmly and shown
many interesting things, the best of which perhaps was
Casa Villa, the former official home of the Governor of
Chihuahua that today houses the Pancho Villa museum.

On the bus back to Juárez, I reminded Tom of the
Mexico Way
manuscript and suggested that, since he`d
become so interested in Mexico, he might
find the book of interest. He read it soon after, and
made an offer on behalf of Chronicles Press.

Today, a well-known director is interested in making a
film from the book. We have our fingers crossed.

I`ve attempted to put everything I know about Mexico into Mexico Way.
Nothing could please me more than to learn that some
Mexican reader here and there read and enjoyed the book,
while saying to himself,
"¡Sí! ¡Ése es México!"

Chilton Williamson Jr.
] is an editor and columnist for
, where he writes The Hundredth

column about life in the

You can buy his
books Mexico Way,

Immigration and the American Future

The Hundredth Meridian
and The Conservative Bookshelf: Essential Works That Impact Today`s Conservative Thinkers on line.