July 25, 2008

Mexican Middle Class Fuels Ascendance of ‘Greater Mexico’

By Louis E.V. Nevaer
New America Media

For a generation, Mexican intellectuals have pondered the possibility of a “Greater Mexico” – the idea that Mexican immigration to the United States was so persistent and sustainable, that Mexican culture could “re-settle” lands lost to the United States at the conclusion of the Mexican American War. Americans, clinging to the belief of a “melting pot,” dismissed that notion, arguing that Mexican immigrants would follow historical norms and assimilate into mainstream American life, as previous generations of newcomers did before them.

A new study by the Institute of Mexicans Abroad (IME), part of Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Relations, offers insight that answers this lingering question. As Carlos González y Gutiérrez, IME’s director, told Notimex, “To our surprise and unease, we realize that Greater Mexico isn’t on the other side of the moon, but that more and more it looks like us, and that has many consequences. The principle one is that this new situation reflects, to a good degree, our divisions of class, background, language, ethnicity and educational attainment.”

In other words, there is a “perfect storm” in which middle class ambition, immigration and higher birth rates among Hispanics, is changing the face of Mexicans in the United States. Whereas in the past the bulk of Mexicans entering the United States has come from the economically marginalized – rural farmers, urban poor, under-educated and unemployed – as part of NAFTA’s unintended consequences, Mexican middle class professionals are now establishing themselves on both sides of the border. Hundreds of thousands of non-indigenous Mexicans, meaning Mexicans who are Caucasian and of European descent, are migrating to the United States; the idea of a “Greater Mexico” is becoming a reality.

Who are these middle class Mexicans with lives and families across the border?

Architect Enrique Norten of TEN Arquitectos

They are people like the Caceres brothers, whose company designs and manufactures crystal chandeliers. Some are based in Merida; others are in Los Angeles. They see themselves as Mexicans who live in cities that accommodate minorities – Maya speakers in Merida and English speakers in Los Angeles.

Others are like Enrique Norten, a well-known Mexican architect based in New York, whose firm, TEN Arquitectos, has offices in both countries. “I’m from Mexico City, but I live in New York,” Norten told the Cornell Daily Sun. “My life is about architecture, not borders.”

These Mexicans, with businesses and families on both sides of the border, give currency to the notion of an emerging “Greater Mexico” – where the idea of a “Brain Drain” depleting Mexico of its entrepreneurial spirit and sense of innovation is turned on its head. “Will there be a border in the future?” Jose Luis Caceres, one of the Caceres adult children, rhetorically asked. “For me, it doesn’t matter, since I can go wherever I want.”

That reality – and attitude – has caught Mexican officials by surprise. IME Director Carlos González y Gutiérrez calls these white middle class Mexicans in the United States “Mexico’s transforming agents,” adding that, “although they send many things that benefit us, they also send other things that harm us. But we are tied to each other.”

And their numbers are increasing — particularly since middle class Mexicans like the Caceres and Nortens have families in both countries –- and their children are registered as dual citizens of the United States and Mexico. ??This is also a recent phenomenon for the United States, and as a result, Hispanic growth is being fueled by birth rates and not by immigration. “In all of the uproar over immigration, this is getting missed,” Kenneth Johnson, demographer at the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute told USA Today. “All the focus is on immigration, immigration, immigration. At some point, it’s not. It’s natural increase (in Hispanics’ birth rates).”

In post-Katrina New Orleans, for example, four out of five births are to Hispanics. Throughout Latin America the news media have “celebrated” the realization that New Orleans is now a Latin American city.

What does it mean when white middle class Mexicans are establishing businesses and families on both sides of the border and moving with the same ease as someone who works in New York but lives in New Jersey?

What happens when the immigration debate is sidestepped by a new generation of dual citizens who can vote wherever they choose, and who are not bound to any single country?

And how will politicians on both sides of the border deal with the emergence of this “perfect storm” – immigrations, birth rates and an entrepreneurial middle class – giving rise to a “Greater Mexico”?

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