September 14, 2001


Narrow National Interest: Foxes and the Mexicans

By: Rodolfo Acuña

The media has reported that Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castañeda has privately dismissed Latinos as too aligned with the Democrats, and that the Fox administration is willing to help President George Bush win over the Latino vote by campaigning for him in exchange for a special deal for Mexico on immigration. Somehow this does not surprise me. Three years ago at a conference on the 150th anniversary of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo at Southwest Law School, Castaneda said that Mexico should pursue a foreign policy that conformed to the interests of Mexico and not "Chicanos." At the time, I interpreted the remark as a criticism of Mexican Americans who often act more Mexican than Mexicans and attempt to influence Mexican foreign and domestic policy.

I was disappointed. First the statement was unnecessary and it resembled something out of the pages of Cold War political scientist Hans Morgenthau's defense of the "National Interest." Morgenthau advocated the effective exercise of power, which in turn was a product of both capability and the will to act. As seductive as the theory is, Castañeda should remember that central to it is an understanding of the major elements of national capability and the importance of ethics.

Moreover, I am disappointed because Castañeda is a respected scholar. Unlike many sons of the ruling elite Castañeda as a youth was involved with working class issues. Uninhibited by his popis roots he joined the Partido Comunista Mexicano, writing and speaking out against undemocratic practices of his country. Although always arrogant, we could forgive him because of his boundless energy and idealism.

However, what most people forget is that a thin line exists between Marxism and positivism, and we should not be surprise that a former Marxist like Castañeda should intellectually embrace today's neo-liberalism where nations are scurrying for their share of global markets for their bourgeoisie. The forging of a close partnership with the leaders of the new global economy seems rational, so much part of "real politics." However, Castañeda, though he is a good scientist has failed to test his hypothesis, and like his neo-liberal predecessors ignores the history of the porfiriato.

As Foreign Minister in the Vicente Fox administration, Castañeda is an influential player, no doubt. Under his direction Mexico has moved to strengthen the North American Free Trade Agreement. A cornerstone of Fox's policy is the reshaping of immigration policy, hoping to ease the country's chronic poverty by liberalizing U.S. immigration laws. Castañeda's strategy is apparently to get Mexican migrants preferences at the expense of other Latin Americans, which we will see runs contra to the efforts of many US Mexicans to forge closer ties with other US Latinos.

Castañeda rationalizes that it is Mexico's interest to help its citizens and stabilize its own economy, playing to the narrow nationalism of many Mexicans. Undeniably, protecting the interest of Mexicans in the United States is an admirable ideal. However, what he and his ilk forget is that historically the Mexican government has cared little about its citizens and the Mexican bourgeoisie has and does dismiss immigrants as traitors who abandoned the mother country. Even in the face of the failures of the Mexican government, the abandoned Mexican workers preserve illusions of a Mexico Lindo y Querido, even through the third generations they still love the motherland. These feelings have remained constant even in the face of US opinion that views Mexico as a pathetically corrupt country whose politicos sell its birth right for a peso.

Like it or not it was not the genius of neo-científicos that has made Mexico a factor in US politics. They did not organize a network to protect the rights of Mexican immigrants. They did not popularize Mexican culture in this country. The truth be told, few out of the Southwest knew what a Mexican taco was in the 1960s. During this period, the term "wetback" was still in use.

Changes came about because US Mexican and other Latino organizations incorporated the defense of the foreign born as part of their moral agenda. When Chicanos made immigrant rights part of their agenda, they did not act out of narrow self-interest. At first, most Mexican American organizations and US labor and Spanish-speaking media opposed the notion of sin fronteras. Nevertheless, Chicanos made the defense of the immigrant a crusade. This defense cost the community valuable political space. Yet slowly as with the farm workers' movement, the protection of immigrant became part of the US Mexican and Latino common sense.

Where were the Mexican government and its gaggle of intellectuals during this period? For the exception of sociologist Jorge Bustamante, for the most part, they were dismissive. With smirks that bordered on sycophancy and the obsequiousness, indicative of their class, they would patronize Chicanos. After all many of these Marxist intellectuals de café really could not relate to these poor Mexicans whom they historically avoided on the streets of Mexico City or, for that matter, in LA.

Although the change in official Mexican policy took place during the administration of Mexican President Luis Echeverria, the major shift took place in the 1980s when the Mexican government recognized that it was to its self-interest to build links with the growing Mexican American middle class and political establishment. The desertion of the Mexican bourgeoisie accelerated this process as many fled inflation and peso devaluation and transferred capital a este lado de la linea.

Before this shift, Mexicans made it clear that politically Mexican Americans were US citizens and not real Mexicans. Even my good friend Jorge Bustamante whose sincerity I would not question told me on the pages of La Opinion that Mexican Americans did not have that standing. However, it is now to the interest of the foxes to be inclusive and presume that they can with impunity intervene in Chicano or Latino or, whatever you want to call it, politics. Motivated by self-interest they now want to cut a deal with George W. though this will subvert the interests, not only of US born Mexicans and Latinos, but working class Mexican immigrants.

Intellectually I have a problem with this wrongheaded thinking. Other than being against the interests of the poor overall, Castañeda and Fox seem to ignore that they are aligning themselves with interests in this country that have historically fought the protection of the foreign born, the Mexican immigrant and Mexico Lindo itself.

Last week (September 5-7) Mexican President Vicente Fox was honored at the White House. George W. stood besides him, acting like "some of my best friends are Mexican." They ate together at a state dinner, a big reception was held for Washington power brokers and Latino leaders on the South Lawn. They were all treated to salsa and chips and Mariachi music. Some were there because they genuinely believe that they can make a difference and change US and Mexican policy and help the plight of Mexican immigrants. A substantial number were in attendance for the same reason Bush and Fox were there—self-interest.

What is wrong with this scenario? First, no matter how arrogant Fox and Castañeda are, they'll get atole con el dedo. Bush will make promises, and Mexico will in time sign a guest worker program which is a bracero program by another name. Mexico will repeat the history of the German and other European "guest worker" programs. (If the cientificos want any further proof of the negative outcomes of such programs, they can go to Europe, and see how Turks are treated—and Turks are much lighter than Mexicans). They can study the bracero program here, and see the disparity of power. For example, in 1948 and 1953 the US unilaterally opened the border and gave the Mexican government the high sign when it objected to the violation of its sovereignty. (For Castañeda's information, that is power, his untested assumptions are illusions).

No doubt that many Mexican Americans and Latino business persons and Republican operatives are whispering sweet nothings into Fox's ear. However, most of these people could not deliver their family members let alone a precinct for Bush. Even independents such as myself operate left of center. While we prioritize the defense of the foreign born, we realize that they and other workers need government services such as medical care, a liveable wage, good housing, day care, good schools, social security—issues which Republicans have historically opposed. Only the gullible or the fool would say that George W. has been compassionate on these issues.

Fox may proudly announce a series of initiatives—on immigration, sharing law-enforcement intelligence to slow drug traffic, promoting commerce, and other issues. Again, the relationship is uneven. For all of Fox's and Castaneda's illusions, they are no more than the hidalgo in the novel Lazarillo de Tormes, who walks out of his home, with his stomach growling from hunger, while he picks his teeth with a gold toothpick.

I would estimate Fox's chances of delivering the Mexican vote on the lower side of very slim possibility (not even a probability). The US Latino outside the million Cubans who are less than 1/32nd of the Latino population in the US is overwhelming number tied to the Democratic party. They know that most conservative lawmakers oppose giving illegal immigrants legal status or amnesty to Mexicans. Republican Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, a Bush ally, calls amnesty a "very bad policy" that "rewards lawlessness." Key GOP Reps. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin and George Gekas of Pennsylvania have already said they won't support immigration reforms unless the administration first overhauls the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Who else then is left to support this legislation? Democrats? And why should they support immigration reform if Fox is messing with them? The truth is, there is a large network of Latino elected officials who, while they socialize with Fox and his gaggle, are not about to commit political suicide by supporting his pro-Republican policies.

Many would also resent the Castañeda/Fox initiative to divide Central American and Mexican immigrants. They are already embarrassed by the immoral rounding up of Central Americans on Mexico's southern border. How can we morally condone this gestapo-like behavior when we in turn complain about the deaths on our border and the excesses of the US Border Patrol? I am sure that when there is a full siring of these contradictions—Fox/Castañeda will have succeeded only in tarnishing the image of Mexico Lindo and our illusions about it.

Lastly, a growing number of labor groups see Mexican workers as a new source of members. A sizeable number of Mexican and Latino undocumented workers belong to labor unions. These union members enjoy higher standards of living than non-union workers. And, while most favor a liberalization of immigration laws, they are not as innocent or tolerant of Fox/Castañeda. Surely, this base will be mobilized if Castañeda/Fox would play out their fantasy.

Perhaps I should apologize for getting so indignant over the arrogance of not only Castañeda and Fox but with elements of the US Mexican middle class. I cannot understand nor tolerate narrow nationalism and much less narrow self-interest. I live in a world where there are other poor Latinos as well as poor whites, Asians and African Americans. My world is different from the Castañedas. For forty years, I have worked to improve conditions for my own people—a family that has been expanded by the arrival of immigrants from Mexico, Central and Latin America. I am proud that my parents, Paco Acuna and Alicia Elias, were Mexican immigrants. I don't need the Mexican government to tell me how to vote.

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