Our Neighbor to the South
Mexico: Getting the Short End of the Stick?
By Edward Shanahan
For the longest time, I have been hooked on the romance of Mexico and its people, growing out of solitary and extensive travel by bus throughout the country, more time that I can count struggling to learn the language and respect for the work done by Mexicans, legal and illegal, to enrich our own country in countless ways.
Part of the romance of Mexico derived from the realization that so much of the US west and southwest originally belonged to Mexico, and the recent resettlement of those same regions by a continuous flood of Mexican immigrants seemed only right and fair. The border as such is completely arbitrary, existing only as a line on maps, not in the Mexican state of mind.
The other exotic notion that I harbor is the result of personal encounters with Mexicans of various backgrounds, both in Mexico and in the US. The Mexican work ethic and the country’s culture, both in its rural and urban forms, are something that I have seen close up and admire. Mexican art, especially the work of its great muralists, along with the crafts of it indigenous Indian population are distinctive, unique in color, design and execution.
In terms of political history, Mexico’s revolution, which dates back just about 100 years, put the country in the vanguard of former Latin American colonies that overthrew the ruling oligarchy and gave rise to a modern leftist political system, which exists only in fragmented form today. My sentiments still are with Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata, and other revolutionary heroes.
Yet, ultimately, Mexico, as a nation and as a people, seems always to come out on the short end in its dealing with the US. Just think about the way US policies have whipsawed the willing Mexican worker, who is allowed into our country when extra workers are needed, especially for back-breaking field work, but just as quickly chased back home, when economic circumstance and changes in politics demonize the Mexican. We don’t hear any more about amnesty for hard-working Mexican workers and their families who have toiled in the US for years, despite the rising tide of support for amnesty that surfaced just three years ago.
The unequal relationship is just as true with NFTA, a trade agreement that was intended mainly to allow US companies to ship their manufacturing operations to Mexico where labor is cheap and not have to pay tariffs when they brought finished products to back to the US. The Mexican got some short-term jobs, but now with the economy on both sides of the border faltering, Mexicans are back to where they started, fewer jobs, and not even permitted to drive Mexican trucks on US highways to deliver products they have produced in their country by their own people.
As if to further make life difficult for Mexico, fears in our country are being fanned over the escalating violence that is taking place in Mexico between the criminal drug cartels and police and Army personnel, many of whom probably have ties to the drug traffickers who routinely engage in murders and beheadings of their enemies.
The US is being urged to send our own military personnel to guard the borders, if not to enter Mexico and do for Mexico what we have done for so many other countries—become involved in its internal affairs, taking sides in deciding who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.
Most of the evidence suggests the mayhem in Mexico is more our mayhem than Mexico’s. Virtually all of the drugs that come through the Mexico border and trigger drug-related warfare, are headed for the robust US illegal marketplace. And on the other side of the equation, virtually all of the contraband weaponry used in Mexico to kill and maim enters Mexico from the US. In a sense, the US is the dominant player in the important-export of Mexican drugs and violence. So who are the bad guys? Who are the good guys. It is them or us?
Meanwhile, Americans are increasingly afraid to travel to Mexico, even though most of the violence is confined to cities and states near the so-called border. The vast expanse of the country, including its rural communities and its coastal regions, both east and west, are still hospitable and yield unusual pleasures and surprises. The recent collapse of tourism only aggravates Mexico’s existing woes.
Just a few weeks ago, we returned from a three-week stay on the Pacific coast of Mexico, and it was hard to comprehend the hysteria that surrounds the US public view of Mexico. It is not as though we were unaware of the turmoil Mexico is going through. And upon traveling in a taxi from the airport to the town where we would be staying, we witnessed coming from the other direction of long line of cars, trucks and taxis - a funeral process it turned out. Conspicuous were trucks packed with soldiers armed with machine guns, who were on their way to bury four policemen who had been killed in a shootout that previous day.
Yet, in the course of our stay, we managed to feel free to walk about, although we were not stupid about when and where we went about the city.
In retrospect, we would have been disappointed if we had been cowed into not traveling to Mexico. It has to rank as one of the more evocative places we have visited recently, largely because of the people we met and their affection for their beleaguered country.
So don’t give up on Mexico. A trusted friend, a good long-term neighbor is merely going through a difficult time, as we are in the US. It is important for us to stick together, riding out the bad times as we have enjoyed the good ones.
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