Sunday, November 25, 2012

NAVARRETTE: Mexico's strained relations

 with its diaspora

Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 7:00 p.m.


In the United States, some on the nativist fringe suspect that Mexican-Americans are reconquistas.

As if we’re agents of the Mexican government working quietly to undermine U.S. sovereignty in the Southwest and hasten the day when that real estate reverts to its previous owner. That’s loco.

But here in the most populous city in North America, I’ve just heard a competing argument that is just as far-fetched. Some Mexican politicians and intellectuals now want to bestow another title upon the estimated 35 million Mexican-Americans who live north of the border: ambassador. They want us to represent Mexico, and its people, in the United States.

I’ve come to Mexico City as part of a delegation of Mexican-American and American Jewish leaders organized by the Latino and Latin American Institute of the American Jewish Committee, a global Jewish advocacy organization, with the goal of strengthening relations between Latinos and Jews in the United States.

Perhaps Mexicans view Jewish people as the model. They see American Jews advocating for Israel and sending millions of dollars to the Holy Land to build schools, museums and hospitals, and they want the same things from Mexican-Americans living in the United States. After all, they say, both groups are part of the diaspora — people forced to live outside their ancestral homeland who have historically been subject to prejudice.

Speaking of ancestral homelands, I’ve come back to the country where my grandfather was born — at almost the centennial of that destiny-altering moment when a young boy and his family crossed what was at the time little more than a line in the dirt and started a new chapter in the United States.

The hundreds of thousands of Mexicans who fled their country during the Mexican Revolution, from 1910 to 1920, weren’t so much immigrants as refugees. Many of them didn’t come just for better lives but, literally, to save their lives.

Now, as their children and grandchildren take their place in American society, some Mexicans are calling the new generations to come back — at least in spirit. They want Mexican-Americans to reconnect with Mexico.

“We need a closer relationship with the Mexican-American community in the U.S., because there is a tremendous opportunity there,” Luis de la Calle, a scholar and political analyst, told us. “We need to make an effort so that this community sees Mexico as an asset. And Mexico needs to see the Mexican-American community in the U.S. as an asset — in terms of business, of course, but also in terms of representing Mexico in the U.S. We need to see Mexican-Americans as our ambassadors. It’s a difficult thing for Mexicans to accept, but that is exactly the way we should see them.”

Timeout. How about we take a minute and consider how Mexican-Americans see Mexicans and, for that matter, Mexico? This ambassador thing isn't just difficult for Mexicans to accept. For many Mexican-Americans, it’ll be a nonstarter.

One Mexican-American in the delegation pushed back against the idea. If we are ambassadors for Mexico, he told de la Calle, then we are “ambassadors without portfolio.” Part of the reason, he said, is that we have a “love-hate relationship” with Mexicans who often consider us to be “not Mexican enough.”

That’s absolutely right. Those in the Mexican ruling class were indifferent to our parents and grandparents, and now they’re insulting to us. Our Spanish will never be good enough, our roots never strong enough.

I’m not alone in my resentment. Show me a Mexican-American, and I’ll show you someone with a family tree that includes an expatriate who fled to the north because Mexico had nothing to offer. For many of us, the grudge endures.

Ironically, many of the economic opportunities that Mexico now enjoys come from expatriates living in the north — the dishwashers in Las Vegas, the housekeepers in Phoenix, the gardeners in Dallas. These expatriates send home more than $20 billion in remittances. It’s a generous gift that helps sustain the Mexican economy, but many of the Mexican elite are too proud to acknowledge it. They like to think they’re the ones keeping Mexico afloat.

Now, Mexican officials want to enlist Mexican-Americans to help give Mexico a makeover. The relationship is still an open wound, and yet they expect us — the children and grandchildren of the throwaways — to open our wallets.

That’s not going to happen, amigos. First, acknowledge the wound. And do whatever you can to heal it. Then we’ll talk.
Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group.

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