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Mexican Immigration & US Expatriation: An Irony with a Silver Lining? - Articles Surfing

It's been over fifteen years since I learned a profound lesson while in Guanajuato, Mexico with a college semester abroad program. One day during a discussion with my host family and some of their friends about U.S./Mexico relations, I was asked about the name of my country. 'You are from the United States of what?' In response I said, 'America,' with a bemused expression. Big mistake. For the next hour I looked like a deer in headlights. Headlights from a Mack truck.

Any country in North, South, or Central America is considered 'America' technically. Mexicans are Americans and so are Canadians, not to mention Brazilians. Never thought about it that way? I hadn't either. 'We are the United States of Mexico. We have an identity that is distinct. You are from the United States of Nothing/Nada!'

I have frequently reflected on this idea of being from the United States of Nothing. There was a special National Geographic issue on Mexico in 1996 and in one of the sections a Mexican woman said something akin to, 'I don't understand it. Our country lacks nothing. Why are we so poor?' It is a compelling question and evidently the nothing they lack is in the U.S. About 400,000 Mexicans emigrate to the United States every year. They leave behind precious family and communities for the opportunity to earn a decent living and I know they are constantly wondering, 'Why does it have to be this way?'

I have since had conversations with U.S.-born citizens who are very disillusioned with life here and they spend as much time as possible in Mexico. Hundreds of thousands retire there. One woman recently told me that she feels more at home and at ease in Mexico than anywhere else. She loves the sense of community, the fact that people talk to each other and walk everywhere, and the vibrancy of life. She returns home with her illnesses abated and her spirits high, but after a month or so in suburbia she is faced with a returning ennui and suffocating anonymity. Why do over 15 million U.S. Americans visit Mexico every year? To relax, unwind, forget, give up, rebirth, tan, drink, dance, revive, and do nothing. We work more than ever and it shows no signs of slowing down, despite 'technological advances.' Stress is at the root of more problems and illnesses than ever before and a recent study showed that the longer Mexican immigrants are in the U.S. the more their health problems increase. This could be because only half of their heart is here while the other half is still in Mexico (like many U.S. Americans who are working in a cubicle while their mind has them on a beach in Acapulco). It's ironic that they have to become more like us, whether they stay in Mexico or come here, in order to be more economically competitive and we should be more like them to address the chronic health and societal problems caused by compulsive competition.

What is to be made of the magnetic forces between the United States of Nothing and Mexico? Could it be that our citizenry is drawn to the distinct cultures, community identities, and colors in Mexico, while Mexicans come here mainly for the particular form of esoteric nothing known as money? Money is after all a symbolic exchange with no inherent value. In an economy based mainly on the exchange of symbols (that are now even less concrete because we hardly even use paper money anymore), is it any wonder that we often feel so anonymous and exchangeable ourselves? In turn, we often discuss Mexican immigrants as if they are interchangeable hired help automatons whose greatest attribute is that they will do work most U.S. Americans will not touch. In fact, Mexican immigrants do that work because they have dreams, aspirations, ideas, and values for themselves and their families that if channeled properly can contribute greatly to the strength of the U.S. economy and society. Mexican immigrants are not unwitting pawns in an international chess game. Sustainable solutions will not arise unless we engage in organizational, community, state and national conversations that lead to a shared vision.

With so many interconnected issues it seems to make sense that rather than marginalizing the Mexican immigrants who are here we should include them as problem solvers. Mexico is developing macroeconomic stability and will hopefully continue to increase the educational and economic opportunities for citizens across their country. However, the changes will take time and our interdependence with Mexico will not soon disappear, if it ever will. And it is a viable question to ask if we should pay more attention to what each country offers that people truly value'what reminds us of our worth as human beings, our ability to contribute, and our sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves. It's not an all or nothing game and the United States of America has the potential to overcome the audacity of our country's name by changing the rules of engagement used toward other Americans from the Western hemisphere.

Copyright 2006 Relational Sensibilities

Submitted by:

Marissa Perez

Marissa Nordstr'm P'rez has an MA in Intercultural Communication. Her consulting firm is focused on businesses that employ and organizations that serve large numbers of Mexican immigrants to improve effectiveness, productivity, and retention. She is bilingual English/Spanish and lives in the Southwestern U.S. More information on her consulting services can be found at: http://www.relationalsensibilities.com.



Copyright © 1995 - Photius Coutsoukis (All Rights Reserved).


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