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The Complex Relations with the US
During the period 1970 to 1990 the "World Affairs Report" concentrated on a careful analysis of the Soviet role in the world; during the Cold War there was a superabundance of emotion and not enough careful study of the facts. Now we are spending much time on Mexico, since our complex relations with this neighbor will be a major problem. The recent visit there of California Governor Gray Davis and a group made up largely of Mexican-Americans was conceived primarily in terms of trade and votes. Davis gloated that it was "a home run," meaning a triumph, but it raises the question of where the "home" of Mexican-Americans is: the United States or Mexico?
It was evident from the comments of Mexicans that what they want is unlimited migration and parity for the Spanish language. What the Mexican Americans want is somewhat different. We are confronted with an almost unparalleled situation: a surge across the border of a population with a different culture. The influx of Africans which has created such tensions in France is not across a common border. The surge of Haitians across the border into the Dominican Republic, which led to a massacre of them, involved peoples of very similar background.
Who are the Mexican-Americans? The Stanford Report (February 1, 1999) contains a long and deservedly laudatory profile of Vice Provost for Student Affairs James Montoya. He is clearly a great asset to the community, but the profile's choice of words unwittingly discloses a problem. It speaks of "Latin American, latino, chicano, and chicanismo." Quite apart from the irritating difficulty in getting the Spanish adjectives to agree with English nouns, there is the complex question of identity. Mexicans despise the chicanos, and I once made the mistake of calling a Mexican who had migrated to the United States a "chicano." The word invokes here a zoot-sooter image which does them no good, especially when they promote it themselves. Other terms like German Americans and Italian Americans imply that behind those groups there is a country with a great culture. Would it not be simpler if we referred simply to Mexican Americans? That is what the Mexicans would prefer them to be, but that would simply stress the trans-border surge. The problem remains.
Ronald Hilton - 02/05/99