Mexico

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Although its principal ingredients have been culled from Indian, Spanish, and French antecedents, the Mexican ethos has also been strongly influenced by the United States. This is particularly true of modern Mexico. The Coca-Cola cultural invasion is clearly evident at every level: mini-skirted señoritas sit at IBM typewriters in sleek air-conditioned offices, typing letters in English to the parent company in Kalamazoo; long-haired Mexican hippies groove to Bob Dylan on RCA stereo sets turned on full blast; a buxom Mexican suburban matron boasts of her costly mass-produced furniture from Sears Roebuck and disdains handcarved colonial furniture that is actually less expensive; dark-eyed children munch American candy bars as they watch “The Untouchables,” perfectly dubbed into Spanish, on TV; a wily bootblack spouts a few well-rehearsed English phrases for the tourist trade; and bilingual prostitutes coyly flatter their yanqui customers in either language. Ambivalent in their attitude toward the United States (it is difficult to love an affluent neighbor), many Mexicans nevertheless slavishly imitate the gringos they purportedly hate. Carlos Fuentes, an astute novelist and social critic, once remarked that Mexico is the most Americanized antiAmerican country in the world.

To understand this curious ambivalence toward the United States, one must analyze this country’s in-and-out involvement in the Mexican revolution and its aftermath. First of all, one ought to take into account the unavoidable interdependence between our neighboring republics. In a geographic sense we are like Siamese twins. Mexico is the narrowing extension of the same land mass as the United States, being the longest stretch between this country and the crucial Panama Canal. The largest, most strategic deep-water harbor on the west coast of this continent is Mexico’s beautiful Bahia de Magdalena. In a land war (we shall wistfully discount the possibility of intercontinental nuclear missiles), the Rio Grande River would be a most vulnerable border.

But the interdependence between us goes beyond mere geographic considerations. Mexico occupies a most critical position in the political and cultural life of the entire hemisphere and thus necessarily influences U.S. foreign policy in this volatile area. As Anita Brenner cogently asserts in The Wind That Swept Mexico: “What the Mexican people think and feel about us is a sort of lens through which the rest of Latin America regards us.” Even when Mexico stands alone in the Western Hemisphere in maintaining friendly relations with Fidel Castro’s government, she may be serving as the secret alter ego of many sister republics who frankly envy Mexico—not because they agree with her regarding Cuba, but because she dares defy the most powerful nation in the world.

Bearing in mind the geopolitical web that enfolds our two countries, one can more readily understand Mexico’s attitude toward the United States. First of all, it is rather difficult for most Mexicans to forget that California, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, the increasingly affluent southwestern sector of this country, once belonged to Mexico. Their resentment is constantly nourished by the fact that nearly all the major cities of California have retained their original Spanish names—Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento, Fresno, Monterey, San Jose, Santa Barbara, Ventura, San Bernardino—so that the Anglo-Saxon name of Bakersfield seems oddly intrusive midst all that Hispanic nomenclature. Several years ago, when I was the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Secretary of State in California, my opponent jokingly told a group of Rotarians that “Lopez is scheming to give California back to Mexico.” He probably never realized it, but he was actually expressing the secret longing of millions of chicanos (Mexican-Americans) who enviously know that California alone is wealthier and more productive than all of Mexico.

Though slightly less affluent and much less attractive than California, the state of Texas is probably more coveted by historically sensitive Mexicans who have always resented the texanos’ perpetual bragging about their last-ditch stand at the Alamo. Having been told that their Mexican-American paisanos in Texas are generally treated as second-class citizens, the average Mexican is all too willing to accept the most abusive and farfetched stereotypes about Texans. Even the most sophisticated Mexican intellectuals, notwithstanding the cogent findings of the Warren Commission, are still stubbornly convinced that President Kennedy was the victim of a devious plot by wealthy, power-hungry Texans who wanted Lyndon Johnson in the White House. Unfortunately, there are a few irrepressible Texans who seem to revel in the less attractive aspects of their public image. Last summer I heard a man from Houston loudly berating an old, stoop-shouldered peddler about the price of a scrape: “Don’t talk to me about pesos, boy—just tell me how much it costs in Texas dollars.” His friends seemed to enjoy the jest, but there were a few other American bystanders who found his humor a trifle heavy. Such incidents, admittedly blown out of all proportion by Texaphobes, no doubt inspired the saloonkeeper who named his hole-in-the-wall establishment La Conquista de Texas por los Aztecas en el Año 2000 (The Conquest of Texas by the Aztecs in the Year 2000).