Those other Mexicans


The relationship between Mexico and the United States is historic, geographical, intense and inevitable. There have always been Mexicans in this country’s west and southwest. After Mexico’s independence from Spain in 1821, the inhabitants of those areas formally became Mexicans; when the United States appropriated that vast territory in 1848, those Mexicans became part of this country, forming the base of today’s largest minority group, first called “Hispanic” and later “Latino.” They were forerunners of the millions to come later, not only from Mexico, but also the rest of Latin America.

Since then, the Mexican migration to this country has not stopped; it spans generations and grew exponentially from 1990 to 2010. The contempt and maltreatment immigrants have suffered hasn’t stopped, either. They are used and abused in the workplace and in politics, both in outward and more hidden ways. They are welcomed, deported or attacked, depending on the way the political and economic winds blow, with the rhetoric of Donald Trump as one example. Little has been gained from the intense battles for civil and labor rights waged by César Chávez in the 1960s or the “political correction” of the ’90s.

Ironically, Mexican immigrants and their formally American descendents are looked down upon in Mexico, where a mixed feeling of jealousy and betrayal has developed. These immigrants are considered neither Mexican nor American, but rather a despicable hybrid. They are contemptuously called “pochos,” “cholos,” “mojados” or even “chicanos,” and they are reproached for their poor knowledge of the language, culture and history of Mexico, though such knowledge is difficult to learn and maintain in the United States. They are not considered true Americans because they conform neither to the tall, blond and white Anglo or the tall and muscular African-American stereotypes.

In Mexico, a strong ethnic-social stratification based on skin color developed over centuries, and devalues anyone who is not European in appearance. Eighty percent of Mexicans have dark skin; officially they are called mestizos, colloquially they are morenos. Another 10 percent are indigenous and subject to even more discrimination, and another 10 percent are privileged whites. The indigenous and almost all mestizos have limited access to political, economic and social power, and as a result they comprise the majority of immigrants. This discrimination is reproduced in daily life and in the Mexican collective imagination, even in this country. It is evident in movies, print and advertising and on television and the internet, where white, blond personalities represent that which is beautiful and acceptable.

For years, the governments of both countries have simultaneously ignored and exploited Mexican immigrants, who contribute to both economies. In the last two decades, remittances have provided more foreign currency to Mexico than almost any other source. In the U.S., we enjoy services and goods grown, packaged, produced or built with these immigrants’ industrious hands, generally in exchange for low salaries and long hours. Yet they are little recognized, helped or protected, and are instead demonized for their immigration status and blamed for many social or economic ills, even though many are joining the middle class, contributing high taxes and spending billions as consumers (and often paying more for the same products).

In the last few years, many of them have returned to Mexico, but their continued presence across the United States, including in schools and in Spanish-language media, has made them a daily and inevitable topic in both countries. With Trump’s remarks against Mexicans, idea of the border wall and visit to Mexico at the ill-advised invitation of President Peña, many Mexican commentators and academics concerned about the vulnerability of Mexicans in both countries are now discussing the merits of including these Mexicans and Mexican Americans as a formal part of their own country.

This would mean that they could vote in Mexican presidential elections from abroad, leading to their representation at federal and state levels. It would make them participants in important decisions that affect them and their families and places of origin. This, in turn, could lessen the discrimination against them and hopefully against all dark-skinned people in the country.

There are about 12 million immigrants living in the U.S. who were born in Mexico; half of these are undocumented. In addition, there are some 20 million Mexican Americans of various generations being born here. The idea of taking these people into account in Mexico, instead of ignoring them or seeing them as traitors and deserters, implies both more serious help for them from Mexico and a recognition of their increasing economic, political and electoral force in the U.S. 

Perhaps this is finally time for Mexico to include these Mexicans, who sustain millions of families in Mexico and help their communities of origin, not only in analysis and discussion, but in social and political life. For, with their constant travel back and forth, they are, in fact, binationals.


Victor Reyes is a translator, teacher, native of Puebla, Mexico and longtime contributor to the Point Reyes Light. The Spanish version of this column is available on our website.