For Mexicans and Americans, A Nudge to 'Think Together'

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By Frank Ahrens
Sunday, May 7, 2006

Just in time for Cinco de Mayo (the celebration of Mexico's May 5, 1862, military victory over the French, for those not versed in their Mexican history) and the flare-up of the immigration debate comes the launch of http://www.matt.org/ , the Web site of "Mexicans and Americans Thinking Together."

First, let's address the fact that Matt is about the most Anglo name you can think of. A more Spanish acronym would have resulted if the group had been named "Mexicans and Americans Taking Exception, Okay?" That would make the site "Mateo," Spanish for Matthew.

Now, on to the nonprofit group itself.

It's the brainchild of Lionel Sosa, Mexican American businessman success story and a friend of the Bush family and Republicans all the way back to former Texas GOP senator John Tower, who hired Sosa for the 1978 campaign. Sosa became known as a man who could deliver the Hispanic vote. He worked for President Ronald Reagan in 1980 and President Bush in 2004.

Sosa's message -- which he says he learned from Reagan -- is that Latinos and Republicans share much -- strong family values, self-reliance, religious faith. They are natural Republican voters, but they "just don't know it yet," Sosa has quoted Reagan.

Perhaps to appear apolitical, the Web site of MATT.org, based in San Antonio, does not mention Sosa. The site could use much more disclosure in its "About Us" section, such as mentioning Sosa and saying where its money comes from. Sosa is mentioned in a trade press article about MATT.org that is linked to from the site.

MATT.org's mission is: "To encourage bicultural Mexicans and Americans to understand, address and solve the major problems of our two nations to the benefit of both peoples," according to a video on the site. Those problems include: the simultaneous U.S. reliance on undocumented Mexican labor and moves in Congress to crack down on immigration; the porous, 2,000-mile border and its capacity to deliver terrorists to the United States; an American backlash against Mexican and other Latin immigrants and their rising political and economic power here; and the debate on "free trade" vs. "fair trade," to name a few.

America and Mexico have shared a number of things in their pasts, Texas, among them. And before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President Bush's main foreign interest appeared to be Mexico and his compañero President Vicente Fox, a onetime Coca-Cola executive and neighbor of the former Texas governor.

The two rode horses together like old range hands and seemed to share a vision for a more open border. For a short time, "Amexica" became a popular term for describing the growing nation-between-two-nations that runs along the border and the rising influence of Mexicans in the U.S. culture.

But the terrorist attacks waylaid much of that, and with the recent demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of legal and illegal immigrants across the country, sentiment has risen among many in Congress and across the country to tighten the border and crack down on foreign workers.

MATT.org says it provides a way for those on both sides of the border to let lawmakers know what's on their minds. Site organizers envision it as a bipartisan sounding board.

The site is part of a large media campaign featuring radio and television spots in English and Spanish, as well as print and billboard placements. "Mexicans & Americans: Be Heard," read the billboards. TV spots promote unity, with Latinos and Anglos saying, "We're a lot alike."

One spot features a testimonial by a blond American woman, saying, "it hurts me to read in the newspapers about problems going on between our two countries. Who's solving them? Should we leave it to others? Maybe it's time we spoke our minds." The tagline for the ads is, "Let's shape the future with a million clicks," a strategy used to great effect by grass-roots Web groups such as MoveOn.org and the Parents Television Council.

Curiously, there appears to be no way for users to e-mail lawmakers, a staple of grass-roots Web activism, through MATT.org.

The site -- which charges no fees -- also includes discussion forums, registration to allow viewers to participate in opinion polls, and op-ed articles assembled from wire services in the United States and Mexico, such as a profile of three candidates for Mexican president, titled "The Three Enemigos," saying that none of the trio is dealing effectively with the immigration issue.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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