What a Wall Can't Stop
To placate the nativist flank of his Republican Party, President Bush has promised to brick up the sky. But that will not prevent the coming marriage of Mexico and the United States. South and north of the line, we are becoming a hemispheric people -- truly American -- in no small part because of illegal immigrants.
As the son of Mexican immigrants legally in the United States, I have long wondered about the future of Mexico, a nation that every night for nearly a century has lost hundreds of its most hopeful youths to its neighbor and rival, the North.
I think historians will come to recognize the illegal immigrant as the great prophetic figure within the Americas. The illegal immigrant Americanized us all by a simple and frugal migration; by sojourning in the North; and by sending the dream of the North (a money-gram) back into Mexico.
From the early 20th century, the migrant worker commuted between here and there, hot and cold, high and low, past and future, rich and poor, Spanish and English, life and death.
The legend of the North spread throughout the Americas. Today Peruvians and Bolivians know when there are apple-picking jobs in the Yakima Valley; when the godawful fisheries in Alaska will begin to hire; when a dishwashing job in a Bronx restaurant is coming open.
By the late 20th century, the rumor of the North had ascended to the middle and the upper class in Mexico. They, too, followed the peasant's lead. In Mexico City, a capital of abundant but vulnerable wealth, the rich have learned the prudence of a second home in La Jolla.
The Americanization of Mexico is as inevitable as the Mexicanization of the United States, though the cross-pollination will never be equal because the United States is the more potent transgressor.
Americans take our imperial influence for granted. We assume, do we not, the desirability of Wal-Mart? Shouldn't we build Wal-Mart in Mexico? Of course we should. Where shall we build Wal-Mart in Mexico? How about right there -- where it will appear in the photograph of the Pyramid of the Sun.
Commentators did not seem to know what they were watching when millions of brown people recently marched along U.S. streets. This was obviously a "demonstration," but a demonstration of what? I believe it was a reunion -- of family, of hemisphere. Children and parents walked as one family. Brothers born there, sisters born here, walked as one hemisphere.
A great many Americans are alarmed by how much of Mexico is within the United States -- the tongue, the tacos, the soccer balls, the street gangs, the Spanish Catholic Masses, the workforce swarming into New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The extent of the Mexicanization of U.S. culture renders any notion of a fortified border irrelevant.
Twenty-five years ago, Joel Garreau wrote "The Nine Nations of North America," in which he described a nation he called "MexAmerica" -- a puzzle to both Washington and Mexico City -- encompassing much of the U.S. Southwest and Northern Mexico as well as Baja California. A quarter-century later, one is struck by how prescient Garreau was but also how modest his forecast was. MexAmerica now includes vast sections of Chicago and blocks along Main Street in Kansas, as well as the Baptist Church in North Carolina.
In the other direction, MexAmerica includes not just the Mexican border towns that have become drug supply centers for U.S. addiction but also Jalisco, Colima, Michoacan and points south.