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Migrants in Sasabe, Mexico, cross through a barbed wire fence into the United States.  (AP Photo/)
Migrants in Sasabe, Mexico, cross through a barbed wire fence into the United States. (AP Photo/)
Guillermo Arias / AP
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Reviewed by Pamela Constable
Sunday, November 4, 2007

REVOLUTION OF HOPE The Life, Faith, and Dreams of A Mexican President | By Vicente Fox and Rob Allyn | Viking. 375 pp. $27.95

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EX MEX From Migrants to Immigrants | By Jorge G. Castaneda | New Press. 222 pp. $25.95 (forthcoming in December)

MONGRELS, BASTARDS, ORPHANS AND VAGABONDS Mexican Immigration and the Future of Race in America | By Gregory Rodriguez | Pantheon. 317 pp. $26.95

Relations between the United States and Mexico have long been poisoned by the problems of cross-border migration. The northward human flow has been welcomed by business but reviled by nativists, distorted by outside wars and catastrophes, and debated with equal hypocrisy and mistrust in what Vicente Fox, Mexico's president from 2000 to 2006, calls a "bleak pattern of mutual misunderstanding."

Most Americans today are probably not in the mood to listen to what Fox, or any other Mexican, has to say on the subject. With an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the country, many Americans feel besieged by a tide of Spanish-speaking strangers, angry at the U.S. government for failing to stop it, and unsympathetic to the plight of people who break American laws to escape poverty their own leaders have failed to alleviate.

But there is another side to the story and thoughtful voices from across the Rio Grande that need to be heard amid the shrillness of this emotionally charged moment. They remind us that Mexico, too, is grappling with the issue of how to feed and keep its workers, that its leaders are also constrained by domestic politics and posturing, that its emerging democracy is making it a better neighbor. They also point out that Mexican Americans are a permanent part of our society and that Mexico's economic future is ultimately linked with ours.

Fox's book, Revolution of Hope, written in English and launched with a U.S. tour, makes a direct plea to the American people to see Mexican immigrants in a kinder light. He wants us to have patience with Mexico's fledgling efforts at political and economic reform, and to seek common solutions rather than building walls. His tone is often hyperbolic, but his message is heartfelt.

"A Mexican farm boy who crawls across the barbed wire at the Rio Grande desperately loves his homeland," Fox writes. "Only the gnawing hunger and low wages on one side of the border, and the golden promise of economic opportunity on the other" drive him to flee to an alien land where hard, dirty work awaits him.

Fox views these emigrants, whether legal or illegal, as both Mexican "heroes" and American assets. He argues that they are helping America compete with global rivals as well as providing Mexico with an economic safety valve.

A rancher known for blunt, salty language, Fox is both a proud, sentimental Mexican and an ardent admirer of America. He helped end 70 years of ossified one-party rule and took office in 2000, eager to open up Mexico's economy and seek a long-elusive immigration pact with Washington, banking on his friendship with President Bush.

But as he recounts with deep regret, the prospects for any agreement collapsed with the attacks of Sep. 11, 2001. A day of terror plunged Washington into a war Mexico could not support, and gave fearful, angry Americans "a pretext for acting out their xenophobia." At home, Fox's economic agenda was thwarted by domestic opponents, and his dream of peaceful democratic transition marred by an ugly election controversy.

In part, Revolution of Hope is an effort to redeem Fox's legacy. It is laden with bromides and self-indulgent asides -- the nostalgic memories of his childhood ranch, the gee-whiz accounts of visiting China or meeting the pope. He comes across as temperamental but guileless, self-absorbed but humble -- an appealing persona that has been further tarnished by recent reports of Fox's lavish, post-presidential lifestyle.


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