Political revolt is taking shape in this fast-growing city 200 miles south of the border. Affluent, educated, English-speaking Mexicans take it for granted that if the polls aren't rigged here July 6, Mexico's governing party will lose a statewide election for the first time in 57 years, and lose it big.

The number that routinely gets thrown around here is a 70 percent vote against PRI -- the Institutional Revolutionary Party that has ruled Mexico since 1929 -- and for PAN, the pro-capitalism, anti-corruption National Action Party whose reverence for individualism, hard work, and moral order sounds eerily like Arizona Republicanism. Some Mexico City political analysts say an honest vote could go 3 to 1 in favor of PAN.

"This is an extraordinary transformation. It constitutes a major challenge to a regime undergoing its darkest days," says George Grayson, a Mexico-watcher at the College of William and Mary.

If Mexican history is any guide, of course, PAN will not be allowed to take power in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico's biggest. Instead, its leadership will be absorbed -- or if necessary, crushed -- by PRI, which maintains power and legitimacy by embracing, amoeba-like, all sectors of Mexican society. That's the way Mexican politics has worked since 1929 when the ruling party brought enviable stability to Mexico at the price of a one-party system that bears little resemblance to American-style democracy. And that's why many northern Mexicans assert that the only reason PAN lost in two other border states last year was because of the most blatant fraud.

But however the votes are counted in July, the cultural transformation of northern Mexico that gave birth to the PAN revolt seems certain to continue and increase in coming years. It is born of a frustration analogous to America's '60s antiwar movement. It is rooted in a belief that, from ubiquitous bribery and corruption to an inability to buy a house or get a pothole fixed, The System simply isn't working. What's revolutionary about this is that the frustration is not being expressed in the traditional leftist mode. Instead, it's coming from the right, and the urbanized.

The underlying premise of this movement can never be boldly stated because it is so easily attacked as unpatriotic, if not colonial and treasonous. That premise is: no matter how many totally legitimate historical grievances Mexico may have against the United States, in the late 20th century, an awful lot can be learned about what does work in this world by looking at America.

This transformation is the unintended consequence of the ways America has almost accidentally exported its culture to northern Mexico and changed it in ways as profound as the ways Mexicans have changed the American Southwest. And while there is no reason to think that PAN is anything but home-grown and grass-roots, its appeal is a prime example of America's ways having massive influence on that very region of Mexico that is the fastest growing, most rapidly industrializing, and has the highest per-capita income.

Such a challenge to Mexico echoes instantly from Los Angeles to Washington. For Mexico is our third largest trading partner, after only Canada and Japan. Its tottering economy threatens the collapse of more American banks than that of any other country in the world. It is our number one supplier of oil. Nowhere else in the world does a developing country like Mexico share an absolutely undefendable 2,000-mile border with a superwealthy country like the United States. The influx of Mexican immigrants into the United States has already transforming cities as far away as Chicago and Gary.

And it is a mistake to think that the challenge to Mexico is diminished because it comes from the remote north. For Mexicans know that historically, most of their revolutionary movements have come out of the north.

"The character of the northerner is to be critical, to be independent, to initiate things," mused a prominent northern Mexican industrialist with close ties to PAN and American businessmen. As with most Mexicans with something to lose at the hands of PRI, the price he put on an expansive, candid interview was anonymity.

"Northerners have had to fight for survival on this desert or mountain land," he said, trying to explain why it was obvious to him that northerners were so different from other Mexicans. He didn't bother to point out that the deserts and mountains that they call home are exactly the same as the ones undergirding the civilizations of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. It didn't seem necessary.

"Mexico is essentially made out of two entirely different countries. The line is roughly at Zacatecas. Most people in southern Mexico have tropical climates where all they have to do is grab and fetch fruit or get a fish and they have it made. Northerners had to be concerned about the till and the rifle and the horse.

"You can still see that today. To me it's one hell of a lot easier doing business with a U.S. businessman that it is with somebody out of, let's say, Yucatan. Our culture gap is much, much greater. We know that usually you start work at 8 a.m. In southern Mexico it is not uncommon that breakfast is scheduled at 9:30 and then it's long and leisurely so you may be hitting the office by 11.

"I think the harsh ecology got it started. There's a different work ethic in the north. You'll find some of the higher levels of literacy in the country are in the northern states. PAN is stronger in the northern part. Later on I think the presence or the vicinity of the United States became the strongest cause, without question."

The presence of the United States is inescapable in the city of Chihuahua. Residents brag that their city of 365,000 has the highest ratio of satellite dishes to human beings of any city in the world. It's a credible claim. Five hours south of El Paso, well out of the range of American broadcasts, the city's skyline has been transformed by 15,000 fiberglas and steel parabolas. It's tough to get lost in Chihuahua. To orient yourself, all you have to do is glance up, because the dishes are all pointed in the same direction -- toward the American Galaxy satellite. The same is true in prosperous, industrial Monterrey.

Of the two major American influences pervading northern Mexico, television is the most poignant. Northern Mexicans speak with great reverence of the medium Americans revile. On the border are urban complexes like San Diego/Tijuana, El Paso/Juarez, and Brownsville/Matamoros, in which the larger city is always on the Mexican side, but the television antennas are always pointed north. The importance of American television is most deeply underscored in the interior, where working people have to sacrifice to get it, and do. In Chihuahua, a locally produced hand-made satellite dish costs $600. Sought-after manufacturing jobs there pay the Mexican minimum wage of $3 a day.

Jorge Saad Lopez is the entrepreneur whose company, S&S Communications, has installed the lion's share of Chihuahua's dishes. Traveling around with him, visiting his customers as their new eight-foot monsters are wrestled onto their roofs, one hears the most wistful explanations for the purchase. It's for the children. We want them to learn English. It is the way for them to get ahead. Women talk about Sesame Street. Men talk about the Boston Pops. Men also talk about Fernando Valenzuela, the great Mexican pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. But inevitably, it comes back to broadening the horizons of the kids; the news program, the documentaries.

As the parents gush with earnest high-mindedness, of course, the kids are sitting on the couch, riveted, getting their first taste of Huckleberry Hound.

But the lessons American television teach are no less important for that. They start with the serious points PAN activists make. Not only can you get unfiltered political news about Mexico by watching local U.S. stations, but you can discover that it is technically possible to count the election vote of the entire United States in about three hours. It doesn't have to take a week and a half as it can in Mexico -- time, some say, for officials to make sure the totals come out "right."

And the cultural transformation can be startling. Sitting in the Chihuahua airport, a Mexican engineer turns to an American with whom he has struck up a conversation Out of nowhere, he announces: "Fantasy Island."

"Fantasy Island?" dumbly replies the American.

"Da plane, da plane," the Mexican wryly responds, pointing to the Aeromexico flight pulling up to the gate.

The second pervasive influence on the culture comes from the maquiladoras -- the more than 700 mostly American-owned factories that have flocked to northern Mexico and have just passed tourism as the second-largest generator of foreign exchange in the country. (Oil is still number one.)

Typically, these factories start with parts from America as basic as plastic plates, screws, and pieces of wire. Their $3-a-day workers turn them into subassemblies that are the beginning of anything from a Honeywell wall thermostat to a General Motors tail-light. They are then shipped back to the States, where Americans turn them into complex final products.

Manufacturers say the benefit to America is that it saves U.S. jobs that would otherwise be exported entirely to Asia. The economic benefit to Mexico is stunning. Mexico has unemployment and underemployment rates of 40 percent. The city of Chihuahua has an unemployment rate of 4 percent. There are not enough semiskilled Mexicans in Juarez, with a population of almost a million, to fill all the jobs in the maquiladoras. In the state of Chihuahua, maquiladora job growth is expected to be 15 percent this year. The Mexican national number for employment generated by the plants is 600,000, and many more plants are expected. The plants used to be entirely on the border. They have spread to the interior of northern Mexico within a day's truck trip to the States. And the leading American maquiladora entrepreneur in Matamoros thinks the new promised land for the cheapest production yet is as far south as San Luis Potosi'.

But oddly enough, those are not the benefits that Mexicans dwell on when they talk about the maquiladoras. They talk about the way the plants have changed their thinking and thus their lives. Mario Lugo, now an executive at Honeywell/Chihuahua, recalls that when he started work at the lowest level of a maquiladora his eyes were opened by the very process of manufacturing. It had never occured to him that a big problem -- like creating an automobile -- could be divided into thousands of small problems, and then systematically solved. He says internalizing that idea changed his life. Now he sounds like a management primer: "If I can't solve a problem in five minutes I give it to someone else. It's the only way to survive in this industry. You can't let things pile up."

Others point out that the plants teach workers to follow a schedule, arrive at work every day at the same time, dress properly, be hygenic, and eat a modest meal at lunch instead of an enervating one. The plants are creating new lifestyles associated with Yankee-style achievement.

Lugo himself is now teaching a course for young women who work for the maquiladora on the home uses of statistics. He points out, for example, that if they chart the number of tortillas they eat every day, it can help them control their weight. He says he is changing his people's thinking about everything from money to organization to efficiency. And hesitantly, he suggests that the ultimate product of the maquiladora may be pride: "We Mexicans, I think. . . . We Mexicans can do things as well as anybody in the world -- the Koreans, the Americans, the Japanese."

Over the last seven months, whenever I've suggested to Mexicans that the cultural changes get unfiltered political news about Mexico by watching local U.S. stations, but you can discover that it is technically possible to count the election vote of the entire United States in about three hours. It doesn't have to take a week and a half as it can in Mexico -- time, some say, for officials to make sure the totals come out "right."

And the cultural transformation can be startling. Sitting in the Chihuahua airport, a Mexican engineer turns to an American with whom he has struck up a conversation Out of nowhere, he announces: "Fantasy Island."

"Fantasy Island?" dumbly replies the American.

"Da plane, da plane," the Mexican wryly responds, pointing to the Aeromexico flight pulling up to the gate.

The second pervasive influence on the culture comes from the maquiladoras -- the more than 700 mostly American-owned factories that have flocked to northern Mexico and have just passed tourism as the second-largest generator of foreign exchange in the country. (Oil is still number one.)

Typically, these factories start with parts from America as basic as plastic plates, screws, and pieces of wire. Their $3-a-day workers turn them into subassemblies that are the beginning of anything from a Honeywell wall thermostat to a General Motors tail-light. They are then shipped back to the States, where Americans turn them into complex final products.

Manufacturers say the benefit to America is that it saves U.S. jobs that would otherwise be exported entirely to Asia. The economic benefit to Mexico is stunning. Mexico has unemployment and underemployment rates of 40 percent. The city of Chihuahua has an unemployment rate of 4 percent. There are not enough semiskilled Mexicans in Juarez, with a population of almost a million, to fill all the jobs in the maquiladoras. In the state of Chihuahua, maquiladora job growth is expected to be 15 percent this year. The Mexican national number for employment generated by the plants is 600,000, and many more plants are expected. The plants used to be entirely on the border. They have spread to the interior of northern Mexico within a day's truck trip to the States. And the leading American maquiladora entrepreneur in Matamoros thinks the new promised land for the cheapest production yet is as far south as San Luis Potosi'.

But oddly enough, those are not the benefits that Mexicans dwell on when they talk about the maquiladoras. They talk about the way the plants have changed their thinking and thus their lives. Mario Lugo, now an executive at Honeywell/Chihuahua, recalls that when he started work at the lowest level of a maquiladora his eyes were opened by the very process of manufacturing. It had never occured to him that a big problem -- like creating an automobile -- could be divided into thousands of small problems, and then systematically solved. He says internalizing that idea changed his life. Now he sounds like a management primer: "If I can't solve a problem in five minutes I give it to someone else. It's the only way to survive in this industry. You can't let things pile up."

Others point out that the plants teach workers to follow a schedule, arrive at work every day at the same time, dress properly, be hygenic, and eat a modest meal at lunch instead of an enervating one. The plants are creating new lifestyles associated with Yankee-style achievement.

Lugo himself is now teaching a course for young women who work for the maquiladora on the home uses of statistics. He points out, for example, that if they chart the number of tortillas they eat every day, it can help them control their weight. He says he is changing his people's thinking about everything from money to organization to efficiency. And hesitantly, he suggests that the ultimate product of the maquiladora may be pride: "We Mexicans, I think. . . . We Mexicans can do things as well as anybody in the world -- the Koreans, the Americans, the Japanese."

Over the last seven months, whenever I've suggested to Mexicans that the cultural changes culminating in PAN are revolutionary, they blanch and desperately reach for another word. For to them the word revolution means massive bloodshed and frightening chaos.

But in the American sense of the word -- upheaval that changes assumptions and behavior seemingly overnight -- northern Mexico is in fact undergoing a revolution. The demanding desert and the new horizons offered by television and industrialization are coming together to create a new people with new aspirations for themselves and for their country. That's what the July 6 vote in Chihuahua is really all about. And that's the problem the government faces: Ballot-stuffing can stop PAN, but it cannot stop such a movement.

Pamela Hogan, an assistant producer of "MexAmerica," contributed to this report.

Joel Garreau, an editor of Outlook, has been filming in Mexico for the forthcoming PBS pilot, "MexAmerica."