Aware of the growing strength of the Mexico-American movement in the united States, the Mexican government has quietly begun courting Chicano leaders in the hope that they will become a pro-Mexico lobby in the United States.
In recent months, President Jose Lopez Portillo has received more than a dozen Chicano representatives, while his administration has launched various cultural programs directed at the Mexican-American community in the United States.
After years of feeling awkward about Chicanos -- persons of Mexican descent living in the United States --and their often vociferous activities, the Mexican government is now beginning to look at them and their movement with pride.
Last week, at Lopez Portillo's invitation, more than 50 members of the National Council of La Raza, the leading Chicano association, which claims nearly a million affiliates, held their annual board of directors meeting here and attended a seminar on economic development along the U.S.-Mexican border.
Deeply concerned that its actions will be interpreted as interference in American affairs, the Mexican government has kept its overtures largely on a cultural level and says it informs U.S. officials of its projects in the United States.
But high government officials here also hold frequent meetings with members of CASA one of the more radical Chicano organizations, which is successfully organizing illegal Mexican workers in U.S. industries and is now seeking the support of Mexican labor unions.
So far, according to well-placed sources, U.S. officials have not reacted negatively to the developing political ties across the border.
"After all, it's quite a natural thing for the Mexican government to want to do," said one U.S. official. "The U.S. is a country of immigrants and many keep strong political ties with their home country."
The rapprochement between Mexico and the Chicano groups has been taking place slowly over the past four years, first stimulated, ironically, by the Chicanos' desire to reaffirm their origins in the culture that existed long before Spain, and later the United States took over large parts of Mexico.
Traditionally the Mexicans, who are fierce nationalists, have snubbed their fellow countrymen who preferred to settle in the United States, regarding them as traitors.
But with Mexican-Americans making up nearly 5 percent of the U.S. population and representing the fastest growing minority group, officials here became conscious of the growing political power of the Chicano movement.
The Lopez Portillo administration in particular has taken a keen interest, according to officials, in forestalling the use of the Mexican-American public opinion against its interests at a time when Mexico's economic and social troubles are deepening.
"It finally dawned on us that the position of 16 million Mexican-Americans will affect Mexico's future in a number of areas," said a politician who has been a driving force in the current courtship."An anti-Mexican, or even neutral, Chicano movement could spell disaster for us, but on our side they can be a very important lobby," he said.
Last month, after a meeting with the Mexican president, Chicano leaders told reporters here that for the first time they had told Mexico they were ready to help it, much like American Jews helped Israel and Italian-Americans acted for Italy.
The most important political cooperation so far is the still private joint stance being formed against the Carter proposal to curb the vast, illegal Mexican migration to the United States.
The government fears that a plan stopping the close to a million job hunters who annually cross into the United States will have disastrous economic, social and even political effects in Mexico.
The Chicano organizations say Carter's plan would spawn more racism and police repression against all people of Mexican ancestry. This criticism is a drastic reversal of the Chicano position, which has long denounced the Mexican migrant workers as strike-breakers and competitors for jobs.
The government here stresses its cultural program in the United States. Last year, the ministry of education began preparing a collection of books for the Chicano community and granted 150 scholarships for medicine and social sciences.