table from left: Sergio Aguayo, Denise
Dresser and Antonio
Villaraigosa discuss the future
on April 12. Harley Shaiken, Chair of the Center,
sits to the left.
recording of the panel
large - 12.2 mb file)
U.S. and Mexico: Neighbors in a New Era
Chávez, Department of Journalism
the first of a series of public conversations, two
Mexican academics and a U.S. Latino political leader
engaged over the possibilities offered by Mexican
President Vicente Fox's insistence on a new era in
U.S. - Mexico relations.
are in the middle of a fundamental transformation
in the way we Mexicans see the United States, how
we perceive the U.S. and how we have decided finally
to defend our interests with a different and more
assertive attitude," said Sergio Aguayo, a founding
member of the Mexican Academy of Human Rights and
a professor at the Center for International Relations
at El Colegio de México.
United States treated Mexico with disdain and indifference
in the 19th Century and then took us for granted,
and that is over," he said. "It is not going to be
possible to take Mexico for granted, for good or
Dresser, a columnist for Reforma and Proceso in
Mexico City who also teaches in the political science
department at Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de
México, and Antonio R. Villaraigosa, California
Assembly Speaker Emeritus and former Los Angeles
mayoral candidate, agreed.
it quickly became clear that domestic politics in
the United States complicated Fox's efforts.
conversation, "The U.S. and Mexico: Neighbors in
a New Era," is part of a larger effort by the Center
for Latin American Studies to contribute to the debate
on U.S.- Mexico affairs by asking prominent Mexican
and U.S. academics, officials and public intellectuals
to consider the shape and character of a new policy.
To that end, the Center invited Dresser and Aguayo
to teach month-long seminars at Berkeley.
R. Villaraigosa and Harley Shaiken meeting at
the Center for Latin American Studies prior to
the panel discussion.
panel on April 12 was one of several discussions-private
and public-in which U.S.-Mexico relations have been
is a new program that the Center will be sponsoring
to explore the U.S. Mexican relationship--where it
is today and where it might be able to go in a way
that improves the relationship and improves the lives
of people on both sides of the border," said Harley
Shaiken, the chair of the Center.
a sense, the discussions have flirted with a central
question that Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda described
in a private conversation with California educators
about California - Mexico relations: "Either there
is a special relationship or there is not."
if there is, he said, it means cooperating to greater
degrees and in ways that initially are likely to
make both parties slightly ill at ease.
is clearly ready to test the possibilities.
former Mexican leaders, President Fox went to Washington
in early September with a message and, Dresser said,
a marriage proposal: "Think different."
meant moving beyond the North American Free Trade
Agreement to a "true North American identity pattered
on the European Union," she said.
get there, she added, Castañeda had in hand the talking
points of a prenuptial agreement, including amnesty
for Mexicans already living in the United States,
the negotiation of a guest workers program, and bilateral
only was Mexico willing to be more aggressive, it
correctly assumed that President Bush, a Texas Republican
well aware of the need to court the American Latino
vote, would be more receptive.
credited the growing political power of the Latino
community for this change. "Two years ago under a
Democratic president, all of the dialogue around
U.S.-Mexico relations centered on drug enforcement
and Mexico's failure to address drug interdiction
issues," he said. "Neither party is talking about
10 to 15 years, Villaraigosa said, the American Latino
community will have the impact on U.S. - Mexico relations, "as
you see Jews having an impact on U.S. Israeli relations."
U.S. Jews have been closely aligned with Israeli
interests, however, U.S. Latino and Mexican government
interests sometimes clash. September 11 stalled any
new accord with Mexico, but it's clear that when
negotiations resume, they will be complicated by
proposed guest worker program is a case in point.
Dresser said that this was probably the only concrete
proposal the Bush Administration was likely to succeed
in pushing forward. The guest worker program satisfies
the Republican Party's business interests to provide
low-cost labor and the Mexican interests to provide
any jobs at all.
is precisely, however, the program that many Latino
politicians dislike. "There is without question a
very strong bias among Latino leadership against
a guest worker program," Villaraigosa said. "I don't
know how they make a program like that work in a
way that it respects the rights of workers to organize."
coming in on any guest worker program would compete
head-on with Latinos already in the United States.
for Mexican immigrants already in the United States,
a program the right wing of the Republican Party
hates, has a better chance, Villaraigosa said. "I
think we will revisit that issue and sooner than
people think, " he said. "I think there is a lot
of momentum and support for an amnesty or regularization."
he acknowledged that there is still a strong nativist
and anti-immigrant bent in the right wing of Republican
Party, he said, "at the end of the day, both Republicans
and Democrats are going to be supportive of regularization." Latino
leaders, he said, would play an important role in
what that policy will look like.
but disagreements between Latino leaders and Mexican
leaders slow progress, Dresser said. "The Fox Administration
perceived the importance of the Latino community
and that is why when he first came into office he
said, 'I am going to be the president of all Mexicans,'
and so on but I think he and those around him perceive
many Latinos as a community to be catered to and
seduced, but not to be listened to," she said. "If
you speak to many Latino leaders they will tell you
that they have not been listened to in this debate
and that they have been underestimated and underappreciated."
put," said Villaraigosa, who maintained that the
two groups still had much more in common than not.
as Mexicans and Latinos wait for U.S.-Mexico relations
to re-emerge as a priority in Washington, it is the
Fox Administration that is suffering most, the panelists
president gambled on improved relations with the
U.S.," said Dresser. "And he is now beginning to
incur significant political costs for having done
so. Opposition politicians in Mexico are arguing
that the president should have known better than
to place his bets on an unreliable neighbor to the
north. They are beginning to say it's been too much
pain and too little gain; that the Fox vision is
just another mirage."
not disagreeing, Aguayo offered a slightly different
assessment. The revolution in how Mexicans view their
role in the world, he said, would have far greater
long-term effect on U.S.-Mexico relations than any
temporary setbacks or policy failures. The new attitude,
he said in a discussion later in the month, is "very
complicated." "It's how we are going to incorporate
the U.S. in our ethos. It goes very deep."
Dresser agreed that over the long run, a new paradigm
would prevail: "Despite the waffling that's taking
place north of the Rio Grande and the wiggling south
of it, I think ultimately greater convergence and
integration, whether it's negotiated or not, between
the two governments is here to stay."
group of Berkeley scholars engage Villaraigosa
and Aguayo at a luncheon meeting before the
of Antonio Villaraigosa (Berkeley Magazine,
Sergio Aguayo: Democracy
in Mexico (from Journal of American History, 1999)
Denise Dresser: Mexico:
From PRI Predominance to Divided Democracy (paper presented at the Center
for Latin American Studies, November 2001)