October 2011

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I Love Mexico

by Bruce A. Clark

I have written a number of things over the last few years about how much I think that the United States needs to expel its illegal aliens. However, I haven’t written about how I feel about the country from which most of the illegals have come. Perhaps I can fill that gap now and dispel any mistaken impressions.

Back in the 1970s, when I was living in Houston, Texas, and was working in an oil refinery there, I fell in love with Mexico. It started with music, then food, then the language. All of this took place before I ever went there. Here’s how it happened. I grew up in New Hampshire, but moved back to Massachusetts (where I was born) when I was 10. After high school and college in Rhode Island, I lived in the Boston area for a few years. I was active in left politics there, but that’s another story. One of the things I discovered there was a Latino radio station there. At the time, it was an interesting diversion, something I was attracted to, but knew nothing about.

A few years later, after I had begun to feel incestuous about everything in Boston, I hit the road. I went due west, visiting a college roommate near San Francisco, who had grown up in both in the US and in Mexico., and had introduced me to tequila. Then I went south to LA and then east to Houston, where I had some political friends, really great folks. That was when Houston was an oil boom town and everyone was hiring, at good wages. I drove back to Boston and loaded trucks until I had enough money to move. Then I packed everything I had into the Volkswagen (shipping my filing cabinets and mattress and box spring) and headed south.

After hiring on at the ARCO refinery there, I got myself established. At work, I got active in the union. A Chicano guy on the Workman’s Committee (the grievance and negotiating committee of the local Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers union) adopted me as his alternate, and I started to learn the ropes. At least as important, we became friends, and I started to learning about Mexicanos in the US and in Mexico.

I borrowed a bunch of music from him and taped it, the foundation of my now much more extensive Mexican music collection. One of the greatest attractions was the group Los Relampagos del Norte (“The Lightening Bolts from the North,” a definitive norteño group that had already broken up by the time I discovered them; I’m listening to them now!) We talked a lot, went fishing from the piers in Galveston, and went target shooting. He also invited me to go hunting with him, but not being a hunter, I declined that.

We would go to a Mexican restaurant the harbor, before work or on days off. I became somewhat immersed in learning about Chicano culture, including taking a Spanish course at a local community college. I became interested in photography, as he was, and we took a course together at the same community college.

It was a big thing to me. In 1975, I took my first trip to Mexico for two weeks with a close friend from New York City. She was Jewish, but her ex-husband was half Mexican and half Puerto Rican, so she spoke some Spanish, more than I. That was it for me — I was hooked on Mexico and took many more trips there over the next few years.

One trip was a longer one, 6 weeks, including a 3-week Spanish course in Mexico City. I drove my Volkswagen over a lot of the country and fell even more in love. I collected even more Mexican and border music and studied a lot of Mexican history. I ended up with lots of good photographs and memories of the kind, warm Mexicans I had met.

I also ended up with my own set of only-in-Mexico stories (everyone who goes there has some). For example, when in Oaxaca, in the south, I met up with a woman from Switzerland in one of the cafes around the zocalo, the central square. She had been hitchhiking up from Central America, and had started traveling with other Europeans she had met. Her friends wanted to leave for Puerto Escondido, a then-tiny town on the west coast, by bus and we planned to meet again farther north in Acapulco. She and I stayed for a few more days in Oaxaca and then followed her friends over 100+ miles of bad road (averaging 22 miles per hour) to the coast. After a few days, we headed north and connected with the friends in Acapulco.

The friends said that on the bus trip north to Acapulco, they ran into a blockage. Mexico had, and might still have, lots of one-lane bridges. The etiquette was that the first driver to flash his headlights had the right of way to cross. The blockage was because two tractor-trailer rigs were nose-to-nose in the middle of the bridge, with their macho drivers arguing over the right of way, with lots of traffic backed up behind each of them.

Fortunately for the friends, their bus driver spotted a bus from the same company on the other side of the bridge. So, the passengers from each filed down and across the dry stream bed and climbed onto the other bus. Then both buses turned around and went back to from where they came.

I haven’t been to Mexico since 1980, mostly for reasons involving my life here in El Norte. Partly, though, the safety of the travel down there that I was used to changed and became a concern. However, I also became very good friends with one of the leading academic Mexicanists in the US, the companion of the friend with whom I went to Mexico the first time. Reading his books and those of others, I continued learning about Mexico and the relationship between that country and this one. I even came up with the title for one of his books.

Of course, many things changed over the years. The illegal immigration situation became one of concern. My activities and thoughts regarding my own and other unions came to the fore. I became convinced that the policies of US unions toward illegal aliens was badly wrong. First of all, they were top-down policies, that didn’t consider the views and experiences of the rank and file (except for the SEIU, whose opportunistic policies were heavily influenced by the fact that many of the members of its Justice for Janitors campaign were illegal aliens).

Second, they didn’t consider the problems caused to their traditional members by illegal immigration. Why was it ok to tell their members that they should accept the lower wages and benefits caused by companies hiring illegals, that undercut the gains that their members had fought for over the decades???

Third, and never discussed, what is the long term effect on Mexico of having so many Mexicans begging for work in El Norte and not at home fighting to finish the Mexican Revolution?

I have written many times in this forum and elsewhere, supporting various aspects of the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights. Mexico has no such thing. Even the better parts of its seldom-enforced constitution do not include the liberty of Mexicans to have the arms they choose both to defend themselves and to protect the freedoms that they do have, not even in this age of extreme narco violence. Owning guns in Mexico is severely restricted. Of course the narcos there have plenty of guns (the majority come from Latin and Central America, the result of US interventions down there over the last few decades); like here, criminals do what they wish, regardless of the law.

The overall situation between the US and Mexico, especially considering the US “war on drugs” and the Mexican narco-terrorism and corruption, is all wrong. Why does the US allow illegal immigration when Mexico needs its most brave and adventurous people to rebuild and reform that country? In my opinion, the United States ought to commit itself, first, to changing Mexican law to allow Mexicans to arm themselves in their own and their country’s defense, and second, to provide those arms, with the requisite education and training.

Yes, I support sending all illegal aliens back to from where they they came. Since the majority come from Mexico, that becomes a special case. The US needs to lean heavily on the Mexican government to change its gun laws so that its citizens can both defend themselves against the narcos and, more importantly, take the offensive against them. Why shouldn’t 100 narco guns be met with 1000 guns in the hands of decent, law-abiding Mexicans?

The reason, of course, is two-fold. First, the current Obama/US regime is trying to destroy the ability of the US citizenry to defend itself against crime and the incursions of authoritarianism in this country. Second, the ties between US and Mexican big business (remember, the richest man in the world is a Mexican) inhibit any assistance to Mexicans who would like to finish their revolution, gain control of the land and the levers of power, and to eliminate the narco influence on Mexico.

I have nowhere seen these issues discussed in such a framework of ideas. Usually, of course, at least in liberal and radical circles, the discussion ends with sympathy for these poor people who just want a better income in the US, to have a better life. No recognition is given to the fact that the identical arguments could me made by every car thief, burglar and drug dealer — it’s ok for me to violate the law because I want a better life!!

The idea that American people have fought for generations for better wages and benefits that are being cut because illegal aliens are willing to work for less. All sympathy for the illegal foreigner, none for the American workers who have worked and sacrificed to improve conditions in the United States. I have seen the problems in action, while working for a local union. The union inherited a bargaining unit of metal furniture workers that an anti-union company was trying to break. The company hired lots of illegals, and used them against the legal workforce. The illegals were more worried about their personal illegal status (a circumstance that they created themselves by crossing the border illegally) than they were concerned about the issues of all of the workers at the company.

As a result, they were not willing to stick their necks out to defend the interests whole work force. As a further result, the union could not get the workers active enough to defend themselves against the depredations of the company. After the expenditure of much money and time, the local union finally had to disclaim the bargaining unit. It did not have the resources to keep throwing money at a bargaining unit that was not prepared to defend itself, and the whole workforce was thrown to the wolves, all because the illegals wouldn’t stand up for the workforce as a whole.

The fact is that because the illegals had decided to enter the US illegally, essentially cutting in the line of folks who were following the rules, they have put themselves into an untenable position. That, they felt, required them to put their own fears and personal problems ahead of the requirements of normal members of a bargaining unit. As a result, they destroyed a union bargaining unit because they were not willing to put out the effort to defend it.

In my opinion, the US labor movement cannot afford such selfishness. Union leaderships have helped bring labor into the situation where its survival is hanging by a thread. The illegals need to be considered as an enemy of organized labor and not a group to be protected. (For those who are not aware, it’s also necessary to point out that farm worker organizer Cesar Chavez felt the same way. He had no compunction against calling the immigration authorities when he felt that illegal aliens were being used to inhibit his organizing drives.)

In short, Mexicans are, in general, warm, wonderful people. They have shown over the last century that they are willing to fight to finish their revolution to put their rich country into the hands of the people, not just a handful of the rich. However, they have been frustrated at every turn by the Mexican wealthy, with imperialist ties. Now, with the narco criminality, Mexicans need a means to defend themselves and their national interests. They cannot do that without the means to defend themselves (arms), and where the most energetic of their citizens go north to work for low wages and labor exploitation. They especially cannot do that where it earns the enmity of US workers for undercutting US labor conditions.

The US relationship with Mexico is complicated. It is not going to succeed in the long term unless the US both puts its foot down on illegal immigration, on the one hand, and offers help to provide Mexicans with the means to defend both themselves and their country against the narcos, on the other hand.