Monday, March 17, 2008

Ex Mex

As some of you know, Mexico and the politics of immigration have been one of my main reading themes these days. I really want to get a better understanding of what is going on here. There is an awful lot of FUD out there about the illegal immigrants. That said, it is one of the most important issues that we have today. We have 12 million illegals in the country. They're mostly not bad people, just individuals that are seeking a better life. Just like the rest of the immigrants that are seeking to come to the us. Just like Americans, they work for it. Often times they work under some rather nasty conditions and there's de nada they can do because if they complain to the cops, well, they're illegal and could quite probably be deported for it. That said, they are, despite what some corners would like us to believe, criminals: they have most definitely broken the law in a nontrivial way.

Yeah, I am a 'rule of law' stickler and not just here: if you don't like the law, get it changed, but until then, follow it. Considering the immigration nightmares we've faced trying to get Lyuda's family to immigrate, we have some nontrivial biases here too. It really pisses us off that we have been unable to get my sister-in-law here as either a student or under the fact that she is an ubercompetent, trained professional in an in demand field (nurse), yet can get past the evil embassy.

That said, I really want to fill out my opinion with more facts than merely personal experience. There's more to this than merely my personal feelings of frustration, anger, and idealism: there are real people with real hopes, dreams, and needs involved seeking a life that they can't get in their home country. In the vast majority of the cases that would be Mexico.

The books I have read about the subject have been from the right (oy) to the left (ugh) on the political spectrum, but before I picked up Ex Mex the only books on the immigration issue that I had read were all written by Americans. While I had read some Mexican history books that had been contributed to by Mexicans, mostly they too had been written by Americans in Mexico. I do have a tome sitting up on the to-read stack that is a Mexican history written exclusively by a Mexican historian in English, I hadn't gotten to it yet due to its size. I have had a reading cycle that has been going something like this: mischief related reading (normally embedded or real time computing)->paleo related reading->Mexican/immigration politics & history->mischief related reading. I couldn't take too much time between getting back to the mischief related reading since I am cramming as much into my brain as fast as I can, yet still I needed a mental rinse between each lathering so to speak. Hence, Krauze's tome is simply too long at this point.

On the other hand, Castenada's Ex Mex seemed the right length and was explicitly on the immigration issue and written from the Mexican point of view. So! I picked it up and read it as soon as the next cycle came around. Unfortunately, I am very disappointed with the book. Taking a line from my wife as she learns how to appease her English profs, the book was super-repetitious. It kept looping through the same information in different chapters. At times I could swear I was reading the exact same text as from a previous chapter. Perhaps this is a writing style in Spanish, IDK, but since I don't - to my everlasting shame - read Spanish, I can't say. However, when rendered into English, its pretty awkward and makes for a unpleasant read. The total amount of original information contained in the book, and that which is worth making the effort to read, could have been contained in a single, much smaller essay or magazine article.

That said, there are bits that are interesting and worth reading. None of the books I've read to date on Mexican history touched much on the Bracero Program. In fact, I barely knew it existed, nevermind that it was a 'bitter' experience for Mexicans. Castenada highlights this and points out that the idea of a guest worker program is nothing new. I'm not really fond of the idea because of my liberal-ish thoughts that this would lead to the same problems that have arisen elsewhere (frex, the Turks in Germany).

One tidbit that I hadn't heard before is that there is a strong opinion among demographers, according to the author, that somewhere between 2016-2022, the immigration flow will largely stop. Huh?! I hadn't heard that before. My own head in sand? Or something that people in the political debate just didn't want to discuss? The reasons are pretty good that they argue this. The reason is that fertility is continuing to fall in Mexico just as it is all over the world and not just in the first world countries. Virtually all nations are falling to or below replacement levels. Mexico is no exception (fwiw, amusingly, the US is one notable exception). If the trends hold true, Mexicans will reach a population growth that matches their job growth somewhere between 2016-2022. At that point the economy will provide enough jobs and wages that immigration pressure will fall off and probably end completely. That's interesting. I have to think through whether or not I buy it. Castaneda isn't sure he buys it. Even so, it's worth pondering.

One of the other points that make me take notice is that the Mexicans have a looooong history of coming to US illegally and the government - and Americans in general - just looking the other way. When Americans state that we are a nations of laws and that Mexicans, if they want to come here, should follow the rules, the Mexicans have a "huh!? What rules?!" The reason being that even though we had a set immigration policy, when it came to the Mexicans, we haven't enforced it, almost ever[1], over the course of one hundred years plus that the illegal immigration has been happening. Therefore, it has seemed and still does to the Mexicans that they had a special status, a special unsaid exemption and that those of us that talk of the "Rule of Law" are hypocrites. In some ways, they have a point, but only in some. We ought to acknowledge that we shouldn't have done that and that we did, but work to improve the situation, imo.

There's more in the book, but for the most part, I can't say a lot of it was that original. There bits (Mexicans have swung wildly from condemning anyone that leaves Mexico as traitors to declaring them heroes, frex) , pieces (almost ten percent of Mexico's population now resides in the US), and nibbles (Mexico tried in the 1970s to set up cross border cultural associations for the Latinos and Hispanics in the US of Mexican descent, but it failed badly since they viewed themselves as Americans of Mexican descent who loved Mexico, but not Mexican nationals), but by and large I have to say that if you would like to read this one, I'd wait until its in the bargain bin or pick it up used. I felt a bit cheated and disappointed by the book. The insight wasn't that deep. The prose and organization was awkward. The amount of new information, despite being written by the former foreign minister of Mexico, wasn't that large. Alas.

1. Notable exception being Operation Wetback.

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