When I write that I like Mexico, that it enjoys much that we have lost, that Latin societies are more livable if less prosperous than ours, dismissive letters arrive. They amount to the same letter: “If Mexico is so great, how come they all want to come to the United States?” The writers invariably believe that they have made a telling point.
Mexico is not so great, of course. It has plenty of problems. But why do Mexicans swim the river? Money. Period. If asked, an immigrant will usually say that he seeks “una vida mejor,” a better life. He means “Money.”
Mexicans and gringos have distinctly different views of the United States. An American explaining the attractiveness of his country will usually say, “I have a big house in the suburbs, three cars, a home theater, and 300 channels on the cable. I can drink the water, and in the mall I can buy anything, absolutely anything.” He may talk of freedom and democracy, often having only the vaguest idea of whether he actually has them or what conditions might be in other countries.
A Mexican is more likely to say, “They are such a cold people. They don’t know their neighbors. They don’t know their children. They have no fiestas. Rules and being on time are more important to them than other people. They have no religion.” (To a robust Catholic, bland agnostic Protestantism isn’t detectibly a religion.) Democracy means little to an illegal with a second-grade education; in any event, Mexico is probably as democratic as the United States. He knows the government left him alone in Mexico, which is his definition of freedom. And mine.
But money counts when you don’t have any. It counts a lot. And so they come whether they like the country or not. Very often they do not. This is going to matter.
Now, do the “all Mexicans” of my mail want to emigrate, to attach themselves to the northern nanny’s promiscuous dugs? No. Few do. Who then are the emigrants?
For starters, they are not doctors, chemists, and airline pilots. Successful Mexicans do not want to go to the United States. Mexicans who are merely comfortable do not want to go to the United States. They like Mexico. This is very difficult to explain to most Americans, who know beyond doubt that Mexico has lesser malls. But it is a fact.
The Mexicans who go north are the losers, the failures, the barely if at all literate, those with little to offer. They go because the Mexican economy is wretched, because the jobs that left the United States for Mexico are now leaving Mexico for China. Money. The United States can run a first-world economy. Mexico cannot. Why is debatable. The fact isn’t.
While Mexicans are good people, their dregs often are not. On average the immigrants are uncultivated, uneducated, and of low intelligence. One may not mention the matter of intelligence, but it is well known among people who pay attention to such things, and has implications for the future. America is getting those Mexicans least worth getting, the least assimilable, and getting them in circumstances that do not encourage assimilation. Unlikely to prosper, they show signs of becoming another unsalvageable underclass.
Being Latins, they are not comfortable in an impersonal, technological northern European culture that values performance, competition, efficiency and punctuality. It isn’t their way. Often they plan to make money and return to Mexico; many then develop ties and remain. Yet even then they stay among their own. Their numbers as they swarm across the border are such that they can do it. If they don’t want to assimilate, don’t have to assimilate, and don’t have the wherewithal to assimilate—don’t expect assimilation.
Further, Latin Americans resent the United States for its great wealth and for their own poverty, which they tend to blame on exploitation by American corporations. Whether this characterization is correct (it isn’t) doesn’t matter. The resentment does.
Mexicans know that much of the American southwest was once part of Mexico, taken from them by force of arms. Americans, having been the victors and in any case being historically illiterate, know little of this. Mexicans do. Few know the dates or the politics, yet they have a sense of grievance, a sense that these states are really theirs. They are getting them back. They know it. They view the reconquista with the relish with which they watch a Mexican soccer team beat the US.
Their envy, their sense of inferiority and of failure, breeds hostility in the southwestern barrios. This is far less true of Mexicans in Mexico. In a couple of years in the interior, I have found people to be friendly and courteous. The only exceptions, apart from my experiences during a couple of unwise forays into seriously low bars, have involved males who clearly had spent time in the US.
Comparisons are made between Mexican immigrants and, say, Italians, a Latin people who melded well into American society. A word of caution here: Assimilation is proportional to contact. When a minority population is sufficiently large, and sufficiently concentrated, the consequence is not assimilation, but the establishment of a sort of country within a country. There are for example countless huge black regions of the cities where one can go for days without seeing a white face. Whites barely know that these places exist. The inmates are not assimilating. The same appears to be happening with the Mexicans.
Perhaps as important, past immigrants have cut their ties with their native countries, and have arrived with the conscious desire of becoming Americans. Mexicans, very often, do not want to be Americans, and the mother country is right across the border. The phrase “trans-border de facto semi-sovereignty” is not Milton. It merits thought.
Worse for America, much worse, is that far too many of them perform terribly in school. Dropout rates are very high, auguring ill for the future. Mexicans are not an academic people (as, increasingly, neither are Americans). In the barrios, their Spanish is barbarous. So is their English. Crime is high. The press will not talk much about crime, but the police know.
And—here I am on statistically shaky ground, as there are no statistics—the young too often seem to be assimilating to the black underclass rather than to the central white current. Mexican machismo and the ghetto strut of the black underclass have much in common. Rap is popular among low-class Mexican males. It is the music of defiant losers, of macho swagger and rejection of white America.
Black and Mexican won’t unite. They don’t like each other. Anger will come when the growing and better organized Mexicans take the southwestern cities from the blacks. One country, three nations, little compatibility, and no love lost.
Fred Reed [send him mail] is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well.