A hundred years ago, as the Mexican government was unveiling its touted new constitution with lots of fanfare, hundreds of thousands of its citizens were desperately trying to reach the USA. By some estimates by the late 1920s, ten percent of the population of Mexico resided in El Norte. As such, the revolutionary state was born in a deformed state. One of its vital and most productive parts was, let’s say, delivered separately to the wrong national home. Maybe the stork got a bit confused because only 69 years earlier, the American Southwest was the Mexican Northwest. Be that as it may, the fact is that ever since, with the exception of the 1930s, roughly ten percent of the Mexican population has made the United States its permanent home.
It’s quite embarrassing when a so-called revolutionary state can’t entice its people to remain within the nation’s geographical limits. What pissed-off the Mexican government the most was that they were losing people mainly to the United States, which was supposed to be our rival and enemy, the threat that helped to coalesce the new, national, revolutionary society. Several strategies were used to stop the hemorrhage of people, but much to the chagrin of the government, the tactics failed and massive waves of migration ended up establishing two Mexicos: México de Adentro and México de Afuera. The first more or less bound to the Revolución, the second trying to bound itself to the USA.
The relations between these two Mexicos were strained through most of the twentieth century with the Mexicanos de Afuera often being portrayed in Mexican literature and film as pochos, traitors, and malinchistas. The image during the Bracero Era (1942-1964) was perhaps less negative since most of these workers kept Mexico as their main home; but as soon as they were able to get their green cards after the program ended, these former braceros quickly moved their families to El Norte and were followed by another massive wave of circular migration, both legal and illegal, in the decades of the seventies and eighties. Most of these new emigrants established roots throughout the American Union after Ronald Reagan granted the undocumented amnesty in 1986, not out of his goodness but because he knew the Capitalist Machine needed them as workers and consumers. Los Mexicanos de Afuera had attained an economic clout that made us somewhat desirable in Gringolandia, not yet ready for primetime citizenship pero ya teníamos nuestro encanto económico.
In Mexico, the Mexicanos de Afuera began to show their newly acquired clout by transforming white adobe villages into reddish tabique towns. Tile floors and cement roofs with water tinacos became the sign of progress. Brand new cars and trucks of all models with placas from many American states roamed the dusty streets of the Mexican countryside. Campesinos dressed in Gap clothes attended quinceañeras, bodas and bautizos. Our hard-earned dollars pumped new life into the sending towns and small cities of los Estados Unidos Mexicanos, but socially México de Adentro was ambivalent toward the flaunting of our migrant dollars: many viewed us with a bit of envy and refused to acknowledged we had made good in El Norte: “Todo ese dinero no les quita lo naco, they said.” Naco (low-class, ghetto) the new adjective directed at us con desprecio, the new word that Mexicanos de Adentro flung at us along with the old favorites, pochos y malinchistas.
The government, on the other hand, wised up quickly when they realized that la gallina naca was laying lots of golden eggs in the form of dollar remittances and money spent on Christmas vacations, among other things. They had to find a way to keep us laying the golden eggs, that is, they wanted us, emigrants, to continue sending the monthly checks and coming back to our hometowns, even if it was only for a couple of weeks each year; so they launched an aggressive campaign under Salinas de Gortari: El Programa Paisano. Oh yeah!
First on the list, was to get rid of all the vampires at the border, that replica of Transylvania that made our life a big hellish mordida, and that we had to cross to get into Mexico. Now we were the paisanos that had to be protected at all costs from these Mexican border harpies and leeches. The change of attitude made it patently obvious that the government was trying to bring together the two Mexicos, to create a good relationship between its two peoples: no more pochos and malinchistas. Now, Mexicanos de Adentro y de Afuera were all paisanos. We could feel the love, but it wasn’t all there yet, something was still missing.
We could feel the love, but also the silence of México de Adentro when in 1994 Pete Wilson kicked Mexican immigrants around like a world-cup soccer ball. We could feel the love, but also the silence of our compatriotas mexicanos when the Clinton Wall went up at many border cities of the Southwest as part of the infamous Operation Gatekeeper policy forcing emigrants to cross through the gates of a hellish desert where thousands perished. We could feel a lot of love when in 2001 Vicente Fox and Jorge Castañeda were on the verge of negotiating the whole immigrant reform enchilada, which unfortunately ended up buried under los escombros de las Torres Gemelas de Nueva York.
In 2006, los paisanos living in the U.S. demonstrated that they not only had economic clout but also political power when they came out by the hundreds of thousands to protest and demand a just immigration reform. These actions forced los Mexicanos de Adentro to end their silence and finally show their full support for the other México. Suddenly, we were the object of lots of positive chatter in Mexican political circles and commentary in television programs and major national newspapers. We were no longer referred to as los emigrantes que se van al norte, now we were nuestros emigrantes para acá y nuestros emigrantes para allá.
The truth may be that Mexicanos de Adentro had no other choice but to accept us with our naquedad or naco-ness and all. It’s not just that a large percentage of México de Adentro has a relative in México de Afuera. No, what many have realized, especially government officials of all stripes, is the fact that los emigrantes form one of the important pillars of the Mexican economy. Hell, we may even be part of two main pillars: yearly remittances (27 billion dollars in 2016) and tourism (19.5 billion in 2016), for who knows how many billions of dollars we spend on our vacations in México throughout the year.
So, it’s only right that Mexican emigrants be treated with great respect in our country of birth. Gone are the days when many said that “sólo lo peor de México se va al Norte.” When Trump expressed similar sentiments, lots of Mexicans were pissed to the max. The reaction in Mexico’s press and political circles was to put us even higher on the pedestal: This man is offending “nuestros compatriotas, nuestros paisanos que trabajan muy duro del otro lado. We must unify behind our migrantes and protect them from los pinches gringos racistas.”
Yes, we, the Mexicanos de Afuera, are now the darlings of the press and of the fake políticos of Mexico, we’re hailed everywhere as heroes of la Madre Patria. Estamos de moda, trendy, the flavor of the month, but I got a feeling that this hero worship is due more to the fact that Trump is threatening the pillars of the Mexican economy that we represent. The Tasmanian Orange Devil’s immigration policies might kill the gallina que pone los huevos de oro, and the Mexican government is scared shitless and doesn’t know how to counter the move. For now, they have only resorted to having Peña Nieto welcome repatriates at the airport: “Bienvenidos a su casa,” he says. “Here you’ll find lots of spaces for opportunities,” but we know this is all a political show.
Today, Mexicanos de Afuera are definitely on the hero pedestal. México celebrates us on December 18, “El Día del Migrante,” and soon there will be statues of us everywhere. I suggest that since Mexicanos de Adentro love monuments so much, what the government should do is erect one at the border similar to the Statue of Liberty; for instance, a giant China Poblana facing Gringolandia that welcomes returning migrants with an inscription that says:
“Send me my hard-working migrants to visit their land of birth, send me their huddled masses of children yearning to rediscover their roots on our teeming shores of Cancún, Cabo San Lucas, Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, Puerto Vallarta and good old Acapulco, but don’t forget to come with your pockets full of money to spend, and, above all, don’t forget to send to me your billions of dollars every month for without them, México shall perish.”