There’s a specter haunting Mexico, it is the specter of NAFTA. We can see it hovering over articles in the Mexican press, over television and radio political talk shows, and over the lightning-quick messages on social networks of the Internet. There’s a constant barrage of questions coming forth from these media: Has Mexico benefitted from NAFTA? Should Mexico re-negotiate the treaty? Should we leave the economic triumvirate? Should the country diversify by signing trade treaties with other countries such as China? Can Mexico survive without NAFTA? To the first four questions, my easy answer would be: I don’t know. But as to whether Mexico can survive without NAFTA, I say: Hell no!
Any foreign visitor who spends a few days in a Mexican city will likely be surprised by the omnipresence of American culture. It starts right before you land at the international airport in Mexico City if you look out the window on the right side as the plane is coming in, a giant Walmart will hazily greet you. After that, you’ll be bombarded by advertisements of all kind for American businesses and goods. As you travel through the city, you’ll see so many English names of Mexican stores, products, restaurants, and schools that your head will spin like a bilingual top.
This is the country that NAFTA created since the treaty went into effect on January 1, 1994, a country inhabited by that strange creature that belongs to the NAFTA Generation. I would include in this group anyone born in Mexico after 1982, the year we buried the Mexican Economic Miracle in an avalanche of devalued pesos. These Mexicans were young enough to be heavily influenced by the tsunami wave of American goods that hit the country beginning in 1994. The NAFTA Generation learned how to swim in the turbulent waters and came of age in the brave new world of neoliberalism. As the waters receded they didn’t notice that much of traditional Mexican culture seemed to be washed away with the receding tide.
You can find this new Mexican specimen, or “speciwomen,” happily at home eating at a P.F. Chang’s or Chili’s restaurant at the local Plaza Galerías of any city, talking about the latest Hollywood blockbuster movie or television show. For them, film and television mean American film and television, and, why not? After all, they grew up viewing TV shows on Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel. At a young age, they were also acquainted with The Simpsons, South Park, and American Dad, among others. They likewise gorged on every Disney and Pixar film production. Later as teenagers and adults, they continued to consume American movies indiscriminately, which explains why over 90 percent of movie tickets are bought for American films, making Mexico the fourth largest film market in the world. Anything that comes out of Hollywood is good, but if it’s Mexican, well . . .
Yes, you might say that they also know of Chespirito and El Chavo del Ocho, but unlike previous Mexican generations, they are not big fans of these shows. You won’t catch many from the NAFTA progeny wearing a t-shirt or carrying a backpack with Chespirtito’s face on it. Nope, too naco. But if it’s Bart Simpson or Elsa from Frozen, that’s another matter. These characters están en todas partes, in clothing, toys, school notebooks, utensils.
As they grew older, the NAFTA Generation graduated to Aeropostale and Hollister, real and knockoffs. They became human billboards wearing all types of t-shirts with slogans in English, and I bet most of them don’t even know the meaning of the writing on their chest. American football jerseys are hugely popular among them, so is the sport with its famous Super Bowl, which, as I recently noted in another postcard, pushed aside the centenary celebration of the Mexican Constitution.
It is not only American football, baseball, basketball, NASCAR that are immensely popular in Mexico, American music also rules with the NAFTA Generation. They were roughly born with MTV and grew up listening to all the genres that the music channel emitted 24 hours a day for most of this time. Visit any local hangout and you’ll be inundated with American eighties, nineties and mew millennium music: classic rock, disco, new wave, punk rock, heavy metal, grunge, old and new rap, hip-hop; you name it, they love it. You’ll be lucky to get some reggaeton, old Latino rock, and some token banda music, but not much more. ¿Y la música de mariachi? Maybe on a birthday or a wedding or if you go to fiestas in the barrios populares and small towns. In those spaces Banda rules, but it’s still likely to be played along with lots of hip-hop music.
Another sign of the popularity of American culture in Mexico is the use of English. Persons from every class sprinkle their Spanish with English words as if they were putting salt on their tacos. It has become a sign of modernity, coolness, and trendiness soltar frases y palabras en inglés when speaking, exactly as I just did with Spanish in this sentence. Spanglish is everywhere, but it’s not pocho talk, that is only spoken by Americanized Mexicans from the USA. In Mexico, it’s a sign of classy globalization. You can find the use of English in newspaper headlines and advertisements. People on television and radio drop English words and phrases at will. Parents do everything possible to enroll their kids in bilingual schools. Moreover, christening children with English names is as common in Mexico as nopales y maguey plants. If you don’t receive a name in English, such as Jennifer, Brittany, Kevin, don’t worry; your friends will give you a nickname in the language of the Yankees or call you by its equivalent: Francisco, you’re Frankie; and Elena is Helen, and so on.
So, let’s admit the obvious: Mexicans, especially the urban Mexicans, are addicted to American culture. The addiction is rampant in the many levels of the different societies that make up the country. The language and culture of the U.S. have even made its way into the deepest heart of what has been perceived as the Mexican soul: the country folk. We Mexicanos de Afuera have been Americanizing the countryside for years, the city folk is only now catching up to us, but, of course, imitating Americans in Campesinolandia is not the same as the imitations of the urban elite: the one is naco, the other is cool.
Take a look at the Gente section of the national daily Reforma and you will know why I believe that Mexico could not go cold turkey and suddenly give up its NAFTA addiction. Shut off the drug that is the American entertainment industry and the country will suffer withdrawal symptoms similar to those of the most addicted heroin addict. The same can be said about sports and many other aspects of our neighbors to the north that many Mexicans crave.
Twenty-five years ago, before the Great Deluge that NAFTA released upon Mexico when tourists from the U.S. visited our country, they had a bit of culture shock. As a professor who brought students to study, I remember how we needed to prepare them for this shock. This is no longer the case. American students and tourists will feel very much at home in Mexico. If they become homesick, they can always go to the local, Costco, Walmart, or Plaza Galerías and their ailment will disappear. Ironically, the people who now have to be prepared for culture shock are the Mexican American visitors who come to Mexico looking for their cultural roots. They will be shocked to find out that their Mexican relatives are hopelessly hooked on American culture, and that the Mexico they come here to experience only exists in the nostalgic memories of their immigrant parents, who live in the USA.