Nation beyond Its Borders:
The Program for
Mexican Communities Abroad
The extraordinary mobility of population between Mexico and the United States is undoubtedly one of the most significant migration phenomena of our time. Geographical proximity and historical factors have generated in both nations intricate population dynamics seldom encountered anywhere else in a world of massive demographic shifts.
The new world order emerging after the Cold War shows features that will define the great issues on the international agenda for the coming decades. Among these factors are the formation of regional trade and economic blocs, the resurgence of national and ethnic identities often accompanied by the revival of xenophobic tendencies and the massive increase of rural migration to urban environments in industrialized countries worldwide. The challenge posed by the new world order calls for states to make decisions that define their policies in the national, regional, and global spheres.
The Mexican state defines its nation as a cultural entity not limited by its geographic borders. In view of this pluralistic and dynamic reality, the government of Mexico considers it essential to preserve the organic unity of its nationals within and beyond its physical limits, as well as to consolidate the relationship between its citizens and the cultural institutions that embody the Mexican national will.
The Program for Mexican Communities Abroad, a key instrument of Mexico's foreign policy, arises from such an approach. The recent constitutional reforms, which provide that Mexican nationality is not lost as a result of obtaining a second nationality, also respond to that new approach.1 These measures aim to address the evolution of a complex and dynamic situation that calls for both daring and innovation.
The Mexican Community in the United States
Of the more than 29 million people that the United States census identifies as "Hispanics," 65 percent (18 million) are of Mexican origin; 11 million of them were born in the United States and 7 million were born in Mexico, of whom approximately 4.7 million are legal residents.2 According to conservative estimates, by the year 2020, the Hispanic population of the United States will be 52 million and by the year 2050, 96 million. Hispanics are projected to be a majority in the states of Texas and California by the year 2015. The current population of Mexican origin living in the United States is more or less the equivalent of 20 percent of Mexico's total population (which includes people of Mexican birth or nationality living abroad). The projected population for the year 2050 will represent 47 percent.3
This wide universe includes all sorts of individuals, from the undocumented worker who crossed the border yesterday, who may not be able to read his own language, to the Nobel Prize winner at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In between, there is a wide array of socioeconomic levels, regional origins, and educational backgrounds. However, it can be stated that the population pyramid has an extremely sharp profile, whose wide base is made up of disadvantaged strata with serious shortcomings and needs the very ones that unleash the drive for migration.
The individuals and groups that form the Mexican and Mexican American community in the United States, besides reflecting the complex socioeconomic structure of their country of origin, have an enormous mobility in space and time. They are spread over the territory of the United States, and the length of their stays varies greatly. It should be noted that over 50 percent of those who emigrate to the United States return and settle in Mexico within the next ten years.4
The Mexican government's action in favor of the Mexican community in the United States is therefore an institutional response to people's needs in the fields of education, health, culture, recreation, and business. It stems from the principle that population represents the human capital of nations, and that it is thus in a nation's interest that a better way of life and more opportunities in all fields should be promoted among its population. In this era of regionalization and globalization, it is evident that for two countries with such close links as Mexico and the United States, one joint objective must be to achieve healthier, more responsible, better informed, and more educated citizens.
The Program for Mexican Communities Abroad
The Secretariat of Foreign Affairs created the Program for Mexican Communities Abroad in 1990. The program, supported by other federal agencies and state governments in Mexico, works to bridge the communication gap between those who live within Mexico and those who live abroad, to provide services aimed at improving the quality of life of the latter, and to encourage their acculturation to their host environment.
The main objectives of the program are:
To achieve better images of Mexico abroad and of Mexican Americans in Mexico;
To promote among the communities of Mexican origin abroad the knowledge of Mexican history, traditions, and culture to help them achieve the respect and fair treatment they deserve;
To support the organization of mechanisms abroad to improve their capacity for adjustment and self-reliance;
To improve Mexico's image abroad by making the struggles, contributions, and achievements of Mexicans at home and abroad known to a broader public.
And finally to encourage the specialization of the local officers who work for the program in the United States and those in the Mexican foreign service who direct and coordinate the program's activities.
The community organization project of the program fosters contacts with private, cultural, and sports organizations formed by the Mexican community as well as with people of Mexican origin to develop joint ventures. Through that project, in the last three years, 505 young Mexican Americans from twenty-three cities in the United States have come to know their parents' hometowns in ten different states all over Mexico. People from the hometowns have arranged athletic, cultural, and social activities for their young visitors. They have helped pay for their trips and lodging and accompanied them on their travels.5
The program actively promotes education. The main instrument for acquiring a second language, such as English, is a good comprehension of one's native tongue. Thus, the program has focused its educational activities on providing literacy courses in Spanish, strengthening bilingual educational organizations in the United States, and participating in joint projects with educational institutions that work with immigrant children in the United States. Some of the activities stressed within this area are the literacy campaigns and the exchange of bilingual teachers 384 Mexican teachers have traveled to 49 cities in the United States and 25 United States teachers have visited Mexico. The program has also distributed 300,000 free textbooks and organized summer workshops in Mexico for teachers working with children of Latino origin in the United States (more than 600 teachers have attended so far). The success of those efforts were recognized by the United States National Association of Bilingual Education (NABE), which awarded Mexico the 1997 Presidential Prize for its work in the field of bilingual education. .6
The program's cultural project covers a wide array of expressions, ranging from the anthropological to the aesthetic, and focuses on preserving and enriching traditions, regional identities, and cultural expressions among Mexican immigrants to the United States and Mexican Americans. The program offers the community a vast catalog of events and supports the initiatives of local Mexican groups in the United States.
For the program, sports represent a way to bring families together, stimulate sharing, and keep young people healthy and out of trouble. The activities in this project include summer camps for children benefiting over twenty-two thousand youngsters. There are soccer, basketball, and baseball championships, for example, the Mexico Soccer Cup, in which over ten thousand players take part every year. 7 There is also an exchange program for teachers of physical education from Mexico. Through it young people involved in sports in Mexico have the opportunity to meet and mingle with their counterparts living in the United States several times a year. The events create a space and time for sharing and learning about the differences and similarities among people living on different sides of the border.
One of the main goals of the health project is to address the problems of substance addiction and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) / acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) epidemic among the most vulnerable people, who are the least informed and protected. An exchange of professionals from both sides of the border is promoted with joint programs that include the Mexican Ministry of Health, the Council for Addictions (CONADIC), the Council for HIV / AIDS (CONASIDA), and the Mexican National Institute of Psychiatry. The program includes a prevention campaign with information distributed in pamphlets and posters, as well as the training of physicians, nurses, other health care providers, and social workers from the United States, through eight seminars. They provide psychological and sociocultural information useful in dealing with Mexican immigrants.
The business area works to promote investment and joint ventures between Mexican entrepreneurs and the Mexican American business community. A major participant in these activities is the Mexican Council for Hispanic Business. The council, headed by the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs, includes representatives from financial institutions, private enterprises, and foreign trade organizations. Through the council, the program participates in meetings of some of the most important Hispanic Chambers of Commerce in the United States and organizes meetings, in Mexico, focused on the Latino market in the United States.
One of the major activities in providing information is the program's bimonthly publication La Paloma, carried as a pullout by seven Hispanic newspapers in the United States. A special issue "El ABC de las cuestiones migratorias" (The ABC of migration issues) was published to provide information to immigrants about their rights. 8 A second publication, Raíces (Roots), circulates among Mexicans in countries other than the United States through the Mexican embassies. The program has produced two radio serials, in soap opera style, about the daily lives of Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans in the United States, Eres un Sueño (You are a dream) and Eramos Seis (We were six). Each consists of sixty fifteen-minute chapters and has been broadcast in thirty-three cities in the United States and seventeen in Mexico as an entertaining way of presenting issues the program is concerned about. Our radio and television projects also include several public education campaigns promoting health, education, business, cultural, and sports programs. We have produced 210 series, spots, and programs transmitted through television and local radio stations wherever there is a significant Mexican American population in the United States.
The program's efforts in fund raising focus on supporting our activities with resources from state governments and private enterprises in Mexico as well as United States companies with operations in Mexico. The project includes a tax-deductible program with deposits made into a special account within the National Fund for Culture and the Arts (Fondo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes FONCA).
The program has instituted the Ohtli Award, which has been presented to seventy-seven individuals in the United States. Ohtli means road or way in the old Mexican Nahuatl language spoken by the Aztecs. The award seeks to honor people who have provided outstanding contributions to our communities abroad.
When two countries share large groups of population, both governments share the responsibility for them. It is their duty to provide people with acceptable levels of income, education, health, and opportunities, as well as actively fostering tolerance and pluralism. Within the new world order, expressions of binational identity will occur with increasing frequency, and multiculturalism should be regarded as a source of strength and not of weakness.
It took several years for the program to earn the respect and trust of the community we serve. The network currently in place includes Mexican institutes and cultural centers, which are nonprofit organizations governed by United States laws and led by boards formed by prominent members of the community in the United States. Now that contacts have been established and plans have been designed, the program will be in a position fully to support the efforts of the community and individuals in their own environments.
It is now one of the
program's priorities to strengthen its links with the increasingly important
sector of Hispanic businessmen, government officials, academics, and intellectuals.
Moving beyond the neediest echelons of the communities pyramid to reach
out to educated, middle-class Mexicans and Mexican Americans serves to
foster solidarity within the community and to encourage and empower those
for whom successful Hispanics should become spokesmen and role models.
Rodulfo Figueroa-Aramoni is the consul general of Mexico in Houston, Texas, and was formerly the general director of the Program for Mexican Communities Abroad of the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs of Mexico. The opinions expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Mexican government.
1 Constitución Politica de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos, arts. 30, 32, 37 (Mexico).
2U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, "Current Population Survey March 1997," table 10.1: "Nativity by Race-Ethnicity: Both Sexes - Values / Percents," Internet release date: Aug. 7, 1998 [http://www.census.gov/population/socdemo/hispanic/cps97/tab10-01.txt]; Binational Study on Migration, Migration between Mexico and the United States: Binational Study (Mexico City, 1997), 10.
3 U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, "Resident Population of the United States: Middle Series Projections, 2015 - 2030, by Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin, with Median Age," release date: March 1996 [http://www.census.gov/population/projections/nation/nsrh/nprh1530.txt]; U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, "Resident Population of the United States: Middle Series Projections, 2035 2050, by Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin, with Median Age," release date: March 1996 [http://www.census.gov/population/projections/nation/nsrh/nprh3550.txt]. The Consejo Nacional de Población of Mexico estimates that the total population of Mexico will reach 131.6 million in 2050. If one compares that figure with the United States Census Bureau's projection of a Hispanic population of 96 million and considers that 65% of Hispanics are of Mexican origin, one finds the population of Mexican origin in the United States in 2050 will equal 47% of Mexico's total population. Consejo Nacional de Población, Proyecciones de la Población de Mexico, 1996 2050 (Projections of the Mexican population, 1996 2050) (Mexico City, 1998).
4 Binational Study on Migration, Migration between Mexico and the United States, 15.
5 "Annual Report, 1996 1997," Manuscripts Program for the Mexican Communities Abroad (Secretariat of Foreign Affairs, Mexico, Mexico City); "Annual Report, 1998," ibid.
6 "Annual Report, 1996 1997"; "Annual Report, 1998."
7 These games are organized by local sports institutions as well as by the Mexican consulates and / or cultural centers or institutes in the United States, promoting local and regional competitions that culminate in the national tournament.
8 "El ABC de las cuestiones migratorias," special issue, La Paloma, 1997. In April 1997, the Consulate General of Mexico in San Diego had published the pamphlet El ABC del Inmigrante to answer questions regarding United States immigration laws especially ones on the two reforms in 1996 for our conationals living in the United States, thus also benefiting undocumented people of other nationalities. Considering the publication of utmost importance, we decided to publish a special issue of La Paloma to benefit more conationals outside the San Diego area.