Pubdate: Mon, 6 Apr 2009
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2009 Los Angeles Times
Author: Gregory Rodriguez
Bookmark:  Mexico Under Siege (Series)

Mexico Under Siege


Anti-Immigrant Sentiment Will Rise; Fearful Mexicans Will Cling to the U.S.

Mexico's drug war is bound to have a profound effect on the lives of 
Mexican immigrants in the United States. On the one hand, the image 
of Mexico's chaos as a spreading contagion most likely will 
strengthen the hand of anti-immigrant forces. On the other, as 
Mexican newcomers look back at their increasingly dangerous homeland, 
they will -- consciously or unconsciously -- set down deeper roots in 
the United States.

This newspaper routinely publishes an astounding statistic: Over the 
last 15 months in Mexico, as the government has cracked down on drug 
cartels, 7,000 Mexicans have been killed. The carnage has begun to 
spill over the border. There've been brazen "home invasions" on 
Tucson's west side. Kidnappings in Phoenix. The cartels pursued the 
mayor of Ciudad Juarez across the border into El Paso, where he and 
his family have sought refuge.

Then, two weeks ago, CNN brought such stories much closer to home for 
most Americans. As part of the news package titled "Mayhem in 
Mexico," CNN featured an Anglo couple, Chris and Debra Hall, and 
their two children, who were robbed and threatened in Baja by masked 
gunmen. Traumatized, the Halls recalled the harrowing incident over 
and over, as the piece replayed for days. Though Chris and Debra have 
been vacationing in Mexico since they were teenagers, they vowed 
never to go back. The CNN reporter ended the story on an ominous 
note: "The country they loved, stolen from them in the middle of the 
night on a Mexican highway."

The terror and the truth of the Halls' experience isn't in doubt, and 
it's a cautionary tale worth telling. But CNN's sharply defined 
middle-American angle on Mexico's violence also carried with it an 
uh-oh factor. When the American majority starts to see itself as the 
primary victim of Mexican chaos, it can unleash outsized fears and 
overreactions against a minority. Even in the best of times, Mexico 
can easily slip into a menacing role in the American mind. For 
generations, sailors, soldiers and teenagers would cross the border 
to break rules they wouldn't dare bend at home. It isn't surprising 
that the place next door that so many Americans reserve for illicit 
fun would loom large as a source of social problems and boogeyman evil.

Nearly a century ago, during its revolution, Mexico's social and 
political problems hopped the border in much the same way they are 
now -- real incidents, easily magnified to chilling effect. Back 
then, what Americans feared most from their southern neighbor was 
that its political radicalism would seep northward. In 1915, the 
Chicago Tribune came close to predicting a race war in the Southwest. 
"Mexican anarchy," its editorial board warned, "now thrusts its red 
hand across our border and with an insane insolence attempts to visit 
upon American citizens in their homes the destruction it has wreaked 
upon American persons and property abroad."

In fact, a year later, Pancho Villa, angry at the U.S. for 
recognizing the government of his rival, Venustiano Carranza, led a 
500-man attack on the border town of Columbus, N.M. Seven hundred 
miles away in Los Angeles, the LAPD reacted to the news by announcing 
that no guns or liquor would be sold to Mexicans for fear they would 
revolt. The chief of police tripled the patrol of the heavily Mexican 
district known as Sonoratown. Applauding the move, the Los Angeles 
Times, which estimated that at least 10% of the city's 35,000 
Mexicans were "rabid sympathizers with the outlaw, Villa," warned 
that "the firebrands ... must be watched and snuffed out."

Mexico's anguish now will undoubtedly add fuel to the U.S. 
anti-immigrant fire, breathing new life into nativism in general and 
anti-Mexican sentiment in particular. Badly needed immigration reform 
- -- already a third rail of U.S. politics, and made even more 
politically dangerous because of the economy's meltdown -- will get 
further buried under new American fears. It's all too easy to 
identify all immigrants with the worst of the problems of the nation they left.

Ironically, the drug war fallout will also inevitably strengthen the 
ties of those immigrants to their current home. I know many Mexicans 
and Mexican Americans in Los Angeles who are now reluctant to even 
visit Tijuana for fear of getting kidnapped or caught in the 
crossfire. The violence back home means that more immigrants will 
simply feel safer in the United States.

For more than a century, millions of Mexican migrants came to the 
U.S. harboring dreams of making money and returning home, and many 
did just that. Now, however, more and more Mexican families will be 
obliged to acknowledge that their future is here -- and only here.

The Halls aren't the only ones to have a country they love stolen from them. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake