Vincente Fox gives his blessing to the Americanisation of Mexico


Even before his election to Mexico's presidency in July, Vicente Fox startled US observers when he vowed to govern on behalf of 118 million Mexicans - the 100 million in his country and nearly 18 million of Mexican descent in the US.

Not surprisingly, the promise, along with Mr Fox's vision of a more open US-Mexico border, heightened anxieties that Mexican immigration poses a threat to US national integrity. Fearful that Mr Fox's transnational talk might spark anti-immigrant feelings and call Mexican Americans' political loyalties into question, some prominent Latino advocates and academics criticised his intervention as illconceived.

Yet, broadening the definition of "Mexican" is more likely to advance the Americanisation of Mexico than it is to give Mexico greater clout in the US.

For decades, Mexico disowned its migrants as renegades who had turned tail on their country and culture.

They were pochos (watered-down Mexicans), who had cashed in their souls for material possessions.

Although Mexico benefited from the escape valve that allowed it to lose large numbers of unemployed and underemployed citizens, the migrants were glaring symbols of their homeland's failures.

Although Mexico usually condescended to its kin north of the border, it would occasionally intervene on their behalf whenever it appeared that their mistreatment harmed Mexico's national pride. Only when Mexican Americans began advancing politically and economically, however, did Mexico begin to take a sympathetic view of its diaspora.

Estimated at $8 billion annually, the remittances Mexican immigrants send home have reshaped the popular image of Mexican Americans in Mexico.

In many villages, US-based immigrants have gained social and political influence by virtue of their financial generosity. In his inaugural speech Mr Fox referred to them as "our beloved migrants, our heroic migrants".

In 1997, the Mexican government passed a law allowing migrants who become naturalised US citizens to retain their Mexican nationality. In a November speech to the Mexican American Legal Defence and Educational Fund, Mr Fox encouraged longtime Mexican immigrants to become US citizens.

In other words, the Fox administration sees self-interest in Mexican immigrants becoming productive and loyal citizens of the US.

While saying he hoped Mexican Americans would not forget their heritage, he acknowledged that immigrants "want to dream the American dream and wake up as citizens".

In expanding the definition of "Mexican" to embrace Mexican Americans, Mr Fox has validated American influence in Mexican life. For the longest time, Mexico considered the colossus to the north its greatest burden. As the adage goes, "Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States". But Mr Fox, the former Coca-Cola executive, is refashioning the image of the United States in Mexico.