Mexican immigration and the Open Border: Mexicans Go Home and Mexican Kindness

I just returned from a two-plus weeks stay in Mexico for the second time in less than five months. A couple of comments to add to my previous essay on Mexican underdevelopment. Plus, some unrelated political sociology comments.

In 2009, my friend and I published a long piece on Mexican emigration to the US in the libertarian periodical The Independent Review. (Nikiforov and I are both immigrants to the United States.) The article is entitled, “If Mexicans and Americans Could Cross the Border Freely (pdf),” and the full text is available through a link on this blog. In that article, we argued that we would all be better off if the southern American border were open to crossing by citizens of both countries with no expectation of a change in citizenship for either.

Well, the politicians did not listen to us then and their inattention led to the recent Republican fiasco whereas, President Obama used an executive order to more or less legalize five million illegal aliens, most of them Mexicans whereas, the Republican Senate called him out and ended up caving piteously. (Do you remember or have you already forgotten? Stupidly, Republicans tried to use the threat to de-fund Homeland Security at a time when aggravated terrorism news fill the airwaves.) As often happens, the Republican leadership confused the issue of constitutional principle with the substantive issue of limiting immigration. Myself, I would chose total firmness on the first and flexibility on the second, for fear of ending up the A.H., no matter what the outcome. The Republican leadership lost the constitutional arm wrestling and still ended up the A. H. Congratulations, guys!

Our article was long and intricate as is normal for a scholarly piece. Here are two highlights from that piece on which I wish to comment after my two recent stays in Mexico:

A We argued that Mexicans – who constitute the largest immigrant group to the US – should be given special treatment over other aliens. Several reasons for this: They are our close neighbors; they have been joined to us through NAFTA for now 23 years, insuring that our lives are tightly enmeshed economically. Then, because of a long series of past interactions some may find deplorable, Mexicans tend to make very good immigrants. Two reasons for this superiority, in turn. First, nearly everyone agree that Mexicans (in the US) tend to be very hard workers. Even their direct competitors in the work place tend to assent to this judgment. Second, sociologically, Mexicans make good immigrants because they are astonishingly familiar with our society, including with our institutions, before they set foot on American soil. In particular, Mexicans don’t find perplexing our fundamental constitutional principle of separation of religion and government. (That’s, as opposed to immigrants from other areas I could name.)

Nikiforov and I argued that Mexican citizens should enjoy unimpeded passage into the US, and the freedom to take any job for which they qualify, all without any path to American citizenship because, Mexicans already have a citizenship, that of Mexico. We point out that the European Union has used this model for more than twenty years and experienced few downsides. (The current ferment in Europe about and opposition to immigration does not involve neighbors from the EU, with one single exception I will discuss if someone asks me.)

B We proposed that many Americans would find it comfortable to spend their last years in Mexico because of a specific aspect of Mexican culture, to wit, contemporary Mexicans tend to be sweet in general and considerate to older people in particular.

This is what I found in twice two and half weeks in Puerto Vallarta in the pas five months that is relevant to these issues.

First, on the matter of Mexicans wanting to work in the US but not necessarily wishing to live there, we were much more right than we thought when we wrote about this. The anecdotal evidence is overwhelming that this would work. Everywhere I went in Puerto Vallarta , I bumped into people who knew some English that they had learned in the US, mostly as illegal immigrants here working at undesirable jobs. None of those people had been expelled, deported. All had returned to Mexico under their own power after saving some money. Thus, they had chosen to go home because it’s home, just as we predicted in the article.

One middle-aged man sticks to my mind, a taxi driver. He had stayed in the US (illegally) for several years. He had refrained from visiting with his family in Mexico for stretches of two or three years at a time to avoid being unable to return to the US. You might say that he was trapped in the US for longer periods than he wished because of our immigration laws. He finally decided to go back to Mexico and to his family for good after he had saved enough money to build a house for each of his three daughters. He specified that only one of the daughters was of marriageable age by the time he had the three houses standing. To my mind, this is an exemplary story of emigration/immigration. On my query, the man declared himself satisfied with his choice and with his life since his return from the US.

He was earning, driving a taxi, about 1/5 or less of what he earned in the US doing unpleasant work. He liked his job; he enjoyed returning to his family every evening; he liked the schools; paradoxically, he liked Mexican schools. (This is paradoxical because daily life in Puerto Vallarta, including in the schools is much more relaxed, much more genteel than what prevails in the US except in the most elite neighborhoods. In that part of Mexico, the bloody drug traffic-based blood-thirsty banditry is found strictly in the newspapers. It is not at all apparent in daily life. The quality of this daily life is at the antipodes of the impression of Mexico reaching us through the US media. Gangs are not in the school unlike in Salinas, California, for example.)

On point B, the attractiveness of Mexico to older Americans, I find that I tend to censor myself anytime I write about the topic because I fear appearing to be gushing like a teenage girl. During my last stay, of two and half weeks, I did not meet a single Mexican man, woman or child who was not completely pleasant except two. One was a taxi driver and he was morose but, that’s because he was drunk. (Nobody is perfect.) The second was a female merchant who acted displeased because I tried to bargain down an item in which I was interested. Another merchant – from whom I actually bought and whom I befriended – told me later that my bargaining had been reasonable and that the woman was undergoing a painful divorce. Mexico is not perfect and I may have looked like the woman’s soon-to-be ex-husband. You never know; these things happen.

Absolutely everywhere, my gray beard drew the kind of respectful behavior I don’t expect in the US. (And that I don’t deserve, to be honest!)

I can hear the snickering from here: “Of course, he stays in a tourist ghetto were everyone is occupationally obligated to appear nice.” No, I did not spend all my time there; I was forced to go out and I liked to go out. I found that everyone smiles a lot, including at each other, even among perfect strangers, that everybody ceded passage, that waiting lines are always orderly. Being a formerly great social scientist, I yielded, of course, to the temptation to conduct verbal experiment. Unfailingly, I made everyone I wanted to laugh at the drop of a hat. I mean small children, old ladies and adults of all sexes. (Yes, my Spanish is that good. Eat your heart out or learn to conjugate irregular verbs! Those are your choices. There are no others.)

Issue A and B are joined in the strangest way within my latest short stay in Mexico. Puerto Vallarta in the winter is swarming with Canadians. Their flight from the cold may have a great deal to do with this fact but it has a virtuous side-effect. I suspect many flew in to warm up and ended up warmly loving Mexicans for the reasons I depicted above. They beat Americans at it, in that city, at least. Oh, and the only sullen faces around Puerto Vallarta all belong to them. It became a game of pop-sociology for me: guessing from afar who was American and who was Canadian. It soon become embarrassingly easy: The Americans are the loud ones who say hello and who laugh easily. (Besides, I think the presence of Canadians explains much of the bad food there.)

After this last experience, I am very tempted to start a new racist fad: Speaking ill of and persecuting Canadians. It could be fun and they are not (yet) a federally protected minority.

14 thoughts on “Mexican immigration and the Open Border: Mexicans Go Home and Mexican Kindness

  1. Agree to disagree. Good fences make good neighbors. Open borders is an NWO scam in my opinion, not to say that is why you feel this is a good idea, as to not judge your heartfelt intentions. I am sure you are a well intended person.

    • John: If I did not know better, I would think you are patronizing me. God will make you fall off your bikes if you do. Don’t say you were not warned.

      The policies in existence for the past thirty years have gotten this country the worst of several immigration worlds: A large population that sinks into illegality because it or its parents committed a small misdemeanor. (A population that is illegal will quickly start competing with others in ways that cannot be resisted, among other things.) And it’s growing and it’s forbidden to have a stake in this country’s future, or in any country’s future. The current conservative alternative is to “close the border.” That’s a useless blowhard dream. Most illegals now just get a tourist visa, come by plane and stay. (It’s not a legend, I know some.) Do you really want a police state with no tourism at all? There used to be one. It was called the Soviet Union.

      I am arguing that few Mexicans want to live in the US, first. Second, the few who do make good immigrant as compared to almost (almost) everyone else. Look into your heart: Is it the case that you really want to stop all immigration? That’s another discussion we could have, just not today and not until you declare yourself.

      I repeat that the European Union has been operating for at least twenty years on the model I propose for Mexicans and for Americans only: Free movement, no path to citizenship. The EU suffers from many ills but , remarkably, that is not one of them. The strong anti-immigrant sentiment there that you read about is directed almost entirely at illegal immigrants and at refugees who are not natural neighbors of the EU, and against people who have no intention of going home ever.

      No one in France is bitter about the English couple who came to open a pub. No one is disturbed by the so-called Polish plumbers in England who stay long enough to save for a down payment on a house in Poland.

      I really hate to use the word (OMG, I do!) but many native-born Americans who are afraid of immigration seem to lack a basic form of sensitivity: Pulling up roots, leaving many relatives behind, learning a new language, being routinely patronized, is both very difficult and emotionally costly. Very few people want to endure this if they can avoid it. (The privilege of living say, in Detroit, does not always make up for it.) If you let them go back and forth, Mexicans will mostly not stay and will return to Mexico where, for one thing, they already know the language.

      Fences don’t always make good neighbors. Fences are often so bad they make you lose control of what you wish to control. Bad fences are worth than no fences.

      OK, John I have now chastised you much beyond what your own sins required. It’s just that you gave me an opportunity and I took it. Almost everything I hear in the US today about immigration is error-ridden, uninformed and downright childish.

    • John: My words ran ahead of my thoughts. ( I must have been reading Brandon again!) I did not mean that God would push you off your bike while you rode but that you would fall off the stationary bike while another picture is being taken of you sitting on the bike. (There is a nuance to this.) And, of course, that’s only if you patronize me again.

  2. “After this last experience, I am very tempted to start a new racist fad: Speaking ill of and persecuting Canadians. It could be fun and they are not (yet) a federally protected minority.”

    I want to encourage you in this regard. Let me know if there is anything I can do to facilitate this project.

  3. Dear Terri: You have already done a great deal in support of this project. Why, for example, not long ago on this blog, you formulated arguments supporting the idea that there is a Canadian gourmet culture. ONnmy own, I wouldn’t have had the nerve to raise the topic; I did not even know it was a topic!

    It’s not a joke that I leaned to recognize Americans from afar in Mexico: They are the ones who say “Hi” cordially under their own power. More to come.

  4. Keep in mind that in Mexico you’re likely to run into west coast Canadians. The east coast Canadians prefer Cuba. I’m surprised you learned to recognize Americans. Isn’t it easier to recognize Canadians? Wearing a maple leaf to ensure they’re not mistaken for Americans?

  5. I spent my childhood in a border town in New Mexico and now live in Arizona. I have never visited Puerto Vallarta, but I have spent plenty of time in Juarez. This is condescending and redolent of “noble savage” paternalism

    contemporary Mexicans tend to be sweet in general

    It is also untrue. Have you forgotten about the Zeta and Sinaloa cartels? What about Carlos Slim?

    My impression of contemporary Germans and Dutch is that they tend to be sweet in general. I base that on my extensive interactions on Twitter and five vacations in Stuttgart and Alkmaar.

  6. Ellle (?) Bizarrely, I understand exactly your criticism. Of course, I am aware of the unparalleled savagery of the Mexican drug gang wars. (I said “unparalleled” without being coaxed or forced.) I am careful to report the limits of my experience; I am careful to report myself as a sort of tourist. I also specify that my Spanish is quite good. I mean, among other things, that I understand everything said or written and that when I speak, the locals only know that I am not one of them. I have spend time in Mexico more than ten times, including months at a time. (I was careful not to spend any time in Juarez though.) When I am in Mexico, I read the paper daily and watch local TV news stations. In California, I interact daily with Mexicans, in Spanish, of course. I am well informed although perhaps, probably, partially informed.

    You seem to belong to the huge category of former students that was permanently mutilated and paralyzed by my academic ex-colleagues’ dead-serious admonitions against the mortal sin of GENERALIZATION. The admonition is silly and it would be borderline criminal if it were taken seriously by all or by most. One cannot live without generalization. One could easily die from not generalizing: If a raccoon confronts you foaming at the mouth and refusing to flee, get away, get away fast, every time. That’s unfair, of course, to the perfectly peaceful raccoons that happen to have an abundance of saliva and a natural curiosity about humans and that are not rabid. Yet, you should cede the pace again, every time. The benefit of an academic experience should not be to paralyze common sense but to enlarge and enrich it.

    I may be yielding to the temptation to read between the lines here, because you are giving me a good soap box opportunity. It seems that you especially disapprove of generalization about national groups if thy are based on insufficient information. Yet, people of your tribe, I suspect, will declare any and all information insufficient to support generalizations. I will try to overcome your expected delicateness on the subject by overwhelming you with what is perhaps one of the kinds of expertise you will accept. I was reared in France by French parents, I have three French siblings who are alive with whom I communicate frequently; I read a French newspaper on-line almost every day; I watch some French language television almost every night; my French is , well, what you would expect, I mean, superb! Based on this life-long experience, I confirm what many Anglo-Americans on brief tourist trips report about France: There are many A..-H…s there!

    Not to get too technical about it but mine is a reasonable density measure. Being a well trained sociologist, I don’t state, “The French are A..-H…s” but, “There is a high density of such there,” much higher, for example than in Germany or in the Netherlands, enormously higher than in California where I live. Perhaps. a three hundred thousand $ study over two years based on a true random sample and published in a peer-reviewed journal could convince me that the difference in the density of A…-H…s in France and in the Netherlands is not statistically significant. I would yield and change my mind, I think, although I would expect the findings of such a study to be duplicated before I truly believed (I mean, provisionally believed, of course). My point: We should not stop thinking while awaiting a good study – of which there are not that many to begin with. We should simply be ready to change our minds. That’s harder than passing the regular methods course in the average American graduate program.

    If my story evokes the myth of the Noble Savage,it’s mildly regrettable but it’s not a good reason to censor myself; its’ only a good reason to be careful. Yes, bad Mexicans are very bad. The density of people who are kind to strangers but also to one another is just much higher in the part of Mexico where I spent time recently than it is in the California where I live. And, just about everywhere in California, it’s higher than in Philadelphia or Montreal, and there, it’s higher than it is in most of France.

    Carlos Slim is a very rich Mexican. So, why do you mention him?

    My sociological credentials are in my vita linked to my blog: If I dared, I would request that you read my book of memories: I Used to Be French: an Immature Autobiography. I swear it’s more fun than any of my scholarly publications most of them, in the best journals. And it’s not less true.

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