Wednesday, August 24, 2005

A Humble Proposal concerning the US-Mexican border

Recent surveys indicate that nearly half of Mexico, irrespective of social class, would like to come to the United States, and that one in five is willing to risk life and limb on an illegal border crossing to do so.

Equally, anger of illegal immigration and out-of-control border violence is also at a fever pitch, with significant resentment of those who would like to come north without actually becoming Americans. The border has gotten to be such a mess that it will certainly be a significant electoral issue in the '08 Presidential election.

But we could easily be drawing a half-million a year over the border, legally, with more standing in line. That's a lot to absorb economically, and a lot in terms of sheer living space. I wonder if anybody's done a study on whether Mexican immigration is part of our long-lasting housing boom.

The problem is, of course, that "becoming American" means something very different depending on what side of the border one lives. For an English speaker, that means abiding by the law, and eventually assimilating into citizenship.

For a Mexican emigre, of course, that "becoming American" is some sort of nonsense phrase. He already is one. In Spanish, everybody in the western hemisphere is American. That's why guys from Mexico, Uruguay, etcetera, go so annoyed when we call ourselves Americans, contrary to them. What are they, Chinese? Canadian is one thing: but "American" is about as useful a designation in Spanish as "African" or "European." But since, unlike "Canadian," "United Statesan" sounds moronic, we call ourselves American, and Spanish speakers call us "norteamericanos" -- "North Americans," for lack of a better word to use. Perhaps that's why residents of Texans, living in a republic, now a state by treaty, which has since it's inception kept both English and Spanish as official languages, call themselves... Texans. Or if they're really traditional, Texicans.

The basic issue is one of state, not culture. As a Texan "anglo" (I hate that stupid term), I may not celebrate the Day of the Dead, but I sure have a lot more in common with Mexican emigres I've met, especially from Gerrero, Tamalpais, and Coahuila, than I do the typical New Yorker or Bostonian, both of whom, to judge by the newspapers, are regularly embarrassed at my state's mere existence. And the average guy in Indiana probably has an easier time understanding one of the many Mennonites in Chihuahua than he does the Chomsky-worshipping residents of Berserkely, let alone the Hawaiians, who aren't shy about admitting that they hold the rest of the country in open disdain, and would secede on the spot if they could figure out how to do so without losing their pork-barrel money from Congress.

Given the choice, if I had to choose between Hawaii and Mexico as a place I could visit without a passport, I'd take Mexico in a heartbeat. Mexicans believe in family, hard work, and freedom -- and have proven themselves ready to bleed for the latter on numerous occasions. Had Santa Ana not abrogated the Constitution of 1824 and brutally crushed everybody who stood for it (which is why Texas is part of the US in the first place), Mexico would be vastly more free today -- maybe more free than we are now. Instead, half the Mexican population is held under the poverty line by blatant corruption and abuses of power. And this isn't the cushy US definition of poverty, which means "no cable t.v. and your car was built in 1985," but real poverty, meaning serious hunger and none of your children will attend 7th grade. Thanks, Santa Ana, good job. And since it was Texan independence and the Gadsden Purchase that provided the tinder for the Mexican-American War and got half of Mexico given to us (the US), it's no surprise that most Mexicans don't have a whole lot of respect for the border.

In fact, language is pretty much the only barrier Mexicans face to assimilation, at least when politicians aren't busy using race as a divide-and-conquer issue in LA. It certainly isn't the ranchero music, which sounds alarmingly close to something you might hear a couple of old guys playing at a Polish wedding in upstate Wisconsin. Mexicans who desire to assimilate do so almost instantly, as soon as they can speak English, because their values are so nearly identical to our own. Much closer than other groups, even those who integrate well, but steadfastly refuse any notion of assimilation. Go on, tell some cute girl from India that she should marry a white guy or a Navajo. G'wan, try it. **That** got you a reaction, didn't it? You might see it every now and then, but it's hardly what you'd call normal. And you're a dude, you're more likely to be hit by lightning than you are to have a casual conversation with an Arab girl, unless she happens to be a Christian. Heck, I couldn't even get one to give me directions when I was literally soaking wet in the middle of a freezing rain. You know, unclean kafir and all that. Integration? Yeah, okay. Assimilation? Sorry man, but by and large, these other guys just ain't interested. But Mexicans? Racism? Unless they're part of the tinfoil hat brigade caught up in some b.s. identity politics, like those clowns in "Uncle Adolf's jug band" somewhere in rural Idaho, they don't care any more about that racist craptrap than we do.

Well, culture is what it is. But the State? The State's at the core of the issue, but this shouldn't be some hypernationalist US-vs-Mexico thing. Buddy, the State/Government is a tool for my convenience, a means to an end, and that's all it is. Loyalty to my community and my country is one thing -- nobody ever said I had to be loyal to my Congresscritter. In fact, he'd better be loyal to me, or else. If that sounds shocking, you've probably been paying too much attention to those wacky government-worshipping Europeans again. Go ahead, read the Declaration of Independence. Like the old spaghetti sauce commercial, "it's in there." And because it's in there and deep in our hearts we all know it, none of us are insane enough to support going to war and shooting the hell out of Hawaii in case they decide to thumb their noses at us AND our tax dollars. There are lots of issues in my life that need caring about. Whether some jihadi asshat decides to set off a dirty bomb in the middle of Manhattan is one of them. Whether or not the People's Liberaton Army decides to start WWIV over Taiwan is one of them. Whether or not H5N1 keeps spreading west, kills thousands and puts Tysons out of business, is a third. The number of stars on my flag is most definitely not one of them.

So, if "America" isn't necessarily a nationalist term, or need not be, why not offer to buy the rest of Mexico, and see if a plebiscite would prefer to live under the aegis of our State, rather than theirs? Offer every man, woman and child in Mexico a five-grand starter stake in exchange for their citizenship. Sure, that's a lot of money, but as a one-off, I'm sure Congress will manage to waste that much in the next couple of years, anyway. In the mean time, it'll buy a lot of the basic infrastructure you and I take for granted, and their kleptocrats are too busy lining their pockets to provide.

It's just a government, after all. NAFTA has worked just fine, so there's no economic barrier, unless you're planning on shedding tears for the sugar lobby and a few other protectionist types. I'm certainly not. What's not to like? Language is no big deal: Texas has been bilingual since before anybody was driving a car, and it hasn't caused us any trouble. We put together a package that respects both countries' histories, and voila: the Mexicans get the benefits of the United States government without having to pack up and suffer from heatstroke in the back of a sealed furniture truck, and I get to drive from El Paso into Chihuahua to buy some good Mennonite quilts without having to navigate the poverty of a border-and-corruption-inspired shantytown in the process.

Why not?

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