This is Chapter Eight – “MexAmerica” – of “The Nine Nations of North America” by Joel Garreau, as published by Houghton Mifflin in May, 1981.
“New Stuff” regarding Nine Nations can be found at http://garreau.com/main.cfm?action=book&id=3
RICHARD MILHOUS NIXON always liked Coronado Island, and no wonder. It would take an incomprehensible hardening of the soul not to feel a surge of gratitude toward the Pacific Ocean for creating the beaches, waves, and breezes that give the island what is possibly the finest year-round climate in North America.
But perhaps more important to him, the island, just an hour south of San Clemente, is full of the former president's kind of people. Many of San Diego's financial heavies live on Coronado Island. Half-million-dollar condominiums are taken for granted along this beach. The houses there are the kind, like Nixon's old Casa Pacifica, that, when put up for sale, are offered through special agencies that would never think of advertising in a mere newspaper.
And Coronado Island's political views are consistent with the cash value of its ocean views. Not far from here, a successful candidate for office once proclaimed, less than half-jokingly, that he'd joined the Orange County John Birch Society in order to capture the middle-of-the-road vote.
Contributing to the sense of righteousness on the island is the plethora of retired admirals who live there. Coronado Island is the sunsetward-most piece of bread in a sandwich, the meat being San Diego Harbor, and the eastern layer being the mainland and the city of San Diego. The marvelous harbor that Coronado Island protects from the western waves is the home of the Seventh Fleet. There's more retired Navy brass in the San Diego area than anywhere else on earth.
For them, one of the nice things about living on Coronado Island, if they can afford it, is the great view of the ships you can get from the San Diego-Coronado Bridge. Row upon row of mammoth hulls are tied up to the mainland: destroyers, frigates, tankers, freighters, troopships, aircraft carriers. Lost in a thicket of radar, the ships fade into their field of gray paint, incongruous in the land of fierce sun and bright colors.
The reason the view of the fleet is so good is that the San Diego-Coronado Bridge is so high. Because the bridge was engineered to ensure that all future floating war behemoths, no matter how conceivably large, could glide under the span on their way to make Asia safe for democracy, the approaches have to start lifting off almost a mile inland. If they did not get a running jump on the harbor, which is not all that wide, the roadways could not achieve the proper altitude while maintaining the sweeping French curves of the classic California freeway - curves that resemble a flight path more than a roadway.
There's little way to overemphasize the importance of preserving the geometry of these boring, banked curves. The pace of the Southern California autobahn is exact. On these fast, crowded roads, one changes lanes with precision, courage, and nonchalance, or one spends an inordinate amount of time in fear. Surprises are not welcome or expected. The freeway is especially not a good place for a rich, conservative Anglo to confront, on his way home, a twenty-foot-tall brown man with a book in one hand and one very big hammer in the other.
Victor Orozco Ochoa knows that well. As the mural coordinator of Chicano Park for ten years, he smiles as he thinks of the unsuspecting Republican whose car, climbing the bridge to Coronado under cruise control, is about to bring its driver face to face with the stunning giant, only one of dozens of huge, vibrant images painted on the concrete pylons supporting the on-ramps. Orozco Ochoa gets a kick out of the way Barrio Logan, the community that lives under the approaches to the San Diego-Coronado Bridge, and that created the murals of Chicano Park, startles Anglos from time to time.
It's not as if the Anglos don't have it coming.
They started the whole thing back in the sixties. That's when the city fathers of San Diego decided that a bridge to speed the affluent to their Coronado homes from downtown was a good idea, and that ripping out a long swath of a down-at-the-heels part of the city in the process was an even better one.
The hitch was that what the Anglos saw as a blighted area given over to junkyards, sandblasting, and arc-welding shops, Mexican-Americans who lived there saw as their homes and their jobs. More than that, it was their "barrio," and a barrio is not the same thing as a ghetto. It means neighborhood, but often is translated as community, and a community is not something you flee, much less casually tear down.
But the voice of the Mexican-American community was not loud then, and even if it had been, the Anglos at that time were not disposed to listen, so the bridge to Coronado began to take shape. All the people of the barrio had to show for it was what they thought was the following understanding: after the construction was finished, the neighborhood kids would be allowed to play in the shadow of the bridge, on the land that had been cleared for the tall support towers.
It's never been made completely clear what led the city to try to build on that land a parking lot for the much-hated police, rather than a playground. But there's no doubt it was a spectacularly inept move, with a predictable outcome. There was an uprising. The fragmented, acquiescent community of Logan Heights suddenly found an issue around which it could coalesce. In defiance of the city, hundreds of Mexican-Americans attacked the construction-scarred land with shovels, picks, wheelbarrows, and hand labor, making the land a park hospitable for people, not cop cars, and vowing violence if anybody tried to stop them.
And so was born Chicano Park, which today, almost a decade later, is a quiet, grassy, pleasant spot, with basketball hoops, a small open stage shaped like an Aztec temple, and a forest of these strange urban "trees," the size of sequoias, made out of T-shaped concrete, supporting five "vines" of multilevel, twisting, curling freeways high above your head leading from Interstate 5.
It's weird, standing in this park on a sunny Sunday afternoon surrounded by these Stonehenge-like monuments, gazing up at tiny cars whizzing past with tiny passengers in them. It's clear there are physically two worlds in operation here. One, in the park, is on foot, relaxed, girl-watching, having quiet conversation. The other is fifty feet straight up - directly over the heads of playing children - screaming past, encased in Detroit iron, with its thoughts definitely elsewhere, probably not even aware the road has left the ground.
It's surreal even without the mammoth murals, which from ground to highway completely obliterate the grayness of the concrete in eye-socking acrylics the color of sun-brightened stained glass.
And these murals are dizzying. On one side of a column, there is a thirty-foot-tall Virgin of Guadelupe, the brown-skinned Madonna who, 450 years ago, only a few years after the Spanish started their New World conquest, appeared to an illiterate Mexican Indian with the revolutionary message that the poor were her people, whom she would protect. Her image is inextricably, and purposefully, bound to the flip side of the pillar, on which is a stylized rendition of the pagan earth goddess Tonantzin, whose veneration the Virgin superseded.
Serpents rear their heads on these murals and scream in a style reminiscent of the horse in Picasso's Guernica. The snake was venerated by the Central American Indians, to the horror of the first padres, who saw it as a symbol of evil. But to the Indians, the earth was holy, and the snake was the being always closest to it, and as a result, he was a symbol of wisdom.
A thoughtful mural dedicated to a gunned-down farm laborer depicts, in Dali-like fashion, stoop-laborers chained to the cornucopias of vegetable crates they fill.
On another column Cuauhtémoc, the last emperor of the Aztec, and an eagle both fall. The artist has played complicated tricks with perspective and light to make his point about the ancestor of today's Chicanos.
And all the while, the cars roar overhead, on the way to Coronado Island.
The murals of Chicano Park are in a strange space, existing, as they do, in two such different worlds. On the one hand, though fastidious art magazines rave about them, Anglos, flashing by on the interstates, usually experience them unexpectedly, and in the blink of an eye.
On the other hand, they are statements made by hundreds of ordinary people, immigrants or children of immigrants, many of whom have not yet learned to speak English, but who, painting in groups, express themselves vividly, and with complexity of image, variety of style, and great technical ability, on the concrete of a civil works project even the Toltec would have considered to be of grand scale.
In a way, this strange space exists all over the North American Southwest, for the Southwest is now what all of Anglo North America will soon be - a place where the largest minority will be Spanish-speaking. It's a place being inexorably redefined - in terms of language, custom, economics, television, music, food, politics, advertising, employment, architecture, fashions, and even the pace of life - by the ever-growing numbers of Hispanics in its midst. It is becoming MexAmerica.
"A binational, bicultural, bilingual regional complex or entity is emerging in the borderlands," wrote the late Carey McWilliams, historian and editor of The Nation. "Nothing quite like this zone of interlocking economic, social and cultural interests can be found along any other border of comparable length in the world."
MexAmerica is most evident along the 1933-mile border that the United States shares with Mexico, but it is highly visible as well in such diverse nonborder cities as Los Angeles, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Pueblo, San Antonio, Austin, and Houston.
Los Angeles is not only the second-largest metropolitan area in the United States; it's the second-largest Mexican city in the world, after Mexico City, with at least 1.5 million American citizens of Mexican heritage, and an estimated half-million more illegal immigrants. In San Antonio, the tenth-largest city in the United States, there are already fewer Anglos than there are Tejanos, as some Texans of Mexican descent like to call themselves.
Within the borders of MexAmerica, the approximately eight million Mexican-American United States citizens - not counting illegals - vastly outnumber blacks, Asians, and all other minorities, reaching statewide levels as high as 36 percent. Some estimates have been published saying that as early as 1985, the Spanish-surnamed population of the United States - including people from the Caribbean, and Central and South America, but predominantly Mexicans and Mexican-Americans - is expected to outnumber the thirty million blacks in the United States.
Over one hundred million federal dollars are spent in the United States each year on bilingual education. Much of the money is spread throughout the Southwest, teaching Spanish to Anglos, and English to Mexican-Americans, with the goal of making students fluent in both. The face of the future can be seen in the kindergartens of Los Angeles, where the majority of the kids claim Spanish as their first language. Busing to enforce racial integration is hampered in portions of L.A. because there simply are not enough Anglos to go around.
In Houston, a Parisian restaurant advertised its crêpes as "French enchiladas." In San Antonio, cigarette billboards urge you to Saberro [savor] Salem. In a suburb of Phoenix, street signs read Avenida del Yaqui and Calle Sahuan. In Los Angeles, Coors is advertised as cervesa as often as it's advertised as beer.
Western Union is diligent in supplying services in Spanish, if for no other reason than that billions of dollars in money orders are sent to relatives in Mexico by workers in the United States every year. Even Datsun advertises in Spanish, following the lead of the Bank of America.
The growing Mexican influence is evident in food, fashion, and music. Dos Equis and Carta Blanca are offered as premium imported beers in California clone bars. The standard alternative to a roadside steakhouse in the Southwest is a Mexican restaurant, exactly the role Italian restaurants play in the Foundry. Tacos and burritos are as common as lasagna and ravioli elsewhere, although Mexicans view the spreading of hot sauce over everything as an American - and especially Texan - habit as barbarous as the suggestion that pizza was invented in Rome.
White, cotton Mexican dresses with meticulous, colorful embroidery are gaining favor among Anglo women during the long, hot southwestern summers. Anglo men becoming bored with oversized Texas cowboy hats are discovering that there are dozens of styles of Mexican broad-brimmed hats - each of them specific to a Mexican state - which are at least as rakish as anything Dallas can produce.
Austin as a country-and-western-music center that produced the likes of Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings is also becoming a cultural crossroads in which not only do U.S. and Mexican tunes influence each other, but an even greater musical gap is bridged - that between Hispanics from northern Mexico and Hispanics from the Islands.
"Norteno" music is as characteristic of northeastern Mexico and south Texas as Dixieland is of New Orleans. This Norteno music, which is sung in Spanish, is itself a cultural fusion over a century old, borrowing the beat and instruments of Germans who settled in Texas after their country was wrung by revolution in 1848. The lead instrument is a diatonic accordion (played by the musician's manipulating rows of buttons, a far more difficult task than dealing with an instrument that comes with a pianolike keyboard). Its rhythm is a catchy, but boxy, Germanic "oompha." This Norteno music is so foreign to syncopated Latino beats that Texan-Mexican kids, at a disco in Austin, when confronted by reggae or a cha-cha-like tune, sit it out, saying, "You can't dance to it." But that may be changing, because many of the Mexican polka bands of south Texas are listening to the new waves of Hispanic beats coming out of New York, Los Angeles, and the Caribbean, and are trying to adapt it to their style.
In the same spirit, Anglos like Ry Cooder are now cutting albums with Norteno sidemen, and Mexican-Americans like Freddy Fender and Johnny Rodriguez are making it big on Anglo hit charts.
In MexAmerica, languages are converging, so that an Anglo may be asked to presta mi su credit card. But also, a Mexican-American is confronted by a used-car-dealer whose sign says: COMPRO Y VENDO CARROS. Buy and sell cars is what it means, but "carros" is not a Spanish word. Like the commonly heard "truckos" and "hamburgesa," it's an adaptation of English. The question "Where do you work?" can even come out "Donde puncheas?" That lifts not only an English word, but a labor concept that certainly did not originate in rural Mexico. The question, in effect, is "Where do you punch (your time clock)?"
Increasingly, Spanish can be seen in U.S. print. Emergency warning cards on Texas International Airlines, legal advertisements in Houston, and dialing instructions on telephone booths throughout Southern California are printed in both languages. So are popular magazines, such as Nuestro - the magazine for Latinos.
It's come to the point where a weary official of the Mexican American Cultural Center in San Antonio told me he'd just come from an organizational meeting for a new weekly at which a ferocious argument had been waged over which of three languages the paper should be printed in.
One possibility was English. The second was traditional Mexican Spanish, which holds in high esteem a richly colored, quasi-poetic, Cervantesque style of writing. But the most controversial choice was, for lack of a better word, MexAmerican. This language, built on Spanish, not only relies on adaptations of English words for much of its vocabulary, but, most important, has a fast-paced, direct, United States style that says what it has to in a hurry. "Those Mexicans!" said the Hispanic official with a sigh. "They want to make a minor point, and they build up to it, and build up to it, and build up to it, and it can bore your ass off."
Jerry Warren is the editor of the San Diego Union, a once undistinguished if not terrible paper that is recruiting a lot of fresh talent and is beginning to make a name for itself. The Union has begun to do pioneering work in the coverage of politics and corruption in northern Mexico and how it affects the United States side of the border. But the reporters were frustrated by the lack of effect their English-language articles were having until Warren decided to have one particularly controversial report translated, reprinted, and trucked twenty miles south to Tijuana, where a free and feisty press is less than a sacred tradition. The appearance of biculturalism and binationalism in the form of American-style muckraking in Spanish had an explosive effect.
Ironically, Warren the border-blurrer is the same man who, in 1969, as deputy press secretary to Nixon, had to stand up and explain to doubtful reporters why Operation Intercept was a good idea. Operation Intercept was an attempt to seal hermetically the United States-Mexican border against drug smuggling. It succeeded most markedly in displaying a complete lack of understanding of the geography of MexAmerica on the part of the authorities who thought it up. Operation Intercept coincided with a dramatic rise in the sale of four-wheel-drive vehicles along the border. Local teenagers, who knew the desert areas of the borderlands as well as they knew their own backyards, soon realized that one quick smuggling run through the vast desert, bypassing the newly toughened road checkpoints, could pay for a brand-new truck outright. Thus, what had once been a tight-knit, controllable drug-distribution network was transformed overnight into a wild, every-man-for-himself collection of individualistic and hitherto law-abiding entrepreneurs. The new arrangement exists to this day.
Spanish is also becoming the language of the U.S. airwaves. The Southwest used to have only a handful of Spanish-language radio stations. Now there are thirty-seven in Texas, twenty-three in California, six in Arizona, and four in New Mexico. There is virtually no major city in the entire United States without at least one Spanish station. Even television is changing. Broadcast and cable television bring full-time Spanish programming as far north as San Francisco, just as it brings English television as far south as Mexico City. MexAmericans who don't want to watch Walter Cronkite can catch Jacobo Zabludovsky, who's known as the Uncle Walter of Mexico.
Sometimes the cultural cross-fertilization can get very confusing, such as when an American is watching Mexican television and a show that looks naggingly familiar reveals itself to be a knock-off of the popular U.S. movie series Benji, named after the star, which is a dog. The plot on Spanish television is exactly the same. Only the language, the scenery, and the dog (an Airedale, not a lovable mutt) are different.
Politics are changing: Democrats in control of the 1979 California legislature put $800,000 in the state budget to encourage participation by illegal aliens in the 1980 U.S. census. The census totals determine how many congressional seats a state gets, how many presidential electors it gets, and how $50 billion worth of federal programs, ranging from school and housing aid to community-improvement projects and affirmative-action goals, are divided up. And nowhere does the law say that census totals should distinguish between residents with passports and residents without.
Organized labor is changing. The International Ladies' Garment Workers Union, which once was violently against illegal immigration as an unlimited source of cheap labor, has shifted its stance in California and is now actively and successfully recruiting undocumented workers. It realized that it would have to represent illegal aliens if it was going to continue representing garment workers. Other unions, such as farmers', retail clerks', and the textile workers', have followed suit.
Even religion is changing. Among those in the Southwest who do go to church, the majority are Catholic, and two thirds of these are Mexican-American. This, too, is altering balances. After long being ignored by the U.S. hierarchy, Mexican-Americans in the decade of the 1970s saw an average of one new Hispanic bishop named per year, an amazing statistic for such a historically glacial institution.
Father Virgil Elizondo of San Antonio, who has studied the role of Catholicism in the Mexican-American culture, suggests that there are some devotional practices that non-Hispanic Catholics take as dogma that may have more to do with the juridical minds of Irish priests than they do with the faith. Compulsory Mass on Sunday is one example he uses. In English, he points out, the Third Commandment is "Remember, thou keep holy the Lord's day." In Spanish, the commandment is much different. It's "Sanctify your feast days." There are thousands of Mexican-American Catholics who feel they are complying with God's will, thus stated, without necessarily checking in with the parish priest every seven days.
Similarly, researchers had some of their assumptions rearranged for them when they started investigating the success Protestant denominations have had in recruiting Mexican-Americans. (It shouldn't have surprised me, but it did, the first time I saw the sign in Los Angeles that read SOLON DE LOS TESTIGOS DE JEHOVA - Jehovah's Witnesses.) On asking a brand-new Baptist why she left the Catholic Church, the researcher was told, "Oh, I haven't left the Catholic Church. I go to it, too. I'm a Baptist-Catholic." Father Elizondo, taking note of people who describe themselves as Methodist-Catholic and Presbyterian-Catholic, remarked, "They'd heard of biculturalism and bilingualism, but they didn't know what to put on their computer cards when they hit bireligionism."
The Anglo influence south of the border, meanwhile, is as casual and pervasive as the pay telephone in Rosarito, Baja California Norte, south of Tijuana, which will not accept pesos. Only dimes. Or the stop signs that have the 7-Up symbol on them. Or LA RECETA DE CORONEL SANDERS. Visit the "Coronel"?
Anglos with a stereotype of persons of Mexican ancestry as pickers of fruit and drawers of water like to forget history. Americans who mutter darkly about "alien hordes" ignore the fact that, like the French of Québec, the Spanish-speaking people of the Southwest were here first. MexAmerica bulges hundreds of miles north of the border into New Mexico, Colorado, and California, because, for example, a flourishing Spanish civilization existed at Santa Fe before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. The Santa Fe Trail was important to Missouri frontiersmen in the early 1800s, because it opened up trade to a city then already two hundred years old. Place names, from San Antonio to Los Angeles, bespeak the ancient Spanish presence. The northern borders of California, Nevada, and Utah are at the 42nd parallel, because that's where the Spanish empire of Alta (Upper) California (as opposed to Baja [Lower] California) ended.
The conquistadors and the padres saw this region whole, without imaginary lines creating divisions between the state of Sonora and the state of Arizona. The desert was the same, the cactuses were the same, the climate was the same, and the people were the same. And the descendants of the conquistadors are still here. Hispanics in New Mexico still refer to themselves as Spanish, rather than Mexican-Americans, partially out of snobbery, but also out of a sense of historical accuracy. In Santa Fe, because of intermarriage, the lineage is thoroughly European. Mexican-Americans, by contrast, claim a far more indigenous North American ancestry. Their forefathers may have been European, but their maternal ancestors were Aztec and members of the other highly developed nations of Central America that flourished before the white man came.
The Anglo world is the latest invader of these parts, not the Indian, Mexican, and Spanish. It's the borders that have moved, not the founding cultures. There are great numbers of Hispanics in the Southwest who can't be told by ignorant Anglos to go back where they came from. They are where they came from.
There's a legend that has acquired popularity among some of today's young Chicanos. The origins of the great Indian civilizations like the Toltec and the Mayan have always been shrouded in mystery. But the first Aztec said they came from Aztlan, and their descriptions of it tally with what today is the United States Southwest. Aztlan literally means white earth, and when a bulldozer flattens the top of a hill for a San Diego subdivision, white earth is what it's pushing. The legend continues that Aztlan will someday be regained by the sons of the Aztec, and a new civilization will flourish. The land will once again be regarded as holy, and oppression be brought to an end.
Already, there are Mexican-Americans who refer to the five-state region of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Texas as Aztlan.
This is significant for two major reasons.
The first is a little drama that is scheduled to be played out in the nation of the Islands in the early 1980s and that will actually have its most important impact in MexAmerica.
The situation is this: Puerto Rico is scheduled to vote on whether it wishes to become the fifty-first state. If it does, it's difficult to imagine, in terms of racial politics, how the Congress will either be able to turn it down or force that 98 percent Spanish-speaking island to abandon its native language.
If Puerto Rico's 3.5 million residents are then allowed to be full citizens while remaining monolingually Spanish in official proceedings, the way Québécois are allowed to be monolingually French in Canada, how is it going to be legally possible not to offer the same rights to the far more numerous Hispanic citizens of MexAmerica?
Miami is a very different place from the towns of MexAmerica, but listen to the words of its mayor, Maurice Ferré, in the context of San Antonio, El Paso, San Diego . . .
"American public opinion will have to deal with it: Do you accept American citizens that are not like you and me? They speak a different language; they have a different culture."
With heavy irony in his voice, Ferré continued:
Look, okay, I understand. It was just us Americans before. We had to accept those damn Jews and then we had to accept those damn Catholics, and even the blacks got in. And the Indians made their pitch with Wounded Knee, then came the youth movement, and now we got all these crazy kids and they've got rights. And now you got gray power to counteract black power, and Claude Pepper is passing bills left and right that say you can't discriminate against an American just because he happens to be old.
Now here come those Puerto Ricans. And they're saying, “Wait a minute. Not only can you not discriminate against me because I'm Catholic. Because I happen to have some black blood in me. And because I happen to be a youngster or a female. You can't discriminate against me because I happen to speak a different language.” That's the line. Permanently speaking a different language. And that's when America really becomes America. Because [many Hispanics] are permanently going to speak Spanish. I mean, we're all Americans as long as we're all human beings and born here. And there is no distinction in the Constitution that deals with [language].
Let's get the definition. Not transitional Spanish. We're talking about Spanish as a main form of communication. As an official language. Not on the way to English. What I'm saying is that what color is to blacks, language is to Hispanics. And that's something that has to be very clearly understood.
The second extraordinarily important thing to keep in mind about MexAmerica is the many ways in which this area is viewed as the promised land by Anglos.
Both in wealth and population, it's showing the most spectacular growth on the continent. It's not hard to envision a near future in which the MexAmerican Southwest becomes the continent's dominant region - replacing the Foundry. Already, California and Texas, the first and third most populous states in the United States, have passed in wealth number two New York and all of New England combined. Four of the seven major candidates in 1980 presidential primaries, including the two successful Republicans, came from these two states - Ronald Reagan, Jerry Brown, George Bush, and John Connally. And the bulk of the population of these two states is in MexAmerica.
Houston, the border town that anchors MexAmerica on the east, is the world capital of petroleum. If you want to drill for oil in Kuwait, the Soviet Union, Mexico, or the South China Sea, "you can buy your rig in Houston, or you can dig with a silver spoon," as people in the "awl bidness" like to boast.
This is already changing world perceptions. When a European banker thinks of his North American counterpart, he may still think of a New Yorker. But like the German industrialist who, when he thinks of North Americans, thinks of Southerners, a Saudi who conjures up an image of a North American, like as not, thinks of a Texan.
And Houston is not just a world energy capital. It's giving Boston and Minneapolis a run for their money as a medical capital, and is continuing to come on strong in electronics, space, finance, construction, and law.
At the other end of MexAmerica is Los Angeles. An argument can be made that it will soon be North America's premiere city, replacing New York.
The Security Pacific National Bank estimates that if the sixty-mile circle with Los Angeles at its center were to become an independent country, it would be the fourteenth wealthiest in the world. Its gross national product in 1976 would have been $91 billion, which was almost half that of all of California and a staggering one-twentieth of that of the entire United States. It is a world leader in aerospace, manufactured goods, electronics, fashions, construction, and finance, and, while other parts of the continent suffer from lay-offs and recessions, this MexAmerican capital, not weighted down with nineteenth-century industry, continues to boom. It is the air and sea hub of the West. And if the Saudi thinks of a Texan when he thinks of a North American, a Japanese banker or auto-maker undoubtedly thinks of an Angelino.
But Los Angeles' foremost importance may be its impact on the continental culture. If it is true that trends move from west to east, then Los Angeles is at ground zero of the future. It has influenced continental thinking on the worth of everything from casual sex to fresh foods.
The majority of the images of who we are - and why - come out of this world television-and-film capital. Shows theoretically set in Minneapolis, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Brooklyn are actually written and shot on stages right here. Los Angeles' major export is image-creating ideas. This is especially significant as the speculation increases that Los Angeles' visual culture is challenging, if not displacing, the print culture associated with old capitals like New York.
It is eerie how the two book ends of MexAmerica, Los Angeles and Houston, imitate each other. "With their freeways, their dispersed development patterns, their open spaces, their outdoor styles of living, their gleaming buildings, their atmosphere of gung-ho vitality and their very newness," the New York Times commented, "they are urban brothers. Probably no two major cities in the country look and feel more alike."
And now their urban patterns are being slavishly imitated by even newer booming urban centers in MexAmerica, like Phoenix and Tucson.
Meanwhile, the irrigated desert valleys of California, Arizona, and Texas have changed the diet of the continent, with fresh pink grapefruit available in Hartford in February, and Chicago secretaries casually ordering crisp lunch-hour chef salads as snow squalls scream in off Lake Michigan. Few stop to wonder how the produce got there, but it came from MexAmerica. Almond-growers in the San Joaquin Valley are so nonchalant about the miracles of their desert gardens that one casually talked to me about changing the eating habits of Greece. In pursuit of markets, he and his associates are convincing Greeks to use almond oil from California in their cooking, rather than olive oil from the eastern Mediterranean.
Desert sun and visions of individual freedom that continue to draw people to Southern California now lure people south to Ensenada and east to Tucson, Taos, and the metropolises of Texas. These are what demographers are talking about when they refer to the Sunbelt surge.
MexAmerica is also the land of the future because its civilization's claim to existence is as threatened as that of any place in North America. Unlike Dixie, the Foundry, New England, and other eastern nations that developed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, MexAmerica simply couldn't exist in its present form until the advent of advanced aqueducts, air-conditioning, and the automobile. There is only enough water in the Los Angeles Basin under natural circumstances for two hundred thousand people. There are seven million there now, and their water comes from hundreds of miles away. When temperatures soar over 100 degrees day after day in El Paso, the old and the sick who are too poor to afford air-conditioning die, just as surely as the old and the sick who can't afford heat die in the Buffalo winter. One Houstonian, looking out over his city, remarked, "Who would have thought that, given the opportunity to do different, anybody would have built a second Los Angeles?" Phoenix is a third. These low, sprawling, centerless, brand-new cities that worship the detached single-family bungalow and the shopping center are utterly dependent on the internal combustion engine.
The entire region is obsessed with two questions: Where will the water come from to allow industry to expand, food to be grown, and subdivisions to be built? And where will the power come from to keep the climate and the immense distances at bay?
Nature, in the meantime, through earthquakes, brush fires, flash floods, mudslides, and drought, from time to time raises questions in the minds of even the most confident about whether God wanted this many people to live in the paradise of the Southwest. And what He intends to do about it.
Because MexAmerica is a watershed of the future, its boundaries can be controversial. By definition, this is a land where two cultures are coming together, so there will be two distinct views of where the process is achieving critical mass. An Anglo might try to insist that the border be drawn only where English-speakers are actually and right now in the minority. But he would have to argue with a Hispanic observer who can see abundant and growing evidence of his culture as far north as Kansas, a portion of which was once part of Mexico. He'd have to talk, for that matter, to the successful operator of the Mexican movie house in Moline, Illinois, and the politicians who woo the huge barrios of Chicago and Gary, Indiana.
Be that as it may, there is a fault line between Texas, the most colorful portion of the Breadbasket, and MexAmerican Tejas, which, you must remember, did in fact win at the Alamo. And that line leaves Dixie behind somewhere south of Beaumont, where the twenty different greens of the piney woods yield to the reds and browns of the drylands, and the gumbo begins to give way to refried beans. It encompasses the border town of Houston, and then heads out across the flatlands toward the state capital of Austin.
In Austin sit many Anglo institutions torn by the knowledge that the future lies to the south. The inadequately named Texas Railroad Commission has the awesome power to oversee energy production and distribution in this state which is the home of big oil. Temperamentally, it has been compared to King Fisher, the nineteenth-century Texan who, when asked how many notches he had on his gun, allegedly replied, "Thirty-seven, not counting Mexicans." When poor Mexican-American border towns like Crystal City can't pay their natural gas bill, it's the Texas Railroad Commission that, with enthusiasm, allows the faucet to be shut off.
On the other hand, governors of Texas, like their counterparts in California, have come to conduct their own foreign policy.
Tours of Mexico have become as important to them as trips to the Panhandle because of Mexico's supplies of natural gas, crops, and labor, on which Texas' economy is counting. As California governor Jerry Brown told an interviewer, "We're inextricably linked with those people, and the sooner we realize it the better. Mexico's not an island. If something goes wrong in Mexico City, it will be felt in Los Angeles and El Paso." In fact, Ronald Reagan's first diplomatic move as president-elect was to visit Mexico.
Austin is also a good border town because to the north and south of it exist islands of one culture unassimilated by the other. In the eastern barrio of the city, it's easy to find some of the best roast cabrito (young goat) in Texas. North of Austin, in Waco and Dallas, substantial Hispanic enclaves thrive. Yet south of it lies New Braunfels, the headquarters of the Texas German influence mentioned earlier.
From Austin, the border cuts across the bulk of the chaparral-covered hill country of Texas west of the Balcones Fault. It cuts under Johnson City, the Pedernales River town just downstream from the LBJ ranch. Continuing under Fredericksburg, another pocket of German-Americanism, where LBJ frequently went to church, the border cuts across the Edwards Plateau in one of its closest approaches to the Mexico-United States line.
At this point, the boundary is crossing all sorts of geographical demarcations between east and west. The 100th meridian, the two-thousand-foot elevation line, and the twenty-inch rainfall line all are important indicators that the Breadbasket civilization based on corn, wheat, cattle, and hogs cannot continue much farther west. Every north-south dividing line starting at the Appalachians takes a perverse pride in referring to itself as "where the West begins," but here it's inescapable. It's so high and dry and remote in these parts that it's a tribute to Yankee agricultural determination on the edge of madness - and to the maturing oil fields of West Texas around Midland-Odessa - that there's anybody living here at all.
Thus, no longer experiencing the southern push of the Breadbasket, when the MexAmerica boundary hits the Pecos River, it begins to head sharply north, toward the energy futures of the Empty Quarter.
Southwest of the Pecos River is the Chihuahua desert, which sprawls on both sides of the border and leads to El Paso. On the opposite side of the frequently dry Rio Grande is its bigger sister, Juarez. Right on the Pecos is Loving County, Texas, which, with far more square miles than it has population, is one of the most abandoned places in North America.
Judge Roy Bean had a reputation among Anglos in the Old West for being the law west of the Pecos. But all he was, was one of the first eastern Anglo interlopers, Spanish Santa Fe having been in existence for so long.
Today it can be argued that the thin eastern edge of New Mexico is a land more influenced by the Anglo culture of the Texas Panhandle than by its historic ties, but the bulk of New Mexico, like southern Colorado, is MexAmerica.
Following the eastern face of the Rockies northward, it's somewhere near Pueblo, Colorado, that MexAmerica encounters the mineral riches being raided in a fashion so characteristic of the Empty Quarter. North of here, in Colorado, gold was discovered in 1858 - the stuff the conquistadors knew had to be out here somewhere, but which the Yankees exploited. North of here is the Empty Quarter.
MexAmerica includes all of the southern quarter of Colorado as it dips and churns across the rugged and spectacular mountains that divide the continent. But at the enormous, poor, but uranium-laden Empty Quarter Navajo and Hopi reservations of western New Mexico and northeastern Arizona, it cuts back down well to the south, toward Gallup. It heads west along the line cut by romantic and fabled U.S. Route 66, through Winslow and Flagstaff, north of the Zuni and Apache reservations, but under the Navajo, and well north of Phoenix.
Continuing under the Grand Canyon, the boundary enters California at Needles, right where the Colorado River does, although at right angles to the water, for if MexAmerica is anything, it's dry.
Southern California is perhaps MexAmerica's purest statement. Esquire once offered up Los Angeles to its readers as "the city of the future (and it's coming to get you)." And the magazine was right.
Thus, the boundary of MexAmerica heads north and west out of Needles, skirting under Death Valley, but well east of L.A., heading for the Tehachapi Mountains.
The Tehachapi, a mountain range rare in North America for its east-west orientation, has often been touted as the division between Northern and Southern California. That may once have been true, but it isn't now. Point Conception, on the Pacific Ocean, where the continent takes a 45 degree right turn, is still a good dividing point between north and south. And it is at the place where the Tehachapis meet the ocean. But it's wrong to conclude then that the whole mountain range is meaningful.
The line between the Empty Quarter and MexAmerica heads north from the Mojave Desert up the ridge of the Sierra Nevada range. There's a long way to go before this boundary reaches the sea, because MexAmerica includes the southern San Joaquin Valley. This desert valley, thanks to irrigation, is the most fecund garden in the world. It is also the headquarters of one of the Southwest's more hated men, César Chavez, the organizer of the Mexican-American stoop-laborers who harvest the produce. This valley is so thoroughly MexAmerican that, although Hispanics have been United States citizens here for generations, "good" jobs, like running agricultural machines twenty feet tall and fifty feet wide, go to blacks, a development that is viewed in some circles as a calculated political statement by Anglo growers flattering to neither the Hispanics nor the blacks. The valley is not a nice place. The Oakies who migrated here during Dust Bowl days hate the Basques, who came here to herd sheep. The Basques hate the blacks. The blacks hate the Mexicans. And everybody hates Los Angeles.
The interior valley itself continues well north of Sacramento, before being consumed in the folds of endless mountains, but the MexAmerica line encounters Ecotopia somewhere around the state capital, in the drainage area of the Sacramento River, which flows into San Francisco Bay.
It seems to me that Davis, as the home of the University of California at Davis and its agricultural school, the most sophisticated in the world, is the place where Ecotopia and MexAmerica are most significantly at odds. This is the place where a philosophy of limits meets a philosophy of no limits. On the one hand, U. Cal. Davis is the home of square plastic tomatoes. It views uppity minorities who had once been reliable cogs in the agricultural machine, and who are now insisting on $3.00 or $4.00 an hour, as problems to be solved. It designs harvesting machines that can rattle and shake the vines and the trees until their fruit is loosened. It designs other machines to suck up the produce thus left lying on the ground. And then it designs strains of plants that yield produce that can stand up to the brutality of the machines.
Like everything else in nature, these remarkable accomplishments are a trade-off. Some taste and texture may be lost in the process. But that is not necessarily irreplaceable. Other machines can be designed to inject desired qualities directly into the products. You want a nice red color? You want more juice? Such a deal we have for you.
Interestingly, in the fashion of a true border town between nations, Davis is also spawning a startlingly Ecotopian community. Not only is the ag school attracting youngsters with a "back to nature" orientation that may or may not be realistic but that is giving nonchemical farming a big boost; it is becoming a town where subdivisions are going up that are designed to exclude automobiles, encourage cooperative development of backyard gardens, and explore renewable resources.
From the Sacramento Delta, MexAmerica's boundary with Ecotopia skirts well to the east of the San Francisco-Marin County-Berkeley-Oakland Bay Area, and picks up the Coast Range, the mountains that are the San Joaquin Valley's western edge. West of these mountains, even tacky San Jose, a town once thoroughly and blindly prodevelopment, is now deciding that enough growth is enough, making it borderline Ecotopian.
Down along the coast are Monterey, Carmel, William Randolph Hearst's San Simeon, San Luis Obispo. Well-off, hip, thinly populated, and beautiful, this shore is like Marin, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties north of San Francisco, and is Ecotopian.
But inland, over the rain-trapping mountains in the San Joaquin Valley, corporations with familiar names like Tenneco, Chevron USA, Superior Oil, Southern Pacific Railroad, and Standard Oil of California rule multithousand-acre agricultural baronies. Subsidized by federal water systems originally meant to encourage the "family farmer," these huge tracts of MexAmerica are where the idea of "agribusiness" was born, and where political steamrollers are applied to unacceptable ideas as readily as eight-row John Deere cultivators are used on weeds.
MexAmerica stays inside these mountains until it hits the western edge of the earlier-mentioned Tehachapi. Just north of Santa Barbara, the northernmost penetration of the Los Angeles megalopolis, is where MexAmerica returns to the sea.
From there, it has the Pacific all to itself, past San Diego and its bigger sister, Tijuana, and well into Baja California Norte.
Mexico has land laws that prohibit foreigners from owning property within thirty-two miles (fifty kilometers) of the sea, or sixty-four miles from any border. This inhibits Anglo settlement south of the border, despite attractive tax, fuel, and living costs.
But there are enough ways around the law, especially through longterm leases, that the Baja is becoming known as the "new Southern California," where life again can be sunny, bucolic, casual, unpolluted, and cheap.
The road to Ensenada, two hours south of Tijuana, has far more signs in English than in Spanish, attempting to lure gringos with promises of "ice cubes," "cold beer," "blown glass," "leather works," "western wear," "steaks," "seafood," "horseback riding," "color TV," "tennis," "heated spa and pool," "auto parts," and a 19.52 percent return on your savings account. The most prominent billboard in Spanish was the one cautioning the locals, should they get upset at this cultural invasion, to remember how important tourism is to the local economy and smile.
(Conversely, as one heads north from Mexico into California, one sees that the majority of the signs are in Spanish. In MexAmerica, as elsewhere, entrepreneurship goes for the main chance.)
As far south as San José del Cabo, at the most southern tip of Baja California Sur, seven hundred miles from San Diego, Anglos are finding striking homes with inexpensive Pacific views.
Across the Gulf of California, in the state of Sinaloa, American agribusiness is flourishing. "If you dropped me down blindfolded in the middle of the Culiacán Valley, then removed the blind-fold," one California grower with investments there was quoted as saying, "I'd be hard pressed to say if I was in Sinaloa or California's Imperial Valley." The irrigation systems, the farm equipment, the crop dusters, the packing sheds in Sinaloa - all are the latest in U.S. agribusiness technology. The fact that the workers in the fields are migrant Mexicans, too, completes the similarity to California. (Internal migration in Mexico is even greater than international migration to the United States.) Next time you marvel at the fabulous produce in the open-air markets in New Orleans near the French Quarter, turn around and look for the Mexican national freight cars on the siding. The vegetables they were hauling almost undoubtedly came from Sinaloa. Florida tomato-growers are so apoplectic about how much cheaper Sinaloa winter tomatoes are than the U.S. varieties in, say, Denver, that the Florida farmers are trying to block their sale.
This is causing serious international friction, made worse by the fact that the Mexicans know, even if most Americans don't, that Americans are flouting the spirit of the Mexican laws prohibiting foreign ownership of Mexican land, and are actually in control of much of the Culiacán Valley. One common way is for U.S. vegetable distributors, mostly headquartered in Nogales, Arizona (half of a metropolitan complex, along with Nogales, state of Sonora), to be the controlling source of credit for the growers of the Culiacán Valley. Another way is to use a prestanombre, "name lender." In that scam, the land is registered in the name of a Mexican national, all right, but the Mexican national has signed a note saying he owes the value of the land to a U.S. company. Either way, the result is that American companies can grow tomatoes, without pesky interference from U.S. unions and wage and environmental laws, cheaper than they can be grown in Florida. "The new Southern California," indeed!
Yet farther south, in the dry mountains around Guadalajara and Mexico City that have been carved up into tiny, unproductive subsistence farms, lie the five states from which comes the bulk of the illegal Mexican immigrants to the American Southwest. In the states of Michoacán, Guanajuato, San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas, and Jalisco, there are few families who do not have relatives in the north. Working in the States for a period is a part of life. It's either that or starve.
East of this harshness, seven hundred miles due south of Louisiana and just west of the Yucatán Peninsula, in the Bahía de Campeche, lies what is thought to be the partial solution to two great North American problems. That's where the Mexican oil fields, thought to be of Middle Eastern vastness, are. Planners hope that they will ease not only Mexican poverty, but the world energy crisis as well.
But the southern border of MexAmerica cannot be determined by Anglo interests alone. By that standard, the resort of Acapulco, well south of Mexico City, should be part of MexAmerica, and that's silly.
No, if the standard in the United States is the significant boundary of Hispanicized North America, then the opposite standard should apply in Mexico, and the Mexican government itself obliges by offering one possible line: it doesn't ask for, or check, tourist cards or visas at the official border. The check-points are seventy-five miles south. One hundred and fifty thousand square miles of northern Mexico is a free-travel zone for quick trips by American citizens. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents in El Paso regularly go to lunch in Juarez, just across the line in Mexico, because they think the food's better. They don't pay any more attention to the "real" border than anyone else does.
But the line could be drawn farther south than that. The line could be drawn by the broadcast cones of U.S. radio and television stations. That way, you'd know you were really south of MexAmerica when your car radio stopped producing Spanish-language music that, as it turns out, is being transmitted from Arizona.
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MexAmerica may be the most misunderstood of the Nine Nations. Wayne Cornelius, a political scientist from the University of California at San Diego, who has interviewed hundreds of Hispanics in his work as one of the foremost experts on Mexican immigrants, has written: "The average [United States] citizen sees all the benefits of migratory movement accruing to Mexico, and all the costs being borne by the United States. He believes that Mexico as a country is profiting unfairly from the migration, by being allowed to dump its problems of overpopulation, poverty and un-employment upon the United States."
Analysis of a January 1979 national New York Times/ CBS News Poll, he says, shows that the farther away from Mex-America a North American lives, the more fervently anti-Mexican-immigrant he or she tends to be.
The first problem in understanding MexAmerica is determining how many Hispanics there are in it. Even the Bureau of Census regards its 1970 count of United States citizens of Mexican-American heritage as inadequate, and it's not clear if 1980 was much better. Census admits that language problems, lack of community involvement, and distrust of the government data-collectors reduced the 1970 census figures to estimates. Numbers like eight million total within MexAmerica, 1.5 million in Los Angeles, 53 percent of the population of San Antonio, and 36 percent of the population of New Mexico are educated guesses.
The question of how many illegal immigrants there are is even more open to debate. Leonard Chapman, director of the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service during the Ford administration, felt compelled to announce that he was facing a "vast army that's carrying out a silent invasion of the United States," and estimated that there were twelve million illegals, which would be one and a half times the population of New York City. No one knows where he got that number.
The previous high figure had been eight million, in one of many such reports that display serious ignorance of reality. For example, one study noted that among European immigrants, only 2 percent returned to the home country, and assumed that must be true among Mexicans, too, which is crazy. The Europeans were separated from "home" by an ocean. Cornelius' interviews, indicate that the majority of the Mexican immigrants don't particularly like living in the United States, where they are often subjected to urban or rural miseries. They are there only because even a wage of $ 2.00 an hour is four to six times as much as they could earn in Mexico. They return to Mexico when their seasonal jobs are over, or separation from their families becomes intolerable. Perhaps most have never seriously considered settling down in the States permanently, and as many as three-quarters say they would prefer to commute from Mexico even if they could stay in this country legally. By not allowing for these realities, studies that show the high illegal alien figures are, in effect, counting the same commuter over and over again as he heads north, but not subtracting him when he returns south.
Latest estimates go as low as 1.5 million illegals in the country at any one time, which, of course, is about a tenth of Chapman's. Even the Border Patrol notes that it nabs about three quarters of a million illegals a year, and figures, from the number of times its electronic sensors, buried along the border, go off, that it's getting about one in three or one in four of such immigrants. That would put the figure at three million or less.
The second problem in understanding this nation is the tendency many Anglos have of grouping all Hispanics together as one undifferentiated mass of greasers and wetbacks. Armando Morales, of the UCLA School of Medicine's Neuro Psychiatric Institute, becomes livid when he talks about the Arrid deodorant commercial that showed a Mexican spraying his armpit as the voice-over said, "If it works for him, it will work for you."
But the distinctions to be made among the Spanish-speaking are so great that they present serious problems in organizing the people politically. There's not even a consensus on how to refer to them - Hispanic, Latino, Mexican, Mexican-American, Chicano, Spanish, Tejanos, Californios, Manitos.
One segment of the society, the undocumented workers, as both Mexicans and Mexican-Americans prefer to call illegal aliens, occupies a shadow world of fieldhands, bus boys, domestics, and day laborers. Fear of deportation prevents protest of even the most unfair treatment or unsafe working conditions.
These workers are sometimes paid an illegally low wage, forced into fields that have been freshly doused with poisonous chemicals, denied simple requests like an extra fan in a garment factory - which, in the L.A. sun, brings new meaning to the phrase "sweat shop" - beaten, shot, and, in one recent case in Louisiana, actually held in what legally constituted peonage - slavery.
Typically, the undocumentado embodies the classic case of culture shock, because nowhere else in the world does an advanced, technological society like the United States abut a developing, but nonetheless struggling nation with a birthrate higher than that of Bangladesh, an unemployment or underemployment rate of 40 percent, and an average age that may be as low as fourteen.
(The culture shock can cut two ways. I visited MexAmerica right after I'd been to Dixie. In the godawful-poor Mississippi Delta, I ended up casually talking to a newspaperman who recently had seen an old black farmer plowing a field with mules. The reporter was still kicking himself for not instantly stopping the car and getting out to walk a few miles with the man, talking to him about his life and times and his animals. He was sure that was the last working mule team in Mississippi, not counting those kept by some white ecofreak weirdo hippies. By contrast, I'm here to tell you there are horses and donkeys left in the southern edge of MexAmerica that are not only the proverbial primary mode of transportation, but represent a major capital investment - even a display of relative wealth. As with the Testigos de Jehova, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised by them, but I was.)
Not only does the undocumentado speak a different language from his employer literally; he speaks a different language culturally, both from his employer and the village he left behind.
"The illegals have a somewhat higher propensity to take risks [compared with people who stay behind in Mexico]," suggests one study. "They are more sensitive to inequalities in the distribution of wealth within their home community; they have weaker attachments to the Catholic Church and Catholic religious symbols."
Yet typically, and at least initially, they do not speak English, are uneducated (frequently illiterate in Spanish), are technologically unskilled, and share a decidedly non-Anglo culture system.
For example, a publication of San Antonio's Mexican American Culture Center includes a chart entitled "Comparative Overview of Anglo-Saxon and Mexican Historical Cultural Patterns." Under "system of social organization; response to stress," it characterizes the Anglo mode as: "Immediate and constant action . . . modify the environment to fit our needs." The Mexican mode, it says, is "passive endurance & resistance . . . modify ourselves to fit the environment."
Under "fundamental values," it lists for the Anglo: "Control. Of oneself, of others, of nature." For the Mexican it cites: "Harmony. Within oneself, among others, within nature."
Under "fundamental institutions," subcategory "state," for Anglos it says, "The people are the government." For Mexicans, it says, "The government versus the people."
Under "popular wisdom," Anglos think "Might makes right." Mexicans, "Life is a valley of tears."
United States citizens of Mexican extraction, by contrast, though frequently endorsing such sentiments, do not seem to let it get in the way of their embracing acculturation. Mexican-Americans serve in the U.S. military out of all proportion to their numbers in the population. And to prove that this is not necessarily motivated by the pay, Mexican-American leaders point to the fact that their people are also decorated for gallantry and heroism out of all proportion to their numbers.
While Mexican-American homes can still be found frequently with portraits of John and / or Robert Kennedy on the wall (usually right next to the picture of the kid serving in the Marines), Democrats cannot take for granted the liberalism of Mexican-Americans. Not only is pacifism not a congenial issue; abortion isn't either. Although Mexican-American poverty results in many broken homes, family ties - in the sense of extended family - remain strong. It is not at all unusual for the woman who may be left as head of a household to be strongly supported by cousins, aunts, and parents. Against this tradition, and the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, "pro-choicers" have rough sledding. Opposition to nuclear power is also not a big deal in the barrio. Energy development is linked to jobs. For that matter, Benjamin Fernandez, a Mexican-American fringe candidate for the presidency in 1980, ran not as a Democrat but as a Republican.
Demographers have noted a dramatic difference in birthrates between Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. While the typical Mexican family can have eight kids, the Hispanic United States citizen is much more likely to have two or three. There's a growing Mexican-American middle class, which is making inroads in small business, teaching, and government. (This helps explain the sudden interest on the part of U.S. corporations in Spanish-language product advertising. Budweiser's ubiquitous slogan is "Es para usted" - It's for you.)
The United States citizen of Mexican ancestry feels a kinship to the undocumentado, at least in the geography of his mind. Many of the oldest citizens were immigrants. Some of the newest still have relatives in Mexico. They know that, as in the case of the millionaire Mexican-American Los Angeles restaurant owner who had been deported thirty-seven times before he finally became financially successful and was allowed to stay in this country, much is forgiven in the United States of those who manage to rise out of poverty.
But at the same time, some Californios - California Mexican-Americans - scornfully refer to undocumentados as "tee-jays," after the Tia Juana River they crossed to get into the United States. A "tee-jay" is equivalent to somebody who "just got off the boat."
American citizens with brown skin resent the police suspicion of them that illegal immigration brings. They resent the necessity to demonstrate constantly at random checkpoints that they actually are citizens. They resent sitting in an airport next to a couple chattering away in Vietnamese and having the authorities come up and ask them, not the Orientals, to show their papers.
And one of the ways such citizens display their integration into the larger North American culture is the kind of crap up with which they won't put.
In the 1960s, the Chicano movement began, fueled by young Mexican-Americans sick of second-class citizenship. The litany of oppression of Mexican-Americans - not aliens, not naturalized immigrants, but third- and fourth-generation Americans who had deep roots in the United States, but also brown skin - is a long one.
A few of the highlights include the occasional massacre at the hands of Texas Rangers. (It's amazing how different the history of the Southwest sounds when recited by the people on the wrong end of the gun. One man's band of brave knights is another man's despised Gestapo.)
Then there was the massive roundup and deportation of California Mexicans during hard times in the thirties. Like the shameful internment of the Japanese during World War II, it didn't make much difference whether you were a United States citizen or not. Brown skin? Into the train.
There were the schools where the teachers punished you if you spoke Spanish in the schoolyard.
There were the classes for the retarded where they put the children who didn't speak English too well. George Pla, a University of Southern California graduate who has become a leader of the Mexican-American community of East Los Angeles, remembers being classified as a "retard."
But then, California used to count only white children, not Mexican-Americans, when it distributed school funds.
There are the interestingly drawn voting districts. As of 1980, Los Angeles, with its estimated two million Hispanics, did not have one single Mexican-American city councilman.
Then there's Larry Ortéga Lozano, who died in the Odessa, Texas, county jail, shortly after being joined by more than a half-dozen lawmen. A pathologist said it was homicide, after finding ninety-two injuries to the body, some "in places where he would have had to be contorted" to inflict the wounds himself. The sheriff said Ortéga Lozano had committed suicide by banging his head against the cell door. The sheriff's view prevailed.
Andrés Ramirez died on the way to the hospital in Albuquerque after being beaten repeatedly on the head with a five-cell flashlight by a policeman trying to restrain him. The cop was acquitted by an all-Anglo jury.
Roberto Fernandez died in the home of his estranged wife in Pueblo, Colorado, at the wrong end of two cops' nightsticks. The cops were acquitted.
Greaser. Beaner. Wetback. Spic. Chilibelly. Frito-bandito. Hey, Pancho; hey, Cisco. What's your hurry, the tamales getting cold? Never trust a Mexican. Lazy as a Mexican. You're late; what are you, Mexican? You want my seeester? She is a virgin . . .
The riots, the Brown Berets, the Chicano movement were directed at all that. The word Chicano (feminine: Chicana) is still not used by older Mexican-Americans to describe themselves. They knew it when it's stressing of the mestizo (mixed-blood) aspects of the heritage, the Indian component, the ties to the hard-scrabble land, was a slur. But they will say, "My son is a Chicano," for the young have taken the name as a badge of pride. It's a political designation more than an ethnic one. Not all Mexican-Americans are Chicanos; by the same token, there are many highly successful, highly educated, non-Spanish-speaking - even blond-haired - Americans with Mexican blood who wrap themselves in the name as a form of liberation. As a mark of political awakening.
Some of the political awakening, like the reference to MexAmerica as Aztlan, can take on local overtones. In Austin, for example, you can buy a T-shirt that says PUT THE J BACK IN TEJAS. Yet many Tejanos make cultural distinctions between themselves and other Mexican-Americans. Hispanics in Arizona and New Mexico, for example, are often referred to as Manitos, or "little brothers," in a mild condescension that the New Mexicans who want to be referred to as "Spanish" sometimes find irritating. One of the distinctions that Tejanos and Californios make between themselves I found amusing. Tejanos say Californios are a little flaky. Californios say Tejanos are hick. Who says brown and white MexAmericans have nothing in common?
Down California's Interstate 5, past the Chamber of Commerce's billboard that says HANG YOUR HAT IN CHULA VISTA - the hat being a sombrero - rise the mesquite-covered hills near the Mexican border that look exactly the same as their cousins farther south, save for the maze of footpaths. The well-worn trails in the dust almost seem tended - firmly packed and weedless - and in a way, they are. They're the trails padded every night by the feet of the illegal immigrants, heading north.
On such a hill, in San Ysidro, parked in formation, is a row of distinctive, pale green trucks and buses, their color a little lighter than that of the U.S. Park Service. The vans, identified in chrome by their maker as the Sportsman model, have grilles and bars over their windows, and their drivers are wearing guns, for this is the sector headquarters of the U.S. Border Patrol.
The headquarters building is a grim affair, its concrete-block walls painted an institutional beige, its floor, cheerless blocks of linoleum, its furniture, scarred metal, and its signs saying NO ADMITTANCE, AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY.
The receptionist has a Spanish accent. One employee wears over his pants a traditional, open-necked, embroidered Mexican dress shirt. Outside, in the sun so bright it makes you squint, men with dark brown skin wash the ever-present desert dust off the buses that dump apprehended illegal aliens back south of the border. Snippets of conversation between agents tantalize. "Have you seen Ricardo in the last four or five days? He just fell off the face of the earth. I hope nobody got him." Whatever that's a reference to.
This sector is the smallest, geographically, of any of the Border Patrol's, but it has the most men assigned to it - 236 - for along its sixty-six miles, 337,930 illegal aliens were caught in fiscal 1979, which was nearly half the number caught in the entire United States. That works out to one every two minutes or so, round the clock, all year long. It also works out to more than 1400 illegals per agent.
This sector is so active that Don Cameron, the sector chief, a jovial old bear a year away from retirement, has become a teeny bit famous. "I just finished making a movie with Charles Bronson." He grinned. "It was about the Border Patrol. The name of it is Borderline. It has to do with a Border Patrol agent who's murdered in the line of duty and his friend, the senior agent, who's Charles Bronson, who sets about solving the murder. It ends up with the conviction and all that stuff of the murderer and the smuggling ring that's involved. My part was very small. I played myself. Somebody said, 'How long did you have to study to do that?' The wags around here."
The sector is so hot that since a law was enacted which allows the Border Patrol to seize vehicles used in alien smuggling, Cameron says he's accumulated so many, the men don't have a place to park their own cars. He's got four hundred down at a local military base. "I've got more used cars than Cal Worthington," Cameron only half-jokes, making a reference to one of the biggest car-dealers in California.
In fact, this sector is so hot that it has the highest attrition rate in the Border Patrol. Cameron lost a hundred officers in one year. Some transferred to other parts of the Mexican border or, better yet, to the Canadian border. Some transferred to other duties, such as investigative work inland. Some transferred to other parts of Immigration and Naturalization, like the Deportation branch. Some went to other agencies, such as Customs, or Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, or the FBI. Some just plain quit. And, as in the Bronson movie, a few stopped bullets. Cameron calculated that journeymen Border Patrol agents in his sector last exactly nineteen months, on average. And it's no secret why. Cameron himself estimates that no matter how hard it tries, and no matter how much danger it exposes itself to, the Border Patrol in his sector, with the existing level of manpower and resources, is at best 30 to 50 percent effective, "and nobody beyond me gives a damn.
He worked hard with the local congressmen to get more agents in place, more money. Congress had even gone along with hiring 495 more bodies, costing $14.5 million, and he would have gotten 239 of them in this sector alone, and, God, with enough men and material, he could get enforcement of the law up to 90, 95 percent effective, he thinks. But the Office of Management and Budget pulled the plug on the increase. Too expensive. How could they do that? he asked.
"We can't keep them all out," said Cameron. "We can't seal the border. But what's going to happen to our economy if we allow Mexico to move up here unrestricted?"
Unrestricted. Unconsciously, Cameron hit on the key word to his dilemma and the frustrations of his men. Unrestricted. What drives the Border Patrol agents crazy is that they think they're a federal law enforcement agency and that their mission is to stop the breaking of the immigration laws. But their sector chief, in the depths of his soul, grasps the true mission. They're supposed to restrict illegal immigration. Mold it. Shape it. Channel it. Establish the rules under which it will be conducted and see that as few people as possible get killed in the process. Stop illegal immigration completely? Who's in favor of that? Too many people on both sides of the border benefit from the situation just as it is. The Border Patrol isn't a federal law enforcement arm. It's a regulatory agency. Just like the one that watches over the stock market.
"I've got to be a little careful in what I say here," said Michael Walsh, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California, whose job it's supposed to be to prosecute the people that Don Cameron's boys catch, and whose manner is reminiscent of Robert Redford in The Candidate.
"But the thing is, from a political point of view, this is pretty much a no-win proposition. It's all discombobulated in terms of traditional Democratic and Republican positions.
"The Democrats are by and large quality-of-life people. They also, traditionally, are for the underdog. Well, here, quality of life and being for the underdog conflict. If you look at the long-term implications of relatively unchecked migration . . ."
Good-by, zero population growth.
"Now the Republicans are typically law-and-order types. And the policy that I've adopted in this jurisdiction of simply not prosecuting illegal aliens, just returning them to Mexico [in lieu of hopelessly clogging the courts, which would lead to hopelessly clogging the jails], could be the subject of a lot of attack from traditional conservative quarters.
"On the other hand, the agricultural interests and a lot of the commercial interests that profit by relatively lower prices and relatively un-unionized labor tend to be Republican. So you have the flip side of the Democratic dilemma, and the Republicans tend not to be too enthusiastic about too aggressive an enforcement posture.
"This creates a very, very difficult problem."
The situation, of course, as Wayne Cornelius points out, is usually viewed in terms of what Mexico gets out of immigration. With its high birthrate, low average age, and its cities growing at the rate of up to 10 percent per year or more as rural poor migrate to the cities in the classic pattern, Mexico has growth problems that nobody's got the money to deal with. Mexico has a developing oil industry, but it's just that, developing, and besides, the number of jobs an oil well creates is finite. You drill for oil with expensive Houston-made machinery, not your hands. So almost half the people are unemployed or underemployed.
No wonder it's no crime in Mexico to leave Mexico for the United States, passport or no passport.
Of course, there are those on this side of the border who see this situation as a flock of locusts and we've got to do something about it, and, as the polls show, the less people know about the situation, the more likely they are to have that view. That's why it's important to remember how well the United States benefits from this deal.
Immigration as a social safety valve is not a bad governmental policy for the United States. The alternative is to have a social pressure cooker along your two-thousand-mile-long southern border, with the heat on full blast, ready to blow at any time. Nothing like a good bloody Nicaraguan-style revolution along your flank to liven up your foreign policy problems. Or, more entertaining yet, it could be a Cuban-style revolution.
Apart from the political unpleasantness that a communist Mexico a few blocks away from San Diego, El Paso, and Brownsville would entail, it would make the American businessmen who have made major investments in Mexican agriculture, industry, and tourism very unhappy. For that matter, a trading partner like Mexico, which buys $3 billion worth of stuff from the United States every year, is not insignificant. Especially just when all that oil is about to start flowing.
It's also been pointed out that the wages that the undocumentado send home are the cheapest, most efficient form of foreign aid the United States has ever stumbled on. It requires little bureaucracy. There's not a lot of corruption to it. And it actually gets to the people at the lowest levels of the society, who rarely get anything from the traditional foreign aid programs.
It's also transferring skills and technology, which certainly can't hurt Mexico's development. Granted, a great many undocumentados don't get the opportunity to learn much more than how to drive a wheelbarrow or tuck a bedsheet in hospital corners. But others are arc-welding, running machinery, and performing calculations behind store counters. These are skills your average illiterate campesino didn't have when he started.
Sealing the border, were that possible, would also cripple the way Mexico subsidizes the United States. For example, a San Diego State University study showed that Mexican citizens spent over $400 million in retail outlets in San Diego County in 1978. The U.S. taxes the Mexican citizens paid on these purchases amounted to almost $25 million. The downtown San Diego shopping district would lose 23.5 percent of its business if Mexican citizens stopped shopping there tomorrow. The manager of one Houston supermarcado figured that two thirds of his business came from the paychecks of undocumentados.
One way high-priced American jobs are saved from export to Taiwan or Japan is through the use of maquiladoras, "twin plants." In these factories, expensive United States-produced components are imported without duty to Mexico, where, for $1.40 an hour for a forty-eight-hour week, a hundred thousand Mexicans assemble them and ship them back with a "Made in U.S.A." stamp, duty paid on only the cost of assembly. United States makers of semiconductors and automobiles claim that without such cost savings, they would really get swamped by Asian competition.
The United States benefits even in the underground economy. The smuggling works two ways. People and drugs may come north, but almost every other store in the commercial district of Brownsville, Texas, is an appliance-electronic goods shop. They are not there for the citizens of Brownsville. At least one of the stores has clerks who speak no English. Consumer luxuries, such as color televisions, fashionable clothes, and electronic games and toys, are, along with guns, a major factor in the southbound smuggling trade.
The chronically deficit-ridden Social Security system is being subsidized by illegal immigration. A researcher who interviewed 793 undocumentados apprehended by the Immigration and Naturalization Service discovered that more than 77 percent had had F.I.C.A. deducted from their paycheck, just like everyone else. But because the Social Security cards were forged, they can never claim the benefits. The researcher calculated that if there are four million illegal aliens in this country, the Social Security system gets a $2.3 billion windfall each year.
The fact is that illegals do pay both payroll and sales taxes, and, despite the stereotypes, make relatively few demands on services. Because of their fear of deportation, they shun all contact with government agencies. They most especially do not trot down to the welfare office. They often are afraid to go to the hospital.
The children born in America of illegal immigrants are, of course, American citizens, and their presence does burden school systems, especially those closest to the border. But this is one of the ways the Border Patrol works as a regulatory agency. By definition, only the more resourceful and agile are the ones who get through its net. This discourages the immigration of whole families. The wife and kids tend to stay in Mexico and rely on Mexican social services, such as they are. It's the breadwinner who faces the dangers of La Migra, as the Immigration Service is known. It serves as a filter to allow through only those most likely to be productive members of society. That's one reason there are so many kids in Tijuana.
The undocumentados are displacing American workers, some cry, but there's little evidence that that's true. As Cornelius points out:
Most of the jobs in question are the least desirable in the U.S. labor market: they involve dirty, physically punishing tasks, low wages, long hours, generally poor working conditions, low job security (often due to the temporary or seasonal character of the work), and little chance for advancement . . . Among recent illegal migrants, the most frequently held jobs were (in order of importance) agricultural field laborer, dish-washer or waiter in a restaurant, and unskilled construction worker . . . Where they worked alongside blacks and Chicanos, illegals usually . . . worked in basically different jobs. For example, in a typical small construction firm, the Mexican illegal aliens worked as laborers while the Mexican-Americans and blacks had jobs as craftsmen. In a manufacturing industry such as meatpacking, the illegals worked in occupations that Mexican-Americans and blacks shunned because of the working conditions.
In order for American workers to be displaced, they have to be there in the first place, and there is no record to indicate that American eighteen-year-olds, no matter how high their unemployment rate, are clamoring for the opportunity to spend the day bent over in the hot sun, picking carrots for peanuts. The Mexicans, by contrast, are motivated.
And, as U.S. Attorney Walsh indicates, there are too many conservative business interests, ranging from agribusiness to the garment industry to the construction industry, whose margin of profit is based on the flow of undocumentados for it to stop. For that matter, these businessmen know damn well that if you went into the kitchens of one of their posh restaurants and yelled "La Migra," within thirty seconds there'd be nobody there to cook or serve them lunch.
San Antonio's Mexican-American leaders are already viewing the ease with which Spanish is used in their city as an asset in forging ties to Latin America. They see an opportunity for pivotal trade relationships the way New York is important to Europe, Miami is important to the Caribbean, and San Francisco is important to the Orient. Already, Guatemalan city clerks and Panamanian junior college instructors come to San Antonio for training - in Spanish. The city leaders note with interest that Québec has discovered it profitable to be in a position to export North American technology, but to do so in French. In some parts of the world, notably Africa, where it's politically unpopular to be exploited by Yankee devils, doing business with the Québécois is far more comfortable for everyone involved. So it may be someday for MexAmerica.
Finally, the Border Patrol's efforts as a regulatory agency not only ensure that none but the most dedicated gets through; it keeps the peace for the undocumentado-importation industry. It fights the bandito who try to rob the incoming aliens. Although a frustrated agent occasionally shoots an illegal, and a frustrated illegal occasionally shoots back, by and large the violence between the patrol and its quarry is kept to a minimum. Neither side is particularly interested in, or sees the necessity of, getting into a war over all this.
The rivalry has even taken on a certain tone of clubbiness. The Border Patrol has developed a "black box" electronic detector that, when put close to a car or a truck, filters out all the engine and electrical noises and homes in on heartbeats. It is meant to detect illegals being smuggled under false floors or in car trunks. The agents call it the "garlic detector."
The Mexicans respond in kind. Some take a certain pride in finding the electronic body-heat detectors that dot the border. And urinating on them.
It's Saturday night at the Hotel Rosarita in Baja California Norte, Mexico, and the self-described supergroupo Chaparral, y su cantante, Ruth, are getting down. As the strobes etch motion, and a revolving, multifaceted crystal ball flickers colored light over the jam of dancers, loudspeakers serious enough to cause aural damage if aimed 10 degrees lower, paint the room with the band's flawless imitation of Donna Summers' disco. Flawless except when Ruth rolls her r's.
Disco queens with deep-slit togas and long flowing hair glide under the Spanish arches painted on the inside with stylized Central American floral patterns. Against the stucco walls stand both lithe bronzed godlets and the pale-chested, gold-chained gut-suckers. The crowd's about 45 percent Mexican; 55 percent Anglo.
The red-tuxedo-jacketed waiters serve margaritas to eighteen-year-old Americans who have migrated into Mexico for the illegal-in-California-at-their-age purpose of drinking same.
Behind the flashing, leaping guitar, bass, organ, and drums, a mural depicts a peaceful world of cactus, prickly pear, green rolling hills, blue sky, and violet clouds.
The floor and the walls of the men's room are covered with fine, ancient, hand-painted Mexican tiles. On the wall of the corridor that leads to it is a six-by-twelve-foot painting, depicting a campesino in sandals, a chicken crate on his back, walking head down, doggedly, through empty desert, blue jagged mountains in the background.
In the lobby, a sign proudly announces that the hotel is a MEMBER: SAN DIEGO CONVENTION AND VISITORS BUREAU. Another sign announces DINNER FROM $4.50 TRY OUR MEXICAN PLATE.
The phone, definitely not part of Pacific Bell, announces bilingually that it is not in service.
The prices in the gift shop are in dollars, not pesos.
A rack of brochures extols "unspoiled Baja Malibu," with its "magnificent" beach, "sparkling" air, and "affordable" luxury.
That there's a Tijuana cop with a Magnum on his hip, and that he is using a nightstick to point out the lady taking the cover charge, is mildly unnerving, but he speaks English and appears friendly.
The newsstand has a solid display of U.S. fan magazines, along with its Goody Hair Fashion Center, its Brach's Kentucky Mints, its Bayer Aspirin in "exclusive child-guard slide pack," and its Mad magazine paperbacks, next to its paperbacks of Robert Kennedy's biography.
On the wall behind it, yet another mural shows a mustachioed, sombreroed young man hauling in fishing nets out of a blue-green sea that contrasts nicely with the red tile of the roofs depicted nearby. In the painting, a man in a serape, holding a cold drink, leans against the massive, arched porticos of the buildings as he's yapped at by a small dog.
Back in the steamy disco, a trio of Anglo men has become rather entranced by a young Mexican lady who appears to be in her late teens and has the most fabulous hip action when she dances. Her arms, encased in what seems to be an expensive angora sweater that matches her tasteful white skirt, wave gracefully over her head as her pelvis almost clicks to the beat.
Yet discretion is apparently advised, since the young lady not only is dancing with what is obviously her boyfriend, but when they get back to their table, there, waiting for them, is a forty-ish, long-black-skirted, could it be? No. A chaperone!
My God! the trio notes among itself. A cultural artifact! A wealthy Mexican girl out on the town with her senora de compania!
I wonder, says the most serious-looking member of the trio, his seriousness deepened by his margarita intake, I wonder, if the chaperone . . . boogies?
And with that, as the first notes of the next set start, he leaps up, strides purposefully to the other table, bows slightly, and inquires of the chaperone if she would care to dance.
She would, and they do, and as the band thunders, she gets it on. A little woodenly, it's true, but, like the dog walking on its hind legs, the trick is that it happens at all.
The Anglos are deeply impressed.
In San Antonio, the dozen people in the back office of the print shop, cracking open some beer at the end of a long week, debate the question the stranger has brought up. Why is it that Mexican-Americans don't vote worth a damn?
Earlier in the day, the stranger had been given the grand tour of western San Antonio - the barrios - by Carmen Badillo, the head of COPS (Communities Organized for Public Service). Like UNO (United Neighborhood Organization) in East Los Angeles, COPS is a Mexican-American community-action coalition that hates to be called a pressure group. But in San Antonio, at least, if you don't call it a pressure group, what do you call it, a shadow government?
COPS members join together to analyze the needs of each neighborhood - more schools, better schools, better roads, storm sewers for the flash floods, low-cost housing. They assign priorities - okay, there's only so much money in the whole world: what's a "gotta" and what's a "nice-to-have." They research the availability of federal funds for specific projects. And then they go down to the mayor and the city councilmen, frequently en masse, and jump up and down until they get what they want, neighborhood by neighborhood.
By no means do they win every battle, but an eloquent testimonial to the effectiveness of COPS is that there are now white neighborhoods asking if they can join.
Badillo drove me around, showing me the victory of Barrio La Tripa COPS. Named after the tripe - animal guts - rendered at nearby plants, the neighborhood had organized to do something about the stench. COPS made the air pollution an issue in 1975, and got it cleaned up.
There was Colonia Santa Cruz, a neighborhood of modest, bright, good-looking, two-bedroom homes surrounded by well-kept lawns and suburban fences, built and bought through low-interest federal loans.
The Mayberry Project was COPS's first great accomplishment. It's a concrete gully being built through town to drain off the periodic torrential rains that regularly caused floods, which led to citizens regularly being evacuated from rooftops.
She showed me the rotted foundations and high-water lines that had been caused by the repeated flooding until COPS had made it an issue.
Christ the King COPS was responsible for the $ 7 million park that was under construction. Christ the King was the local Catholic church, around which the neighborhood had organized. The park would have three pavilions, she said gleefully, and a swimming pool, and . . .
Not everything was rosy, by any means. Well inside Route 410, San Antonio's encircling highway, in Holy Family parish, we found dirt streets, some steers, a goat, and chickens that looked suspiciously pugnacious.
Portions of the barrio could just as easily have been a thousand miles south. Dirt yards, fences made of sticks lashed together, unpainted wooden shacks, crooked doors, hostile faces. A tiny shop to patch flat tires. Blouses offered for sale, displayed on a chain-link fence. Produce sold from carts.
But Badillo was very proud of what COPS had accomplished, and she was certain it would do more. It was making sure, she observed, that the San Antonio power structure was producing a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, whether they liked it or not.
So back in the print shop, to which I had been taken by Henry Cisneros, a very smart, mediagenic Mexican-American San Antonio city councilman who is being touted as the next Texas senator, Texas governor, president of the United States, you name it, the argument raged. (Cisneros had invited me to talk to some "ordinary" Mexican-Americans.) Why the hell don't Mexican-Americans vote? they debated. If we can organize into COPS, certainly you'd think we could elect a majority to the city council, and we haven't. And in most southwestern cities, we're far less represented than we are in San Antonio, despite our numbers.
The politicians are selfish, said one man sitting on a couple of boxes of Enciclopedia de Mexico. 12 Tomos. They're only for themselves. They don't build up an organization, so when they get elected to higher office, they haven't groomed a young Chicano to take their place.
All politicians are selfish, said another. It's up to us to encourage these young candidates. We've got to develop them, put them in position, said another man, sitting under a display of bumper stickers the shop had produced, political bumper stickers with names like Garza, Delgado, and Gamez.
That still doesn't explain why Mexican-Americans don't vote, interjected a fourth.
Well what difference would it make? somebody chimed in. All politicians are alike anyway.
(When I had asked Badillo what COPS thought of Cisneros, the rising young Mexican-American political star, she shrugged and said, "He's a politician, like any other.")
Yeah - the crowd seemed to be coming to a consensus - the thing is, what difference does it make? The roads will get paved, and the flood waters tamed, and the parks built, and the housing put together, whether there's a Mexican-American majority on the city council or not.
I mean, what's the big deal about voting?
There are so many of us, we're going to run things anyway.