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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkEditorials | Opinions | May 2005 

Greenbacks and 'Wetbacks': Mexico's Northern Strategy
email this pageprint this pageemail usRobert Klein Engler -

With clothing kept in dry in plastic bags, illegal border crossers enter the United States across the Rio Grande River in Brownsville, Texas from Mexico. After crossing the river into the United States, the dry clothing can be worn so the crossers will not stand out in wet clothing to border agents. (Photo: Jack Gruber)
It is not easy being an immigrant to the U. S. these days. It’s even harder being an illegal immigrant. In August 2003, 19 illegal immigrants suffocated to death in the darkness and heat of a tractor-trailor outside of Victoria, Texas as they were being smuggled across the border. Some estimate that hundreds more die each year trying to enter the U. S. from Mexico illegally.

Toothpaste and DVDs travel easily across national borders by tractor-trailer, but human beings with their values and beliefs do not. Cultural differences are not as easy to change as batteries in an MP3 player. Many Americans do not understand this about illegal immigrants, especially illegal immigrants from Mexico. They may read in the newspaper about the dangers illegal immigrants face, but they do not read about the cultural baggage these immigrants bring, nor do they know what’s happening in Mexico that makes illegal immigrants want to risk these dangers.

Many in the U. S. think that just because they eat at a Taco Bell they understand the religious, linguistic and cultural differences that separates the U. S. and Mexico. These Americans do not know that while the great cathedral that fronts the Zacalo in Mexico City was being built on the ruins of the Aztec empire, General George Washington was reviewing troops of the Continental Army in front of a simple church in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

One look at the skirt of snakes and neckless of human hearts worn by the statue of the Aztec goddess Coatlicue at the Museo Nacional de Antropologial in Mexico City and you realize the history of Mexico is very different from that of the U. S. Marvin Harris argues that in Mexico the Aztecs became the world’s only state-sponsored cannibal kingdom. When a sensitive tourist from the north gazes upon this sleeping idol, he may realize, too, this is not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Does he also sense there is a substratum of cruelty and violence in Mexican culture that is best left outside the United States?

Unfortunately, too many in the U. S. think that Mexicans are like Canadians, except they speak Spanish. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Canada has much more in common culturally with the U. S. than the U. S. has with Mexico. Mexican culture, religion, history, and language are very different from that found north of its border.

It is this cultural divide that makes the problem of illegal immigrants from Mexico all the more difficult to solve. If you need a better model to understand this cultural difference, it would be helpful to imagine a world in which Germany shared a border with India.

The cultural differences between the U. S. and Mexico are real differences, and they can be a source of conflict and misunderstanding. It is nothing new to say this. Anthropologists and intellectuals know it, yet somehow they seem to forget it when they discuss relations between the U. S. and Mexico. Instead of forgetting, we should recall the words of Steven Runciman.

Runciman writes in his book, The Eastern Schism, “There are idealists who fondly believe that if only the peoples of the world could get to know each other there would be peace and goodwill forever. This is a tragic delusion. It is indeed possible for men and women of education to enjoy the company and customs of foreigners and to feel sympathy for them. But simpler folk who find themselves in a country whose language and habits are unintelligible to them are apt to feel at a loss and resentful.”

Greenbacks and “Wetbacks”

Given these cultural differences, why would someone from Mexico risk the darkness and shadows of a tractor-trailer and become an illegal immigrant to the U. S? In the 21st century, the answer is simple. Money. The Mexican government makes it impossible for its citizens to earn a living in their own country. For the sake of greenbacks, the poor of Mexico have decided to become illegals.

There is no patriotism in this decision, nor is there idealism about the values of the U. S. Declaration of Independence, either. You become an illegal immigrant to the U. S. because you can make money here. It’s that simple. Even in the shadows there are pennies to pick up, more pennies than the pesos you will find on the streets of a poor pueblo in some poor district of Nuevo Laredo. claims that “Most third world illegals come to the U. S. for personal economic reasons. Most do not come to cherish our democratic system.” According to Marisol Bello, two principles guide the nomadic lives of illegal immigrants: “search for work and [to] avoid deportation.” When you are always looking over your shoulder for “la migra” there is no time to wonder about the rights and duties of a U. S. citizen.

Alan Shapiro, assembling a teaching module on immigration, echoes this sentiment when he writes: “A better-paying job was the reason behind Antonio Cruz’s first border crossing. And his desire to be with his family was the reason he paid smugglers to bring his wife and daughters into the U. S.”

Personal economic reasons and not a desire for citizenship are the universal motive these days for coming to the U. S. illegally. U. S. Department of State documents about illegal immigrants from China could apply as well to illegal immigrants from Mexico. “Immigrants believe they can become wealthy in the United States, known as the ‘Golden Mountain,’ because wages in the United States are high relative to wages in China.”

Dollars Are Beautiful

Some may think that illegal immigrants are so poor they put thoughts of Mexico out of their mind once they cross the border to live in the shadows. In their poverty they are unable to afford even nostalgia. This is hardly the case. Ask an illegal immigrant from Mexico about their motives and this is what they will tell you: “I go north for money, not to become a gringo.” The popular music of Mexico says this, too.

One of the most popular Norte groups, Los Tigres del Norte (The Tigers of the North), sing about the Mexican immigrant experience. You can hear the clash of cultures in their song “Vivan los Mojados” (Long Live the Wetbacks)- recorded in 1976. This same theme returns later in their popular song, “La Jaula de Oro” (The Gold Cage).

“El Mojado Acaudalado” (The Wealthy Wetback), and “Mis Dos Patrias” (My Two Countries) echo the plight of the illegal immigrant, as well. Perhaps the song most truthful to the experience and dilemma of the illegal immigrant is the song, “La Tumba del Mojado” (The Tomb of the Wetback). This song, written by Paulino Vargas and performed by Los Tigres del Norte, distills the shadowy world of the illegal immigrant in a few words: “los dólares son bonitos, pero yo soy mexicano” (Dollars are beautiful, but I am a Mexican).

In his desire for beautiful dollars and by his inability to give up his Mexican heritage, the illegal immigrant is a divided person. For such a divided person, “La Tumba del Mojado” is more than a song. It also exemplifies the divided personality the illegal immigrant suffers. In the music of Los Tigres del Norte you often hear the notes of resentment, alienation and longing that is at the heart of the illegal immigrant experience.

Because Mexico is so close to the U. S., many illegal immigrants resist assimilation into the American way of life. They put up with living in the northern Mexican ghettos. Yet, the more they resist assimilation in to U. S. values, language, and culture, the more resentment they have, and the more longing they feel for their homeland. The poor, illegal immigrants from Mexico move between two worlds, but are rooted in neither.

Open Borders, But Closed Minds

The divided soul of the illegal immigrant demonstrates that most liberal solutions to this problem do not work. You can’t take the sow’s ears of dollars and turn them into the silk purse of citizenship. Yet, instead of facing this truth, some liberal politicians in the U. S. prefer to close their minds rather than close our borders. They blame U. S. citizens for a lack of sympathy. Then, these politicians do what liberals always do, they turn illegal immigrants into victims.

One way liberal thinkers make illegal immigrants into victims instead of criminals is by calling them “undocumented workers.” To refer to illegal immigrants as undocumented workers is to pretend there is no border between the U. S., Canada and Mexico and that we do not have immigration laws to protect our country. That pretending may be what the open border people want, but it’s not the reality. Don’t think the problem of illegal immigration will go away because we call it by a different name. The wolf won’t leave your door because you call it a dog.

Even the offer of amnesty and U. S. citizenship to illegal immigrants is not helpful. Where cultural differences are great, and people do not want to assimilate, amnesty may give the rights of a citizen, but amnesty does not give the identity of one. There ought to be more to being a U. S. citizen than the desire to have “beautiful dollars.” For those who live here but long to live in Mexico, U. S. citizenship or amnesty is not the solution to their dilemma.

The liberal approach to illegal immigration also blinds many, making them unable to see the racism that it inherent in this mass migration. This is a type of racism many in the U. S. are not used to seeing. It is Mexican racism, the racism of “la Raza.” Ever since Josr Vasconcelos coined the term, “la Raza” has been colored by racial overtones. It was Vasconcelos who said, “Por mi Raza hablar el Espiriteº” (Through my Race the Spirit will speak).

What other ethnic group in the U. S. has a newspaper called “La Raza,” which means, “The Race?” There is also the nation wide group, The National Council of La Raza, which claims to promote a pro-Hispanic agenda. October 12 is celebrated in Mexican communities as the “D­a de la Raza” (The Day of the Race). Even the Aztec myths of origin, symbolized on the Mexican flag and celebrated on October 12, are as racist as the myths of the Nazis.

It is this strain of Mexican racism that many times acts as an obstacle to assimilation into American society. Using liberalism’s Trojan horse of diversity and multiculturalism, many illegal immigrants driven from Mexico and filled with the ideology of la Raza see no reason to assimilate. Instead, they have as a final objective not U. S. citizenship, but the “reconquista” of a mythical country on the U. S. southern border called Aztlán.

Mexico’s Northern Strategy

I scan my groceries using Spanish at the neighborhood Jewel food store, then pay for them in dollars. After a week in Chicago reading the Spanish newspaper “Hoy,” listening to the Spanish radio station “Ciento Cinco (105 FM--Con Orgullo Mexicano),” and eating and shopping along Calle 18, except for the money, anyone would be hard pressed to think they were in the U. S. Instead, it feels like you are living in a Mexican colony. If you are a Mexican who loves beautiful dollars and does not want to assimilate, then this is the perfect place to live.

We can expect more Mexican colonies like the one in Chicago to develop all across the U. S. Maria Hsia Chang, Professor of Political Science at the University of Nevada, supports this prediction. She writes, “Today, there are reasons to believe that Chicanos (and Mexicans) as a group are unlike previous immigrants in that they are more likely to remain unassimilated and unintegrated, whether by choice or circumstance, resulting in the formation of a separate quasi-nation within the United States.”

It is the formation of a separate quasi-nation that is the object of Mexico’s foreign policy. By all accounts, the Mexican government knowingly encourages millions of its citizens to cross the border and to become illegal immigrants. These millions can be used for political gain even as they suffer cultural dislocation. The Mexican government is calling the tune of illegal immigration, now, and it is an old tune, one that echoes “dollars are beautiful, but I am a Mexican.”

“The Mexican government has a plan,” writes Howard Sutherland, “the ongoing Mexicanization of the United States, paid for by Americans. The spectacle of a superpower being colonized by its impotent neighbor is without precedent in modern history.” What Sutherland calls the Mexican government’s “Northern Strategy” is nothing more than aggression against the U. S. from the shadows.

The present Mexican government is the national equivalent of a deadbeat father who leaves his children to squander his wealth and does not pay alimony. When the children of Mexico ask their President Fox for bread, he gives them a stone, instead, and then points the way across the border. He will send his countrymen north so that they will send beautiful dollars south.

In light of Fox’s arrogance, the best foreign policy the U. S. can have regarding Mexico is to first secure our border so that no more illegal immigrants enter. Then, we should return Mexico’s children to the home where they belong and persuade the Mexican government to do it’s duty. Mexico should create a free society where all its citizens may find work and none have to sing, “Dollars are beautiful, but I am a Mexican.” Greenbacks should no longer be a motive to become a wetback.

Most likely the flow of illegal immigrants will continue. Instead of shaping future events, our politicians will be shaped by them. In a review Victor David Hanson’s book, “Mexifornia: A State of Becoming,” William A. Rusher considers a possible future for California and the nation if something is not done to contain illegal immigration from Mexico. Rusher predicts a scenario “that would become reality if we kept the borders open but abandoned assimilation outright...a truly ‘hybrid civilization,’ with appalling social consequences: endemic poverty, eroding schools, soaring crime.”

By carrying out its Northern Strategy unopposed, the Mexican government commits an act of slow and dispersed terrorism against the U. S. Besides the personal cost of this terrorism to our citizens, Columbia University economists David Weinstein and Donald Davis estimate the net economic losses to the nation from illegal immigration is $68 billion a year. If the immediate short term cost of the September 11th attacks on the WTC are estimated to be $27.2 billion, then the losses from illegal immigration are more that twice that much.

George Washington never promised the United States would last forever. If we have 11 million illegal immigrants in our midst, and more than half of them are unwitting Mexican agents with no desire to assimilate, then we do not have to wait for a sudden 9/11 terror attack to happen again. Coatlicue awakens. The cultural divide widens. Another catastrophe is already upon us.

About the Writer: Robert Klein Engler is an adjunct professor at Roosevelt University in Chicago, and a versatile writer of op-ed articles, poetry, and philosophy. His recent book, "A Winter of Words," is available from

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