A few centuries of US-Mexico interactions: Going Full Circle? Mickey Glantz. 3 August 2010

Written by Admin. Posted in All Fragilecologies

Published on August 03, 2010 with 5 Comments

Some months ago I came across a high school world history book (Human Achievement, 1967 by M.B. Petrovich and P.D. Curtin). It was a typical history book in that it began with discussions of the Egyptian, Roman and the Greek civilizations and ending up with the state of the globe in the post World War II era. It was filled pictures, drawings and with maps showing the changes in national political power throughout millennia. While each map merits a book to describe the times it represented, one map captured my attention when I first saw it; and it still does. I think about what it might mean or how it might be viewed not in an historical context of a century and a half ago but in the context of today’s domestic politics of the US and of Mexico.

The map shows that much of the culture if not the territory west of the Louisiana Purchase (that is, west of the Mississippi River) was dominated by Mexico (though, in fact, the territory was inhabited by a wide range of Native American civilizations).

Though all of that land was in some way influenced by Mexican culture or politics, bit by bit it was taken over by war or diplomacy by the United States pursuing as early as the late 1830s its policy of “Manifest Destiny.” All the above is my recollection of American history, inaccuracies notwithstanding.

Today, there is a lot of controversy over the issue of illegal immigrants focused mainly on those immigrants coming from Mexico. The US Government has a Border Patrol spread thin along the 1956-mile (~3200 km) border. Groups of vigilantes have emerged to protect the border against illegal alien crossings. The federal government has built fences/walls to keep people from illegally crossing into the US. The State of Arizona has perhaps taken the biggest step so far, when its legislature passed a state law that seeks to weed out illegal aliens based on how a person looks, dresses, walks, talks or even who that person hangs out with and where.

Police are given extraordinary subjective powers to determine “the illegal aliens among us.” Much of the racial profiling aspects of the law was recently struck down as being unconstitutional, but the federal judges ruling will likely be challenged by the Governor of Arizona. There is a lot of angst as well as racial or ethno-language bias in America these days. During hard economic times, there is a backlash by the dominant culture against minority cultures.

The North America map of 1821 keeps reappearing in my mind. It causes me to wonder if the parts of North America that was lost by Mexico during the 1800s due to war and diplomacy are being regained by Mexico in other ways. In the absence of conquests related to Americans’ Manifest Destiny” policy, might not today’s map of North America been still represented by the map of 1821?

Most Americans likely have not seen that 1821 political map, except for a brief moment in middle or high school. Out of sight; out of mind. In the mid-1990s American Political Scientist Samuel P. Huntington wrote about “the clash of civilizations” in reference to his belief that “that people’s cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War world” [from wikipedia]. Today, we are witnessing what I believe is really a clash of cultures, and even civilizations, being played out on the North American continent and no one knows how best to address it.


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  1. I know the 1821 map. I learned it when I was a young student in the school in Cuba as an example of the exploitation of the “American Imperialism against the poor people of Mexico”. Today I have another view; Peoples, as Climate, have their own dynamics of adaptation where some get stronger and some weaker, taking the way of the history. Today, all these territories are part of a great nation and any attempt to corrupt the societal order should be fought. Illegal immigration is one of these attempts. There is no nation in the World that could be survive with millions of illegal immigrants crossing its border; all the system would crash . My feeling is that the fault is from many American presidents in the past [and present] who were blind to this phenomenon, because a fight against immigration does not get votes from the minorities. The Arizona law is not against the immigrant but is against “illegals”. So, I only can understand the position of President Obama from the point of view of populism, and again America will lose an historical opportunity. Today in Europe everybody is making laws to protect borders against immigration and to protect the different European cultures from the influence of aliens, …. why not the US???

  2. Protect the cultures from the influence of aliens????…too bad you do not know that actually cultures can enrich each other instead of discriminate.
    Illegal immigration may not be right but tell me who is going to do the work that the immigrants do in this country…the system will colapse when all of them are gone.

    • hi lilian, i think we agree on a few key things. one is that illegal immigration is probably not a good thing, not just for the US but for any country. that is one of the reason they maintain borders and control them. in europe there are many immigrants, legal and illegal, crossing borders to find a better life economically if not politically. but i think lino is referring to the protection of spanish ways, or french language and culture, etc. they force people to have a national language, but to their credit people are encourage to learn that dominant language and are in general not punished for keeping up their native language. the US is different in that regard.

      we grew up being taught that the US was a melting pot but it is really a stew in which the lumps in the stew represent what i call “residual nationalism, a residual loyalty to roots and places from which we came.

      one argument that bothers me though is the one about “who will do the menial and dirty work that “americans don’t want to do. to me that is not a good reason for illegal immigration. since i was young there have been waves of immigrants into america depending in large measure on politics and wars (puerto ricans (“remember west side story”), cubans, poles, hmong, vietnamese, ethiopians, tajiks, etc. they might start off in low level work positions, but they aspire to move up the economic food chain like the rest of us.

      thanks. mickey

  3. Hi lilian, I didn’t say that i agree with some European policy about immigration, in fact i share with you the idea that cultures can enrich each other instead of discriminate because I am myself an immigrant. The point is that while there is a lot of critisim against US about its immigration management, some European goverments and important sector of societies are higly discriminative regarding immigrants, that in some way are second-order citizens. I think that immigration could be healthy for any society in the measure that this society be inclusive. However illegal inmigration never should be a solution, because the first victim is the own inmigrant who is highly vulnerable with no chance of any kind of protection. thanks

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