Why don't Mexicans look white?

The overview - Journal for ecumenical encounters and international cooperation

What gringos think of Mexicans

Many Americans have a strange love-hate relationship with Latinos

Immigrants from Mexico are the fastest growing population in the southern United States. Middle-class white Americans have a very divided relationship with these Latinos. They regard them with suspicion, but do not want to do without their cheap labor. And they complain about the immigrants' poor knowledge of English, but they also know that their low level of education prevents Latinos from becoming real competition on the job market.

by Werner Meyer-Larsen

Mexico recaptures California. Something like this is the latest whites' lament in this largest American state. The Mexican population is growing dramatically, and the remnants of Mexican culture are already rich there: over twenty Franciscan missions are lined up between San Diego and Santa Rosa. A large part of the city names go back to them and hundreds of other place names to old haciendas from Hispanic-Mexican times.

This past ended in a kind of operetta war in the middle of the nineteenth century. White immigrants targeting gold, copper and silver dominated the scene in California at the time. Under President James Polk, California became the 31st state to join the United States in 1850. The Americanization of the area was quick, consistent and successful. San Francisco's railroad barons, imperial as they were, quickly linked the Pacific with the Atlantic. The west coast state eventually became a trendsetter in terms of technology and quality of life. Of course, he would never have been if they had Latinos keep him. But now it is at least the largest Mexican community outside of Mexico again. And Mexicans are California's largest minority.

It won't be long before this statement applies to the United States as a whole. Because especially in Texas, Florida, New Mexico and Arizona, the Latino population is growing at a similar rate, including that of Mexicans the fastest: Buenas Dias, Senores. The Gonzales and Santos, the Perez and Rodriguez often cross the border without being asked.

The border river Rio Grande does not prevent this. And official immigration quotas are a joke. At least five million Mexicans live illegally in the United States. Carefully protected by their compatriots and extremely hardworking, they behave very inconspicuously. Because every ten to fifteen years there is an amnesty. They are then Americans what their children born on American soil are from day one.

All of this sets them apart from the traditional immigrants of the United States. When Mexicans want to get into the country, they cannot be controlled as reliably at seaports and airports as everyone else. Nor did they break their bridges back home when crossing the US border. Rather the opposite. While they immigrate to the USA, part of the money they have earned there migrates back to Mexico, where the extended family sits and wants to be fed. Especially since she mostly takes care of the children left behind, and occasionally even those who were born in the USA.

All of this has brought about a kind of love-hate relationship between Americans and Mexicans, from which they cannot free each other and, in principle, do not even want to. Anyone belonging to the white bourgeoisie who encounters Mexican gardeners or street workers has no difficulty in mistaking them all for illegals. Countless stories on this topic circulate and are decorated with relish. How, for example, comes the illegal one Brownie his legal papers - that is, his driver's license, which is treated like an identity card, and the coveted one Green cardthat wealthier people pay their lawyers up to $ 15,000 to get? It is said that you only need it once during one of the summer sandstorms in California Central Valley to watch the roadside more closely. Cheap copies of both plastic documents would be passed on for ten dollars each.

Wild stories are also spread about the technical talents and improvisation skills of Mexicans. If an overloaded pick-up truck drives somewhere, spluttering and with a tilted loading area, then Mexicans are usually rightly suspected in it. In order to save themselves a lot of trouble, police officers rarely ask such a driver about the driver's license - it could be wrong, which would lead to unspeakable complications.

So you get annoyed with these people all the time. The American medium-sized company observes with disgust how large retail chains - Walmart, K-Mart or Vons - are now also giving practical advice in Spanish. In the traffic authority Department of Motor Vehicles Half of the counters are manned by Mexicans, although one particularly fears that such staff necessarily speak two languages. But it causes even more trouble for the American when his gardener speaks only one language, namely Spanish. Because while the established Mexican speaks fluent English, the fresh immigrant can be recognized by his unwillingness to express himself in the foreign language. Most suspicious of the modern Babbitt, however, are illegally immigrated Mexican women who smuggle their children born in the USA through the American health system free of charge and who expect doctors to speak Spanish.

There are also adventurous stories about Mexico itself. Everyone knows a few stories about the alleged criminalization of Mexican society, the main problem of which is the police. It is said, Americans, will come from their southern neighbors Gringos called, ripped off according to all the rules of the art. The police always collect money, sometimes claiming that someone was going too fast, sometimes that he was driving too slowly. There is never any evidence of this. The threat of coming to the station is enough - especially effective if you are on your way to Mexico City Airport. However, many of these stories are true, even though they are embellished with relish.

Other horror scenarios occasionally find their way into American newspapers. For example, when American accident victims with fractured skulls are locked up in prison and then ransomed for seven thousand dollars - occasionally they have not survived. Car thefts and costly reimbursements by the thief are so popular that US rental companies are working with a Mexico clause: don't drive across the border! In striking contrast, however, is the brisk travel of American tourists to the Mexican Pacific coast. There, in places like Acapulco and Puerto Valleria, there is luxury at a social rate thanks to the hard dollar.

The same applies to property ownership on the fabulous beaches of the Baja California, a kind of Curonian Spit to the power of ten. As always in Mexico, the American buyer must be clear about the pitfalls in the legal system of the neighboring country, including its baksheesh culture, in good time. Anyone who buys cheaply is faced with higher risks - similar to someone who receives high interest rates. With a certain amount of sporting pleasure, however, American tourists stand in front of the Mexicans' garage workshops and watch them turn three old ones Beetles make two new VW Beetles. The tinny sound of the Volkswagen of yore, still being produced in Mexico, arouses nostalgic feelings.

The economic relations between the two countries are a special chapter. Americans who try to think further know very well that the Mexican invasion cannot be stopped as long as there are similarly bizarre income differences between the two countries as between Switzerland and Bulgaria. Against a grumbling minority of conservatives, the US has therefore formed its free trade zone with Canada and Mexico. In fact, it was always there in Canada. But she visibly helped the Mexicans, who had only been saved from bankruptcy by the USA a few years earlier.

Mexico's economic situation, including its economic independence, has improved so much for the first time that the eternal cycle, according to which an increase in added value is immediately turned into negative again by population growth, will one day stop. Meanwhile, driven by rising oil prices, Mexico is beginning to feel its way to the fringes of western industrialism - "benefiting" from low wages inside and a strong dollar outside.

With everything they have to complain about in their Mexicans, the US citizens also know what they have in them. On the other hand, the fact that they know it annoys them again. Because only first-generation Mexican immigrants, and really only they, can guarantee the remarkable standard of living of the American middle class in the so-called sun belt: while in Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, companies and very wealthy people at most have their properties looked after by professional gardeners, everyone else has something like that but do it yourself, the majority of the American social class does not dream of dirtying their fingers as a result. That's what you have your Mexicans for.

They know next to nothing about sensitive gardening, but they have an unbroken relationship to noise. Incidentally, they agree with many Americans on this. Everything works with petrol-powered lawnmowers, with edge trimmers and with air blowers that blow every leaf off the road. Their wives, who are often employed, struggle with the same zeal as American men defend the right to a professional gardener Janitors - according to our parlance, cleaning ladies - who work a lot for a low hourly wage. This is the Dorado of the really illegals, because of course these are mostly businesses without an invoice.

Since no American family can leave underage children at home alone, there is also an American-Mexican emergency community in this area that brings something to both sides - prestige and convenience for the working middle class, cash for the Mexicans. In short, Mexican immigrants give the US middle class the life of a landlord class that they could not otherwise afford. To mock the cheap Mexican is part of it. One would like to despise him, but also need him. In addition, Mexicans simply do not allow themselves to be despised, are not ashamed of their drudgery, because there is a concept behind everything: never having to live in Mexican conditions again.

The middle class, but more white and black marginalized groups, feel a certain inner strength, a restless vitality in the people from south of the border. There is seldom loitering in their circles. Some have two, at least one and a half permanent jobs. The desire to own a home, which is considered the American dream, is more pronounced among Latinos than other groups of equal incomes. This in turn impresses the conservative American. He enviously observes the extremely familiar way of life of the immigrants from the south, the unconditional willingness to help within the clan or group, while everything drifts apart in his crises.

Of course, with their resistance to learning English quickly, Mexicans pose puzzles and problems to the school system in some states. The long-established residents unwillingly watch how much money the government has to spend on language training for Latin children because there is a constitutional right to language training. Since these children usually do not learn English at home, the teachers have to deal with it. This robs the schools of a lot of capacity - and the latino children timely access to the basic terms of other areas of knowledge. The fact that Mexicans are fairly low on the educational system's success scale is observed in the better circles with full frivolity. It protects old privileges.

With all this, the Americans are not entirely comfortable with some Mexican either. He can easily get used to Mexican menus, as inexpensive as the contents. The fact that Mexican immigrants are only forced to turn to Western values ​​is tolerable. It protects the old privileges and ultimately also the country's technical elite. Mexicans, they know that Corporate America, will not be able to threaten the economic, technical and scientific upper class of the country in the longer term.

For some Americans it is more sinister that their now largest immigrant group is firmly attached to the Catholic Church. There is fear of the religious and ethnic dominance of "old" America. One sees these as endangered from many sides, but mostly from the Mexicans in the long term. One would like to keep them small, to limit them more to service functions, so that quantity does not immediately turn into quality. There is an instinctive silent majority on this point.

Last but not least, there is increasing irritation that Mexicans do not allow themselves to be pressed into another paradigm of American society: into the unwritten, but very pronounced ethnic concepts of America. They are thwarted by Mexicans, the majority of whom are mixed race. Like many other Latinos, they are simply not interested in social group formation or ideology based on skin color. The Anglo-American striving for a more or less strict separation of the different races in their own regions around their own priorities and with their own claims has always made America's Anglo-Saxon society predictable despite all the convulsions.

Mexican Mestizo - mestizaje - will not fit into such schemes. Mixed breeds of tradition and culture, they will not go along with the us-versus-them philosophy of the multiply divided American society. America in the 21st century will be different because of the Mexicans. The silent majority feels it vaguely, defends itself against it by keeping a certain distance from Latino culture, but it will not achieve anything. Because, right, Mexicans are needed one way or another.

from: the overview 02/2000, page 66


Werner Meyer-Larsen:

Werner Meyer-Larsen is a freelance writer in California. He was editor and USA correspondent for Spiegel for a long time.