By Dr. Cliff Toliver
Assistant Professor of English
There should be no mistake: in crucial respects, its affiliation with Mexico must be regarded as the United States’ single most important international relationship. The United States and Mexico are bound by material ties of mutuality in areas of geographic proximity and environment, prehistory and history, government, economy, language, cultural goals and expressions, and security concerns. Mexico, the United States’ geographic next-door neighbor-to-the-south, currently has a population of 106 million, well beyond one-third the number of the United States’ population; approximately one of every six persons residing in North America is Mexican. Mexico City and New York City, each with a population roughly estimated at 18 million, are both among the three or four largest metropolitan areas on earth. The future well-being of North America undoubtedly depends in large measure upon the social-economic and politico-cultural courses that Mexico and the United States, across their 1,950-mile-long shared border, chart together. That Americans enhance their current understanding of Mexico’s peoples and cultures is increasingly vital.
Before Old World intervention, Mexico formed the cradle of the New World’s indigenous cultural development and some of antiquity’s most advanced cultures evolved in Mexico. It is likely that Mexico is one of only two places on earth where writing was invented completely independently. The Maya of Mexico created a number system with a zero and developed a 52-year calendar that is in some respects more complex and accurate than the calendar in international use today. The Aztec people of Mexico founded as their capital the city of Tenochtitlán, one of the largest and most well-planned cities of the ancient world. Tenochtitlán’s monumental Pyramid of the Sun is one of the most massive structures to be built by ancient peoples. Mexico must be regarded at the heartland of America’s native cultures.
As regards politics and governmental structure, Mexico, or los Estados Unidos Mexicanos - the United States of Mexico - parallels the United States of America in crucial and remarkable ways. The United States of Mexico is a federal republic, based on a national Constitution promulgated in 1917. The tripartite central government has an elected national president, a federal judiciary headed by a Supreme Court of Justice, and a bicameral legislature, comprised of a 128-member Senate and a 500-member Chamber of Deputies. The electorate cultivates a multi-party political system. Mexico’s federal system is comprised of 31 states and a federal district. Mexican citizens take tremendous pride in their revolutionary heritage and celebrate Mexican Independence Day on September 16. The governmental similarities between Mexico and United States are as important as they are obvious.
Mexico has a free market economy generating monetary exchange surpassing a trillion dollars per annum and the United States and Mexico are intimately interconnected through mutual economic interests. Second only to Canada, Mexico is the United States’ most important trading partner, both as a destination for exported goods and as a source for imported goods. In terms both of imports and exports, the United States is by far the most important trading partner for Mexico. Mexico became a member of NAFTA in 1994 and the United States’ commerce with Mexico should continue to increase significantly in the coming years. The U.S. Commerce Department currently lists Mexico, along with China and India, among the world’s major emerging markets. For purposes of business and work, tourism, educational opportunities, and for a host of other reasons, more Americans cross the border into Mexico each year than to any other country.
Mexican cultural influence upon the United States is growing rapidly in a variety of areas. Since shortly after the turn of the millennium, persons of Hispanic heritage have constituted the largest ethnic minority in the United States. The number of Hispanic-heritage Americans has surpassed the number of African Americans, and Hispanics now comprise almost 13 percent of the United States’ population. While Hispanic-heritage immigrants have arrived from the Caribbean, central and South America, and Spain as well, more come to the United Stated from Mexico than from all other Latin countries combined. More Mexican citizens live in the United States than citizens from any other foreign country and the United States has the fifth largest Hispanic population among the world's countries. Astonishingly, some estimates suggest that one of every 10 Mexicans has lived in the United States for some period of time. Locally, Hispanics form the fastest growing segment of the Joplin-area population, and one of every 25 residents of Jasper County is Hispanic. In the coming 2005 legislative session, the consideration of immigration policies and immigration laws will be one of the most important issues confronting the United States Congress.
Spanish, the principle language of Mexico and the second-most widely spoken language on the planet, has become by far the second-most widely spoken language in the United States. In fact, in the states of the American Southwest, including Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, and Colorado, approximately one of every three inhabitants now speaks Spanish preferentially. Spanish-language media and advertising, as well as businesses and services conducted in Spanish and geared toward Hispanics, are becoming increasingly influential and common. Spanish language education has necessarily become an essential element in many American schools.
Despite mutual interests, of course, relations between the United States and Mexico have not always been peaceful. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Mexico and the United States confronted each other militarily. Some Mexicans may still regard the southwestern United States as “territorios perdidos” or “lost territories” that once belonged, and perhaps still should belong, to Mexico. Nevertheless, the growing importance of alliances between the United States and Mexico in the areas of national security, law enforcement, and environmental concerns demand a future of cooperation. The population density of the United States is increasing in the American Southwest, spurred both by relocation of people from the northern United States and the movement of Mexicans toward jobs and other opportunities on the United States’ side of the border. Dealing with this population shift effectively will require a cooperative response. Socio-economic inequities between Mexican and American citizens must be addressed cooperatively. Urgent environmental issues in the southern part of the American continent, such as chronic water shortage, landscape deterioration and erosion, deforestation, and need for waste disposal, must be addressed cooperatively.
The complex relationship between Mexico and the United States encompasses that of neighbor, ancestor, relative, opponent, ally, partner, competitor, friend, and much more. The well-being of the North American continent and its peoples requires that citizens of the United States actively increase their understanding of Mexico and its peoples. It may be hoped that, in learning about another country, the peoples of the United States will gain valuable insights into their own country and culture, as well.