No Mexicans, No Cowboys (¡Que viva México!)
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bring those problems [to] us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
I don’t have to attribute this quote to anyone, do I? This candidate was dead to me before he even started, but once he uttered these risible remarks (and these ones were months ago, quite early in his campaign), anyone who ever had anything to do with him going forward were dead to me as well. This includes the Republican Party, which I usually have at least some good things to say about though I’ve never voted that way myself. And it includes the media which handed him his free megaphone.
The candidate’s statement is not only racist and race-baiting, but false on several fronts. To wit, the country of Mexico isn’t “sending” us anybody. The speaker makes it sound as though the situation were analogous to the Cuban prisoners Castro released in the direction of Florida as a kind of international practical joke, a sort of human hot-foot. No one is “sending” Mexicans in the direction of the United States. They, like people from the other 200+ nations on planet earth, come to America because in many ways it remains a desirable place to live and work, presumably more so than where they came from.
Secondly, look at the paragraph: it says nothing about the illegality of the immigration. He has a problem with Mexican immigration to the United States, period. He’s not talking about the political conundrum of how to solve a certain problem — he is simply issuing a blanket mischaracterization of the people who are involved. In other words, he’s not against illegal immigration; he’s against Mexicans, legal or illegal. He’s so against them he’s tarred them with the kind of sweeping lie that one associates with Goebbels. (Ironically, the speaker is from a relatively recent immigrant group himself. How easy it would be to tar the Germans in like fashion: “They send us their sado-masochists and their Jew-Killers, the monsters who raped and pillaged their way across France and Poland!”). And he ends with a rhetorical device that is right out of the Nazi playbook, he only “ASSUMES” some Mexicans are good people. But, this presidential candidate aside, German-Americans are not all to be characterized as Nazis. On the contrary, I have celebrated their contributions to American culture in print and in talks. Mexican-Americans deserve the same kind of shout out.
Today is the 170th anniversary of the start of the Mexican-American War. I have ancestors who fought in that war, and others who fought in the war of Texas Independence and who otherwise pioneered former Mexican territory. And my research for the western book I’ve been working on made something abundantly clear that maybe hadn’t been, as some one who has spent his entire life on the northeast. The revelation I had was the extent to which America as a whole is culturally Mexican. Now, in an obvious way, Hollywood in particular has not done right by this group. I’ve watched hundreds of westerns over the last few years, and as you can imagine, positive portrayals of Mexicans are as rare as hen’s teeth. It’s very much in the tradition of blackface minstrelsy and other show business stereotypes: they’re either sinister or stupid. Even the films and tv shows that are meant to portray a Mexican in a good light, were patronizing and infantalizing, a kind of South-of-the-Border Uncle Tomisim. But for the most part it’s Speedy Gonzalez and Eli Wallach in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. And as often as not, as in the latter case, it’s a white actor in brownface.
BUT, as I began to explore western American history something dawned on me with great force. That is, the degree to which American culture itself ABSORBED aspects of Mexican culture, in a manner much similar to the way it absorbed elements of African culture, and Native American culture, and to lesser extents, every single culture we have assimilated. Immigrants are Americanized. But it works in the other direction as well. And since one-third of America WAS Mexico…America IS Mexico to a certain extent, not just geographically but culturally. In light of that, to see the situation as “them” and “us” strikes me, like all racism, as a kind of madness, a social disease that prevents people from seeing what’s really there in front of them.
When I visited London about 20 years ago, I met a guy who asked me, sort of playfully, “Are you from Texas?” He was egging me on, teasing me, but his joke said something about the American image in the world. It’s not someone like me, a New England Yankee — hasn’t been, almost from the beginning. It’s a cowboy. Ronald Reagan. John Wayne. Marlboro Man. Cowboy hat.
Have you ever stopped to ask the important questions “Why COWS?” Because I am kind of a spacey guy (and because I was researching a book), I have. How did that insane mania for beef come about? Cows are not indigenous to this continent. And they didn’t come over with the English and wend their west from Massachusetts and Virginia. (A few were imported to the original English colonies but not many). The big herds of the west? The Spanish brought them. The cattle industry of the great Southwest began when that territory was still Mexico. The migration of Yanquis to participate in that industry is what resulted in the Annexation of Texas and the Mexican American War (1846), which brought the territory that is now Arizona, New Mexico, California, and parts of Colorado and Nevada into the union. That symbol of American power the cowboy hat evolved from the sombrero – in many early western movies it is still called by the latter name. The lasso, the bandana, chaps. The unparalleled popularity in the U.S. of a Spanish instrument known as the guitar!
In other words, all of these things we have to think of as bedrock symbols of Americana (country music, rock and roll, ten gallon hats, fast food, the family barbecue), owe their existence to the influence of Mexican culture. The irony is that often a lot of the very people who have this apparent terror of the “Brown People” in our midst are dressed in Mexican-derived fashions, listening to music played on Mexican instruments, and gobbling a food staple that came to their door via Mexico. The ignorance and irony of that are mind-boggling.
And even if this were not the case? Drugs, crime, rapists? If I were Mexican, I’d be worried about the importation of those things from NORTH of the border. After all, we’ve been much more successful at invading THEM then they have at “invading” us.
As for the people of Mexico?
Today, I celebrate you, my friends!
I exalt your beautiful art!
I admire the beauty of your language!
I dance to your music!
I devour your food!
I celebrate YOU!
I welcome you!
This girl welcomes you!