The Road to Rio Rico

May 23, 2008
By Tony Walther
You pass the tall buildings of Tucson and the shabby looking industrial kind of strips along Interstate 10 and then head due south on Interstate 19 out into the saguaro cactus lands. Soon, you see an alabaster edifice in the distance on the right, gleaming in the hot Sonoran Desert sun. That’s the San Xavier Mission. Then more drab desert, and then you might spot an oasis here and there. That would be golf courses for the retired Anglo snow birds from the frigid North, Midwest, and East.
You’re on the road to Rio Rico, and then Nogales, which is the name of the towns on both sides of the U.S.- Mexican border.
Besides the golf courses, you will have seen some modern, clean looking retirement villas.
But the farther south you go, the more drab it gets, or some might say “colorful.” But really, drab is the only appropriate word I can come up with.
At Rio Rico, just north of Nogales, there are produce sheds, where fruits and vegetables, primarily coming in from south of the border, are stored temporarily in cold boxes and then loaded onto semi-trucks headed to all points in North America.
Speaking Spanish in these parts, even on the north side of the border, is a distinct advantage. I know. I’ve been there. Unfortunately, my Spanish is limited to my memory of three semesters of studying it in college and some I’ve heard on the road, and maybe on Telemundo. So I really have little advantage.
But in reality, even north of the border, you are in Mexico, for all intents and purposes.The same holds true for many parts of Los Angeles and in other areas of the Southwest (and, really, all over the USA nowadays).
I have described this in order to set some kind of scene about Mexican-American relations and the tumult on the border and in the interior of Mexico.
My knowledge of Mexico is admittedly limited. The first time I was there was in 1964 when I was in high school. During a summer vacation, my family ventured into Juarez, Mexico, just across the border from El Paso. People were living in cardboard shacks. They did have a brand new dog racing stadium, though. I doubt the shack inhabitants attended. The place was empty when we were there.
The next time I would enter Mexico was when my wife and I took a somewhat adventurous trip to Rosarito Beach, south of San Diego, via, Tijuana. We also visited Ensenada, Mexico on that trip.
From the San Diego airport we traveled via bus, trolley, bus again, and then foot. On our way back we hired a teenaged girl to drive us to the border in her Camaro, and she let us off. We had our suitcases in hand and we walked through customs with no passports. We had voter identity cards – why? I don’t exactly remember. The customs officials looked at us curiously for a second, raising their eyebrows, and then asked a couple of questions and then let us pass through. There was a moment’s fear in our minds. We thought that we might never get back to our home land again, and we desperately wanted to. That was in the early 90s. Today, we’d probably be two people without a country, neither citizens of Mexico, nor appearing to be citizens of the United States, coming in the way we did. On foot. No passports. Suitcases in hand.
And my wife and I entered Mexico one more time, later in the 90s. We got off a cruise ship at Ensenada and did the tourist thing. Why? Darned if I know. I’m not trying to put down Mexico, but it was just not our thing. Lo siento.
I will say, though, that when you get away from the tourist area, Ensenada has a bustling downtown, with people riding mass transit to and from work and shopping in the stores and eating at lunch counters in scenes that would resemble most any north American large city.
(I know. Mexico City is a huge modern metropolis. And I’m not like the unworldly, typical gringo acquaintance of mine who got off a cruise ship in Caracas, Venezuela and was amazed that they had “skyscrapers and everything.” Hey, they have oil too, just like Mexico.)
Basically, what I’m trying to say, it’s two different worlds (my last description notwithstanding), north and south of the border. North of the border you have Yankee Doodle Dandy Anglo heritage representative democracy with no real class system (although some say there is — okay, Ivy League, maybe) and south of the border you have a paternalistic society, primarily composed of the rich and the poor, the patron and the peasant, or I should say the patron and the campesino, though there is nowadays an emerging middle class (just when some say we are losing that here in the good old USA).
U.S.- Mexico relations have always been paternalistic on our part. We have always said we want to have good relations with our friends to the south. We had the Good Neighbor Policy and then the Alliance For Progress, and I don’t know what we have currently. But the problem has been, according to those who write about it, that we tend to work with the rich people and the benefits of our policies usually accrue to the upper class in Mexico and U.S. investors. An example of this might be in agriculture. There is a lot of big time farming in Mexico. We import one heck of a lot of produce from Mexico, but mostly from the big farms. Meanwhile, small farmers down there are left out of the bonanza and so are the other poor. We can afford to buy the Mexican imports up here (so far), but the poor down there can’t compete so well with us, to sell their crops or buy our food.
We do export food to Mexico. I can personally attest to that. I’ve hauled tons upon tons of Washington State apples right to the border below San Diego. And the Mexican inspectors are particular.
And then there’s the drug problem. The demand for illegal drugs is so high up here, that the drug cartels in Mexico will stop at nothing to keep the pipeline going. They are currently in open warfare with the police and in fact the whole government. Several high officials in Mexico have been murdered. Many of the border towns are reportedly lawless, with the criminals in virtual control.
There have been cross border incidents in which persons clothed in Mexican army uniforms, but probably not real soldiers, but drug runners in disguise, have shot at our border patrol agents. We even have two of our agents in prison for allegedly shooting a drug runner, who was allegedly unarmed. The arrested border patrol agents disputed those allegations (that’s somewhat of a separate issue, but nevertheless related to my piece here).
Former Mexican president Vincente Fox was not able to stop the drug cartels. The new president, Felipe Calderon, immediately declared war on the cartels with an offensive against them to include the use of the military, after assuming office in December.
On May 9, it was reported that gunmen murdered Mexico’s acting chief of the Federal
Police. Hundreds of law enforcement agents have been murdered by drug cartel gunmen. And the violence is taking place well into the interior, not just on the border.There is also much corruption in law enforcement in Mexico.
Police chiefs in border towns have been murdered and some of the surviving ones have crossed into the U.S. and asked for protection. They have asked for asylum not from their government, but from criminals in their country.
On May 19 it was reported that four bodies of persons who appeared to be shot execution style were found near Rosarito, which is about 20 miles south of the border from San Diego. One of the victims was believed to be an American citizen. And a drug link was suspected.
There is a civil war going on below our own southern border, one that could potentially be more menacing than what is going on in the Middle East. Mexico is our second largest trading partner behind Canada. We need them. They need us.
And there is no reason we should not have the best cooperation possible between our two nations. But we need to look at their whole society. We need to do more than have one-sided programs that only help a minority of the society there. A Mexican society that had a much better distribution of the wealth would be healthy for all concerned. Prosperous folks appreciate what they have and don’t want to give it up to drug lords. Folks with no future and no power can succumb to hopelessness and the fear and intimidation that the drug cartels inflict. And law abiding prosperous Mexicans don’t sneak north across the border.
We also need to look at our own society and take serious steps to curb the demand for illegal drugs. We do need to keep up the pressure on drug dealers, but at the same time we have to look for root causes. I’m not going to opine on what those root causes might be. I think that would take another essay.
Illegal immigration coming north from Mexico has been a big issue. Strangely enough, what with the downturn in our own economy, many of those illegals have headed back south. Who knows? Maybe poor north Americans might sneak across the border into Mexico. Their economy is actually doing somewhat better than ours right now, although the downturn in remittances from Mexican workers here has hurt many families down there.
Home Depot is facing a big time slump in its home improvement market with the failing housing market and home mortgage crisis here (yes I have seen the brand new reports of an upswing here with bargain hunters in the home market and good for them!).
Meanwhile, Home Depot’s business is booming south of the border. Still a minority, middle class folks in Mexico are taking out mortgages on new homes. According to one article I read, mortgages are a relatively new concept there. Heretofore, you either inherited a home or built one by hand, I suppose often with native materials.
It would also be nice if we could do something in this country to stem the flow of jobs to Mexico, even though Mexico of course needs jobs too. A car parts factory in the Sacramento area recently closed shop and let go some 144 workers. And it was a 40-year-old business. It’s moving to Mexico. Who knows? Some of the lost jobs here may have been held by persons of Mexican origin? There has to be a way to promote a healthy economy that offers opportunity to all in both nations.
No, I’m no Mexico expert, as you can see. But I did try to piece together what I knew of the subject into some type of coherent essay. I think Mexico is currently in trouble, but hopefully the trouble can be resolved with a sincere show of concern on our part and determination by their government and citizens, and I hope that we can live in peace and prosper together (podemos vivir con la paz y prosperidad juntos or to use the catch phrase of the day, si’ se puede).
Se vayan con Dios mis amigos.