A Mexican foreign minister reflects on the U.S.


Jorge Castaneda, a Mexican who has spent many years in the U.S, as a student, faculty member, and diplomat, has written America Through Foreign Eyes (2020). He writes with sometimes unsettling insight about the United States. He devotes much attention to immigration, in four frames of reference:

The role of early European migration: European migrants killed and drove out Native Americans, imported slaves from Africa, drove out Mexicans. They did not bring over the authoritarian European institutions of class, church and state. These early white European migrants established the first mass middle class in the world. This social/political arrangement, internally democratic for white males and anti-democratic to all others, is the hallmark of America political culture. Voter suppression efforts today hark back to the exclusive democracy of the 18th C. [Castaneda does not use this term, but he is saying that from the first European settlements the U.S. has performed as a gate community.]

The role of immigration in American 20th Century economic prosperity: “American openness to the rest of the world…has made an enormous difference in terms of plowing invention in the profits. It could not flourish without a welcoming attitude toward immigration, without which these inventors would not have ventured far from their shores. Had their products, services, attitudes and experimentation not been well received in the United States, they would not have thrived.” (page 146).

America as the engine of today’s global modern mass culture: “Why have so many foreign cultural talents worked in the United States? …. United States is the first country to produce a mass culture. While over the centuries, European, Latin American, and Asian nations constructed literature, philosophy, art, architecture, and music for the very few, the United States lacked the authoritarian history, centralized religion, and monarchy or institutions that favored elitist culture. Instead, with the emergence of the world’s first middle class society in the earlier early 20th century, cultural products were generated and for these new consumers in the same way as cars, homes, and ice boxes.” (page 59). This feature of American culture continues to attract outstanding cultural talent from around the world.

On immigration of lower skilled workers: America has a long tradition of importing Latino workers to meet the labor demand of employers. American attitudes about immigration mix pragmatism and hypocrisy. We want these workers to keep costs of goods and services low but we also want to say it must be legal. This results in selective immigration law enforcement. [PFR: failure of every administration to impose effective demands on employers to verify employment status is a feature of selective enforcement.] Latinos are a “better fit” in the US than migrants to Europe from Muslim and African counties, in part because their religious practices are more compatible. The real reason for conservative opposition to legalization is that those legalized will bring their families, and two thirds will vote Democratic.

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