The Politics of Mexican-Origin Leaders: Implications for 2008 and Beyond
During the "Politics of Mexican-Origin Leaders: Implications for 2008 & Beyond" conference, participants gathered to discuss preliminary conclusions from the study "Focus Mexico/Enfoque México," a binational research project that examines dominant political action strategies among Mexican-origin leaders in the United States.
One of the study's researchers, David R. Ayón , Senior Research Associate at the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, explained differences in the policy agenda of the established Mexican-American leadership network compared to the migrant-community leadership network. On immigration, for example, the study found two distinctive outlooks yet also the increasing prioritization of immigration in the Mexican-American policy agenda. Migrant-community leaders tended to view the immigration policy debate pragmatically and as a means to an end to win concessions that could normalize the status of constituents. On the other hand, Mexican-American leaders perceived "immigration" as a vehicle to galvanize political and collective organization and to spark ethnic identification among Latin American-origin persons.
Allert Brown-Gort, Associate Director of the Institute for Latino Studies at Notre Dame University and another lead investigator of the study, discussed the political effectiveness of migrant-community strategies. He noted that they have aimed to affect policy change predominantly in Mexico rather than in the United States, the U.S. immigration policy debate a chief exception. They have secured promises from federal, state, and municipal governments to establish matching-funds programs to support community-development projects, they have maintained rather significant representation within the Mexican federal government over the past presidential administrations, and they have backed successful efforts to better facilitate expatriate voting since 2000.
The third researcher, Manuel García y Griego, Associate Professor and Director of the Southwest Hispanic Research Institute at the University of New Mexico, explained the support systems for both the Mexican-American and immigrant-community leadership networks. He noted that the latter relies heavily on the backing of Mexican consulates, on the support of some Spanish-language news media, and on the efforts of hometown associations and of coordinating Mexican government agencies, such as the Institute of Mexicans Abroad (IME). On the other hand, figuring prominently in the support system of the more established Mexican-American leadership network are English-language media targeting Latino audiences, professional associations, such as the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, nationwide Latino organizations, such as the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO); and established economic actors, such as Hispanic chambers of commerce.
Arturo Vargas, Executive Director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), noted that Latino elected officials, because they are government authorities, must exercise caution regarding affiliations with certain groups, particularly ones convened by a foreign government. He cited the example of NALEO's decision not to participate on an advisory board organized by the Mexican government's IME, which aimed to better link pro-migrant and pro-Latino groups in the United States. However Vargas added that such a decision does not imply that Latino elected officials have "forgot about migrant communities." Instead he called on migrant organizations to take proactive steps to engage Latino public officials, who want to collaborate with them in appropriate ways.
Adding with perspective from the Mexican government, Carlos González Gutiérrez, Executive Director of the Instituto de los Mexicanos en el Exterior (IME), noted that the IME advisory board sought to comprise representatives from both the Mexican-American and migrant-community leadership networks to ensure balanced participation in an effort "to bridge these groups to encourage dialogue between immigrants and Latinos." González noted that a challenge lies in publicizing to the immigrant community the efforts of Latino organizations on behalf of immigrant constituencies.
Carlos Olamendi, High Commissioner of the Comisión Estatal para la Atención del Migrante Poblano in the State of Puebla, Mexico, suggested that common ground should exist on two key immigration-reform points. First, he said the two networks should agree that U.S. border-enforcement policy leads to immigrant deaths and is not an effective deterrent against undocumented immigration. Secondly, consensus should be built on the belief that comprehensive immigration reform represents a victory for both Mexican-Americans and migrants and that current policy is not sustainable.
María Echaveste, Co-Founder of the Nueva Vista Group and Lecturer in Residence at the University of California, Berkeley, cited differences between the two networks regarding inclusion of a guestworker plan in a comprehensive reform package. While Mexican-Americans are in opposition partly because of the abusive legacy of the World War II-era bracero program, migrant groups generally favor a temporary worker plan.
In response, Rosario Marín, Secretary of the State and Consumer Services Agency for the State of California, added that the convergence of networks will ultimately enable Mexican-origin persons to be "happy with their Latino ethnic identity and heritage," while at the same time participating fully as U.S. citizens.