Mexican Ambassador Fights Hollywood Stereotypes
WASHINGTON—Mexican Ambassador to the United States, Eduardo Medina Mora Icaza, wants to change incorrect views Americans have of Mexico and the stereotypes of Mexicans and Mexican immigrants.
“Mexicans on the silver screen are usually portrayed as poor and uneducated at best, corrupt and violent as worst,” he said.
The ambassador gave the example of the Oscar-nominated actor Demián Bichir, who couldn’t escape Hollywood’s trap for Mexicans of playing a gardener in “A Better Life,” and a drug dealer in “Savages.”
“While there are certainly Mexican gardeners and drug dealers, they are vastly overrepresented in Hollywood and in the public mind,” he said.
Gardening is not a problem; it and other service jobs are a dignified way to make a living. But if Mexicans are generally portrayed as gardeners, viewers may get the idea that they are not capable of doing anything else, he said.
Medina Mora said that hard work, risk taking, and the entrepreneurial spirit pervade migrants’ work in the United States.
“Planting seeds is very hard work on its own. It may not seem risky to you, but try doing it when you don’t have papers or insurance or job protections. It starts to feel more adventurous, right?”
American movies are perpetuating and reinforcing stereotypes of Mexicans, and it does a disservice to them and misinforms the American public, in his opinion.
“The picture of Mexicans as inherently bad people—drug dealers and corrupt policemen—is not only racist, it is totally wrong.”
Correcting Americans’ Perspective
The ambassador cited bilateral trade figures that would surprise most Americans. Annual U.S.-Mexico trade totals $500 billion. In 2002, U.S. exports to Mexico totaled $217 billion, more than to China and Japan combined, and nearly as much as to the European Union, he said.
The White House estimates that six million jobs depend on Mexico, he said.
He mentioned another fact: Goods imported from Mexico have 40 percent U.S. content. In comparison, imports from China have 4 percent. Few Americans know how much the NAFTA countries—Canada, Mexico, and the United States—compete in the global economy as one unit, he said.
Mexico’s GDP has tripled in twenty years. The number of Mexican students receiving higher education has tripled in the last three decades. The growing Mexican economy, educated classes and fertility rates (which are on par with the U.S.), has made migration from Mexico to the United States “close to zero,” he said.
“What’s more, and this came as a surprise even to me, Mexican tourists in the United States bring more money into this country than U.S. tourists bring to Mexico,” he said.
On the drug trafficking problem, the ambassador said that the U.S. approach is not working and that the drug problem has become an “obsession.” Americans fail to see the problem in the right context, according to Medina Mora.
“We need to reflect whether the drug issue is really the problem.”
He claimed that no single approach, no “magic bullet” will solve the problem. Approaches must be adjusted continuously over time, and an international solution is necessary, he said. He said that if we could solve the issue, we “probably wouldn’t be too far from where we are today.”
Mexican Immigrants in the U.S.
Ambassador Medina Mora was passionately concerned and hopeful about immigration reform in America.
An audience member asked why the Mexican Embassy has been extremely helpful in providing the “Dreamers”—children brought to the United States by their undocumented parents—the documents so that they can become American citizens—not Mexican citizens. Birth certificates are allegedly made available online, for example.
To be a Dreamer does not mean becoming a citizen. It means being protected from deportation, and allowed to work legally.
Medina Mora stressed the importance of integrating Mexican migrants into the American community. He believes that no one can live with dignity, be successful or creative, who is not part of some community, he said.
“We have a tremendous responsibility in terms of the Mexican community here,” he said. He noted that there are 11.4 million migrants in the United States, who were born in Mexico. To serve them, Mexico has the largest consular network in the U.S. of any country—15 today and possibly more coming.
“We do not do enough, but we try hard, and will keep on doing that into the future,” he said.
Medina Mora spoke at a National Press Club Newsmaker news conference on Sept. 13. He became ambassador to the United States on Jan. 14. Before coming to Washington, he was ambassador of Mexico to the United Kingdom, 2009-1012. He was Mexico’s attorney general, 2006-2009.