Professor: U.S., Mexico more united than divided
Despite the differences that appear to divide the two countries, "the Mexican-American relationship is very, very good," said Dr. Ed Williams this past week during a discussion to enlighten the Prescott community about its neighbor to the south.
Williams' topic was "Reducing the Distance: Understanding Our Relationship," part of the Prescott Public Library's series, "Mexico: Prescott's 'Distant' Neighbor," that will continue with speakers each month until December. Now a Prescott resident, Williams is a University of Arizona professor emeritus after having taught there for 34 years on Mexican government and politics and comparative border regions.
"A lot of things separate us," he said of the two countries. "And, ignorance alienates us."
However, Williams said, America and Mexico "seemingly may be at odds, but not necessarily so," and he offered a litany of positive aspects of the relationship: "a whole series of treaties and accords," the success of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the fact that "trade is important to both of us."
Next to Canada, Mexico is America's most important trading partner, Williams said. "We are not like one another," he said, but, "the U.S. and Mexico have a very productive relationship even with the differences that exist."
Mexico is a very rich country as a nation and the 13th largest is the world in geographic size, with a population of 112 million people, yet, it is still considerably less wealthy and powerful than the U.S., Williams said.
"The distribution of wealth in Mexico is egregious," he said, "and the middle class is stunted." The same is true of the Spanish American people who live in the U.S., Williams said, where they often perform "our less sophisticated" jobs.
"Most people who make decisions in the U.S. are blue-eyed," he said. Arizona has had only one Hispanic governor. Many states have had none. Further, there are no important Hispanic CEOs in the U.S., however, the Secretary of the Interior is Hispanic and one Supreme Court justice is a Puerto Rican.
By contrast, "Mexican food has taken this country by storm," Williams said, noting, too, that Americans love their music, Hispanics have a large presence in America's sports world, "politics are increasingly influenced by Hispanics," and there are Hispanic firefighters, doctors and lawyers Americans depend upon.
Forty million Hispanics live in the U.S., Williams said, and 40 to 50 percent of students in grades kindergarten through high school in Arizona, New Mexico, California and Texas are of Hispanic origin.
"We will look different in 25 years," Williams said of the changing face of the American population.
The distance between Mexico and the U.S. is not geographical or spatial, Williams said. Rather, they are distanced in politics, economics and socio-cultural factors. For example, he said, Americans are materialistic, while Mexicans are humanistic. Mexicans are more family and community oriented.
"Even if we spoke the same language, we wouldn't speak the same language," he said.
"Why is this so?" he asked. "Social psychologists call it 'fear of the other,'" he said. "Difference is threatening. The stranger is a threatening person."
Beyond this, Williams says, Americans are afraid of another 9-11, that the Chinese will rule the world, that the U.S. economy is going to pot, that America is not as vigorous as in the past, and people don't trust one another as much as they used to.
Arizona's new immigration law, SB 1070, is a product of this fear, Williams said, and has catalyzed the Hispanic vote, because these people, too, are frightened and angry.
It is time for people to face the reality that "times are changing," and even though they are afraid of change, they must bridge the divide, Williams said.
"We are in this together. We must prosper together," he said. "We should realize conflict is counter-productive and that cooperation is much more productive. We are better off, and it is in our self-interest to do so."
After the session at the library, Williams commented on how Americans could react in their everyday encounters with Hispanic people in their communities.
"A simple hello," he said. "A nod of the head. A smile. A smile goes a long way."
In the end, "You are better off cooperating instead of being angry."