SAN DIEGO -- Mexican President Vicente Fox recently raised eyebrows north of the border when he said that Mexicans ought to be grateful for their heritage and asked them to imagine what life would be like had they been born in -- gasp -- the United States.
Well, for one thing, they'd have a much shorter commute to work.
No doubt about it. Fox has the gift of gaffe. He compared a fence along the U.S.-Mexican border to ``the Berlin Wall,'' boasted that Mexican immigrants in the U.S. are ``doing jobs that not even blacks want to do,'' called border enforcement measures ``disgraceful and shameful,'' and characterized the Minuteman Project as a bunch of ``migrant-hunting'' vigilantes.
OK, so maybe he got that last one right. But you get the point.
At first, Fox's rugged spirit seemed a refreshing change from the stuffed shirts of the corrupt Institutional Revolutionary Party, which controlled the presidency for 71 years before it was ousted by Fox's National Action Party in 2000. Fox also praised Mexican immigrants in the United States as ``heroes'' for their contributions to the Mexican economy -- more than $20 billion in remittances sent to Mexico this year alone.
Then the cowboy became an aristocrat. Suddenly, he was arrogant, meddlesome and boorish. These are serious times in the relationship between the United States and Mexico, and you'd like to think that the president of Mexico -- a country of 110 million people -- would be a serious fellow with serious thoughts.
If that's the case, and at this point I have my doubts, you wouldn't know it from Fox's comments suggesting Mexicans are lucky to have been born in Mexico rather than the United States.
The first thing that hits you is the absolute ridiculousness of the statement. Imagine a leader saying something like that in a country where, according to one recent survey, as much as 40 percent of the population would migrate to the U.S. if they could. Who's Fox kidding? In that scenario, the lucky ones are those with enough money to pay smugglers to buy passage to the United States, where workers can make more in a day than they make in a month back home.
Not that Mexico is a total bust. It works fine for some of its people. Perhaps Fox should have tacked on a qualifier, something to clarify that only some Mexicans are lucky. The wealthy, well-educated, politically connected, fair-skinned English-speaking Mexicans are the lucky ones. As they sit in their country clubs sipping fine tequila, they speak adoringly of Mexico and all that it has provided them.
It's the others -- the poor, uneducated, dark-skinned members of the working class -- who have to flee to the United States to feed their families. Those are the only Mexicans that most Americans will ever see, waiting tables and trimming hedges and waiting on street corners for day-labor jobs -- hired, perhaps, by some of the same people who decry illegal immigration.
Many Americans look down on that brand of Mexican, and they probably never think about the fact that, across the border, there's another kind of Mexican -- educated, refined and privileged -- who actually looks down on Americans. After all, the only Americans many of them will ever know are the rude tourists who come down to Cancun or Mazatlan and drink themselves sick, walk into restaurants with their shirts off, and demand that waiters speak to them in English.
These Mexican elites are the constituency Fox was addressing with his brutish remarks, and that's why the incident has largely been treated as a non-story south of the border. As far as the Mexican upper crust is concerned, Fox was just stating an indisputable fact.
The way they see it, why would anyone want to be born in the United States when they could be born in Mexico?
I don't get it. But, I guess, as a Mexican-American, I'm not supposed to. My loyalty lies with this country -- the United States -- where you're not locked into whatever station you're born into and where, despite the nonsense that populist doomsayers peddle to the struggling middle class, there's unlimited opportunity to better oneself.
That sure beats the modus operandi in the country that my Mexican grandfather called home as a boy until his family, for economic reasons, had no choice but to emigrate to America -- legally.
I'm grateful for his ordeal. It allowed me to be born in the United States, and, you know, one doesn't get any luckier than that.