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The US & Mexico: inextricably intertwined

‘Vanishing Frontiers: The Forces Driving Mexico and the United States Together’ by Andrew Selee.  New York: Public Affairs, 2018.

Reviewed by Dr. Michael Hogan

There have always been two traditional ways of viewing Mexico in the modern era: Harry S. Truman’s “good neighbors,” and John Foster Dulles’s caution that the United States did not have friends or neighbors, only “interests.”

What seemed clear until the most recent presidential campaign was that the relationship was a symbiotic one and that the two countries cooperated in ways that made the hemisphere more secure, more profitable for its inhabitants and culturally more deeply connected through a wealth of music, art, cuisine and literature. Since the campaign and the inauguration of the new administration in Washington, however, anti-Mexican rhetoric has risen sharply and the complexity of our relationship has been largely obscured. Even the more responsible news outlets have been complicit except for the occasional op-ed piece by Enrique Krause in the New York Times or Andrew Selee in the Wall Street Journal.

So, this full-length study of the U.S.-Mexico relationship by the latter is particularly welcomed. It is a clear, balanced, straightforward account of the mutual dependencies of our two nations and a counterweight to the hyperbole and rhetoric which has captured the headlines over the past few years.

Selee, who is well-known for his work on migration policy and as a scholar with the Wilson Center, has received praise from both parties for his evenhanded analyses. In this fascinating new work, he shows us that Mexico and the United States are defined not by any border fences or future walls but rather by the bridges that have been painstakingly built over the years by business leaders, technicians, teachers, artists, investors and ordinary working folks who have helped blend the two societies in ways that have deepened our cultures, enriched our lives,and created new opportunities for prosperity on both sides of the border.

For the past 28 years as a teacher at the American School Foundation in Guadalajara, I have been blessed by students, both U.S. and Mexican, who have completed careers in medicine, journalism, law, international relations and the arts and have enriched the lives of those in the communities they serve on both sides of the border and throughout the world.  So Seeley’s words and descriptions resonated for me with the clarity of experience and daily observation.

While the old rhetoric persists that Mexicans are taking U.S. jobs, Selee points out that Mexican companies now provide many jobs for Americans on U.S. soil. The Mexican baking company known as Bimbo produces Entenmanns, Sara Lee and Thomas’s English muffins. Another Mexican company produces Wise potato chips, which is the official snack of the Boston Red Sox. These firms and others like them provide jobs for thousands of American workers and are completely integrated into the life of the U.S. economy.

The United States and Mexico are interdependent in energy. The United States is a major importer of Mexican oil, while Mexico is a major importer of U.S. natural gas, which it uses to generate electricity. As far as border protection is concerned, the United States would be overrun with Central American immigrants (many fleeing violence for which past U.S. policies are partly responsible) were it not for Mexican interdiction efforts on the southern border with Guatemala. The Mexican government has provided sanctuary to thousands of them and deported hundreds of others who had questionable backgrounds.

“Vanishing Frontiers” should be required reading for all policy makers and policy shapers from U.S. senators to newspapers editors and journalists. It should be a mandated text in classes on international relations, border studies and U.S.-Mexico history. But one would also hope that this important book finds a larger audience: all of us who live and work in the United States and Mexico that we all might have a clearer, more realistic view of how our self-interests and that of our neighbors are inextricably intertwined.

Michael Hogan, PhD, is the author of “Abraham Lincoln and Mexico” and “The Irish Soldiers of Mexico.”

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