Richard Rodriguez Considers the North American Free Trade Agreement
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RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: On one recent summer day, President George Bush, invoking the memory of Sept. 11, pledged perseverance in Iraq.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The only way our enemies can succeed is if we forget the lessons of Sept. the 11th.
RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: On that same day the Canadian House of Commons voted to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. On that same day, Mexico’s lawmakers granted Mexicans living abroad, millions living in the U.S., the right to vote in Mexican elections.
More than a decade ago the trilateral handshakes among the U.S. and Mexican president and a Canadian prime minister endorsed NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement that recognized a continental relationship. And yet we North Americans remain strangers to one another, despite being implicated in each other’s future, especially after Sept. 11. Mexicans and Canadians have very little idea of one another. They both obsess about their intervening neighbor.
Until recently, the U.S. was dismissive of Canada and Mexico. Canada was our clean pharmacist, Mexico was our pusher, Canada was virginal, Canadian-born Mary Pickford convincingly impersonated America’s sweetheart. The Mexican Delores Del Rio was in a different film altogether. Sept. 11 changed everything. Now the United States obsesses about Canada and Mexico. We feel ourselves in both directions vulnerable.
In the days after Sept. 11, Mexican lawmakers were reluctant to express official sympathy toward the United States. Such is the durability of Mexico’s 19th Century grievance against the land grabbing gringo. Canada on Sept. 11 behaved like a good neighbor; planes bound to the United States from Asia and Europe were diverted to Canada and Canada took us in. But in the years since, we in the U.S. have re-imagined Canada. We have become fixated on terrorist cells in Ontario and the possibility that dark-minded migrants could cross our northern border. They did it once, they might do it again.
SPOKESPERSON: So when you headed back to the Philippines?
RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: And Canadian immigration laws were turning Canada before our eyes from green to brown, no longer a European outpost. South of the border, Mexico has long been disdainful toward Mexican Americans because we abandoned Mother Mexico for Uncle Sam. Mexico has even scorned its own poor who travel north to work in Gringolandia. And if Mexico’s Congress is willing to extend voting rights to Mexican migrants workers represents a great change in the Mexican mind. Mexico is accommodating itself to the reality of North America.
In a commercial for his reelection, George Bush holds a small Mexican flag as he stands beside a child. But that an American president would display the flag of another country is surprising; that President Bush would hold a flag of Mexico, a country unsettling to many members of his own party, is astonishing. Self-described minutemen patrol the Arizona border on the lookout for illegal Mexican immigrants. The minutemen have lately announced their intention to patrol the Canadian border.
On Gay Pride Day in Toronto, as Canada’s parliament prepared to pass same-sex marriage rights, Canada’s conservative party leader Steven Harper visited the city’s Muslim neighborhoods to galvanize Islamic opposition to gay marriage, just as President Bush galvanized fundamentalist Christian opposition in the U.S. The gay couple in St. Louis imagines moving to Canada; the Mexican peasant in Colima dreams of getting a job in el Norte. The Canadian worries that his factory will close and move to Mexico. The U.S. President holds the flag of Mexico as U.S. minutemen patrol the Canadian border. We are all North Americans now.
I’m Richard Rodriguez.