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New kids on the block

Stan Gotlieb

In March of 1994, I was contemplating the saying "Mexico: so far from God, so close to the United States", and having a good chuckle over El Sub's interview with Ed Bradley. In March of 1996, Marcos met with Oliver Stone. Whether this was coming up or going down in the world, I leave to you. (The picture is of a cartoon hanging in the cartoon museum in MexCity.) Photography by Diana Ricci

We are the conquerors, and the conquered are not likely to forget it. We are not the only conquerors -- merely the latest. Mexico celebrates its expulsion of the Spanish, the French, and the Germans, but our occupation has not ended. We still occupy California, Texas, and other Mexican territories, notwithstanding the joke about the Chicano from East L.A. who overhears two Vietnamese talking in their native language and admonishes them: "You are in America now, speak Spanish!"

The Mexican ambivalence toward the Yanqui is a classic study in the effects of colonialism. We are rude / we don't waste any time; we lack cultural sophistication / we are powerful; we are strident and demanding / we are winners; we are destroying their economy / they are sending their kids to U. of Chicago to study Economics.

Mexicans believe, with some justification, that Mexico is the intellectual center of America. America is defined as all of this hemisphere, excluding the U.S. and Canada. The vast majority of all books written in other languages being sold in America, are translated and printed in Mexico. With a few exceptions, other American countries are well-represented in the student bodies of Mexican universities.

In contradiction, the Mexicans send their own best and brightest to Germany for music, to France for art and diplomacy, and to the U.S. for science and economics. The current and past presidents of Mexico are U.S. alumnae, and Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton and Chicago grads are prominent in the present government.

For the average Mexican, cultured if poor, subtle if resentful, friendly if distant, generous if cautious, living under the oversized feet of the sleeping giant requires patience and tact. The philistines are inside the gates, uninvited but not entirely unwelcome. Even the Zapatistas are of two minds about us.

Whatever the average Juan thinks of El Sub (Sub-comandante Marcos of the Zapatista National Liberation Army), everyone got a big kick out of watching him handle Ed Bradley in March of 1994. Bradley, no tyro when it comes to "news maker interviews" came across as a Zapatista groupie. They showed him only - and exactly - what they wanted him to see, they answered only those questions they wanted to answer, and they had him describing El Sub as a "hero" (which he probably is). 60 Minutes even broadcast pictures of Ed driving a military transport carrying masked and armed guerrillas -- an act of war, according to the Mexican Army, for which the average campesino would be gleefully executed.

The 60 Minutes segment signals a clear understanding by some on the Mexican Left, of the need to win the hearts and minds of U.S. citizens. In a country where the ruling oligarchy has been exporting false images of democracy for decades, a new message is being put across.

Marcos has repeatedly said the presence of a foreign press corps has meant the difference between limited struggle and genocide, for the Lacondon Maya. He has shown a special awareness of the role that the U.S. media plays, and has proved to be a virtuoso media manipulator. So, how about us Yanquis, with our young, uncultured, crude, muscular country? They can't get along without us, and they can't make us behave. And how about our innocent, unsophisticated naive belief in fair play and democracy? For some Mexicans, the formula is simple: Save an innocent Lacondon Maya from torture and death. Send a news reporter to Chiapas.

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Published or Updated on: September 1, 2000 by Stan Gotlieb © 2008
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