Mexico, Mexican Americans and Anti-Semitism

The U.S.-Mexico barrier is dubious endeavor since Mexico and the U.S., unlike Palestine and Israel, are working to establish clo

By Rosa Martha Villarreal
Published on LatinoLA: May 18, 2009

Mexico, Mexican Americans and Anti-Semitism

With the immigration issue unresolved, opponents of legalization of illegal / undocumented immigrants continue to use every image, statistic, or incident available to create a perception of the undesirability of Mexicans and (by extension) Mexican Americans. Among those arguments made in recent years is that the addition of millions of Mexicans will result in an increase in the scourge of the world, anti-Semitism. A close examination of this assertion, however, will reveal a picture as complex as the Mexican and Mexican American peoples themselves, who defy categorization.

Unapologetic conservative publications such as revel in exposing "Aztlan"/ Chicano Nationalist websites that make disparaging anti-Israel commentaries based on partial truths. I, too, have come across some of these websites and their "analyses" are specious and devoid of proper historical examination of a complex problem based on two competing legitimate claims to the same land by two different civilizations projects, the Israeli and the Arab. Regrettably, anti-Jewish sentiments seep in to what are supposed criticisms of Israel.

While the contents of these sites are a source of concern, one must also acknowledge that these voices represent a part of the overall extreme left, whose exercises in reducing complex issues into simplistic "good vs. evil" formulations and Marxist cure-alls seems to know no bounds. The sentiments echoed on these sites are, in truth, not very different from other radical leftist groups of all ethnic and national stripes. In reality, both Mexicans and Mexican Americans are mostly socially conservative and, in the U.S. anyway, would have been politically conservative as well had the Republican Party not resorted to racial baiting as a wedge issue. This would explain why decades of leftist ideological leanings (and some conservatives would argue, "Indoctrination") from academia has not resulted in a leftist, native Mexican American population.

More relevant and disturbing is some of the recent anti-Israel rhetoric from Mexico itself. Former President Vicente Fox's repeated reference to the U.S.-Mexico barrier as a "wall" was a rhetorical ploy right out of the Palestinian public relations playbook. In the international circles, Mexico routinely sides against Israel particularly when it came to the latter's use of superior firepower in recent conflict in Gaza. The politically correct gesture of siding with the "weak" without historical perspective or acknowledgement of Hamas's provocations is rather perplexing coming from a country with a collective long memory, for Mexico has always been friendly to the Jewish people. Despite being overwhelmingly Catholic, the ugly specter of pogroms and institutionalized anti-Semitism has never been part of the Mexico's history. Mexico is home to a large (60,000 plus) Jewish community, served as a refuge for many American Jewish exiles from the 1950's McCarthy witch hunts, and, in the 16th century, the refuge for many "New Christians" (aka Jewish converts). There were so many New Christians in the northern territories of what today is the American Southwest and Northeastern Mexico, that the Catholic clergy officially complained of the their presence. Recent historical and genealogical studies are now revealing that there are perhaps as many as 6-12 million descendents of these so-called New Christians, including my own extended family, the Villarreales.

But perhaps Mexico's and many Mexicans' identification with the Palestinian cause does have to do with its long collective national memory. Mexico, I think, sees the Mexican-American War and its consequences as analogous to the Arab-Israeli conflict, for one seemingly powerful neighbor has acquired land and imposed its identity and will on a land where the "natives" have been marginalized. The analogy, however, is inexact, highly flawed, and devoid of moral equivalence. For one, the Anglos who instigated the conflict with Mexico in the 19th century had absolutely no historical claim to the land in question. The Jewish people, however, have an undeniable connection to historic Palestine, and only those who are willfully ignorant or susceptive to science fiction-like fantasies will reject the historical and archeological data that supports this position. Jews are called as such because they originated in Judea, not in some mountainous region in the Caucasus as some allege. The Holocaust prompted the United Nations to create a modern Jewish state in the hope that a people who had been homeless for over a millennium would be able to defend themselves against future genocides, not on some narcissistic notion of "manifest destiny." Thus, the comparison between Mexico and Palestine is a historical interpretation devoid of empirical causal analysis.

Finally, regarding the "wall," the structure in Israel was built to keep out suicide bombers. The U.S.-Mexico barrier was built to keep out busboys and roofers. (I'm certain that the anti-Mexican crowd in the U.S. is now saying the barrier was to prevent the drug-weapons flow. But honestly, this argument is a cover for their antipathy towards Mexicans.) The U.S.-Mexico barrier is dubious endeavor since Mexico and the U.S., unlike Palestine and Israel, are working to establish closer ties, both economically and politically. This is not to say anything of the barrier's environmental consequences and intrusions on private property.

It serves the interests of Mexicans and Mexican Americans alike to steer clear of the imagery and rhetoric of the Arab-Israeli conflict. For one, the analogy is fallacious and superficial. The Arab-Israeli conflict is uniquely complex and can only truly be solved by the antagonists themselves with dispassionate, well-reasoned, and nuanced support from the international community. For another, in this climate in which Mexicans and Mexican Americans are continuously vituperated and with a possible compromise for immigration reform at hand, we should not be giving fodder to the chorus of bigots. If anything, we should show more empathy to the Jewish community, for just as Jews in the past were blamed for everything from natural plagues to economic depressions, Mexicans today are being blamed for every imaginable ill. It is slightly depressing, for instances, that right-wingers cannot comprehend that the recent swine flu was an end result of evolution. They simply blamed the Mexicans. I'm surprised they didn't say the Jews were behind it as well.

About Rosa Martha Villarreal:
Rosa Martha Villarreal is a member of PEN USA. Her novel The Stillness of Love and Exile was the recipient of the 2008 PEN Josephine Miles Literary Award and a 2008 Independent Publisher Book Award Silver Medalist for Best Regional Fiction.
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