History Won't Let Californians 'Save' State

Article excerpt

No matter how much Americans disdain the dirty Mexican - and Mexicans abhor the Ugly American - we're already doomed to contaminate each other's identity.

The North American Free Trade Agreement merely notarized a process that has been taking place for decades. My grandfather was a free-trade pioneer in the 1950s. He filled a truck with knickknacks bought here in Los Angeles and sold them black-market style in Mexico City. Back in the North, he sang songs of Old Mexico to gringo audiences. My grandfather was a restless man. Had his heart not given out on him, who knows how many more times he would have crossed the border, taking the South to the North and the North to the South?

I often hear Americans speak derisively about the "Mexicanization" of Las Angeles. How about the Los Angelization of Guadalajara? McDonald's and Price Club, CNN Internacional and "rockanrol" have taken their place alongside Old Mexico, the Mexico of mariachis and charros, of quinceaneras and el dia de los muertos. Mexico is now caught up in the most dramatic process of change since the Revolution of 1910.

Mexico, in turn, is having an effect on its northern neighbor, especially here in California. Alongside Asians, Latinos have brought an entrepreneurial energy to California the likes of which we haven't seen since the 19th century. Whether it's "informal" activity like street vending or traditional small businesses like mom-and-pop stores and restaurants, immigrants are just about the only Californians who are hopeful about the future.

But while Mexico is embracing change in an era of free trade and global culture, many Californians are resisting it at all costs. Native Californians, mostly white, want what's new or alien in their state - the immigrants - to go back home. Through the Save Our State initiative, Californians will attempt to deny illegal immigrants and their children benefits such as education and health care.

In Mexico, the new and old exist side by side. In California, the old and the new are at war.

It's a curious turn of events. …