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November 7, 2017

U.S. and Mexico: Mutual Perceptions

U.S. and Mexico: Mutual Perceptions

The Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS), the Wilson Center Mexico Initiative, the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C., and the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económica (CIDE) co-hosted an event in November titled “U.S. and Mexico: Mutual Perceptions.” This event brought together experts on Mexico to talk about the current state of the bilateral relationship with the United States, ongoing challenges, and upcoming opportunities. 

The event kicked off with remarks by Ambassador José Antonio Zabalgoitia, deputy chief of mission of the Embassy of Mexico to the United States.

Ambassador Zabalgoitia stated with a moderately optimistic but eruditely prophetic tone that U.S.-Mexico relations were “at a turning point” in their history. He warned that, if current administrations cannot surmount the pressing challenges of the time, progress in the relationship could go back “decades." 

The Gap Between State and Popular Perceptions

Chris Wilson, deputy director of the Wilson Center, presented his paper ¨A Critical Juncture: Public Opinion in U.S.-Mexico Relations,” which he co-authored with Data OPM founder Pablo Paras and researcher Enrique Enriquez. The paper stressed the gap between state and public opinions of the relationship, which, they argue, stem from a history of noiseless diplomacy between the United States and Mexico.

Wilson claimed there had been a sort of silent agreement between both parties since the 1980s, before NAFTA had been developed. Quiet growth in the state-led relationship was aimed at bypassing Congress in the relationship, so as to avoid public interference—a method, which, in turn, has left the public behind.

Wilson also stressed Mexico and NAFTA have become a topic of political polarization in the United States. He emphasized how differences in partisan perceptions of Mexico transcend the current administration, and how Mexico was no exception to a wave of growing anti-U.S. sentiment that is sweeping across various countries.

Mexico and the United States: A Relationship of Contradictions

Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute, lauded Wilson for his research methods but provided a different take on the issue.

“The relationship between the United States and Mexico is changing because Mexico is getting closer to the U.S. way of living,” Selee said. He presented the five-fold growth in tortilla consumption across U.S. households over the past 20 years and the recent success of Mexican directors at the Oscars as pieces of evidence to the improvement of bilateral relations. “The fact that you can go to a Korean barbeque where the food is placed in a tortilla rather than in a bun, and the fact that a tenth of all the beer consumed in the United States is imported from Mexico tells you something,” Selee said, to the light laughter of the conference members.

Pew Research Center’s Jacob Poushter followed by noting how perceptions of the United States have fallen in all 37 countries where Pew works. He also indicated that Mexicans' perception of their own government has worsened.

Perceptions and Elections

Geraldo Maldonado, from CIDE, said Mexico has become a scapegoat for the United States. “Mexico will play a role in the next U.S. election,” he said, “and people in Mexico will also choose whoever’s best at managing the relationship with the United States [in the upcoming July 1, 2018 elections].”

Antonio Ortiz Mena, a Latin America specialist at the Albright Stonebridge Group and former head of economic affairs of the Embassy of Mexico, followed by saying that “no political candidate in Mexico will keep business as usual.” He pinpointed how AMLO, PAN, and PRI will all have great difficulty in continuing with a status quo approach to the United States.

Father Matthew Carnes concluded the event, which was held in the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies boardroom.

Summary written by Martin Perez (F´20) and Andrés Márquez (F´20).