Word Association

[Originally published in El Mañana de Nuevo Laredo. May 11, 2013]

Conversation dynamics in Washington, DC have a striking resemblance to a word association game. One says “the economy” and the other thinks about America’s slow recovery or the challenge presented by China’s ascent. One may say “guns” and the latter will ponder whether it’s necessary or not to restrict their access to citizens, an intense debate triggered by the massacre of 20 children and 6 adults, weeks before Christmas, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. 

But if one mentions “drugs” or “immigrants,” the conversation is inevitably redirected towards America’s southern neighbors, to the violence in Mexico and the 11 million undocumented immigrants that currently live within America’s borders. At the same time, and unfortunately, the association that some Mexicans do with “the United States” is one of walls, discrimination, and lack of respect towards the sovereignty of our nation.

The truth is that the common mutual perceptions that we have between Mexico and the United States are antiquated and do not reflect the new realities of our bilateral dynamic. An increasing number of Americans and Mexicans see the relationships of our countries as one of equals, with shared opportunities and responsibilities, a relationship that requires a change of tone and attitude towards the set of policies that we seek to achieve.

This is why President Obama’s visit to our country is so important, because the walls that divide our nations are nothing compared to the mental walls we have built over the course of decades. And these are precisely the barriers that seek to hinder the reforms – in immigration, the economy, energy independence, and national security – that both countries are trying to pass through their respective Congresses. This reminds me of something Obama said back in April 2009, a few months after winning his first election:

“We cannot meet the challenges of today with old habits and stale thinking. So much of our government was built to deal with different challenges from a different era […] It’s time to fundamentally change the way that we do business in Washington. To help build a new foundation for the 21st century, we need to reform our government so that it is more efficient, more transparent, and more creative.”

Though they may be considered of a domestic nature, the debates taking place in Washington’s Capitol around gun control, the strengthening of the financial system, and the protection of America’s borders are themes that are being closely followed by Mexican eyes and ears. The education and telecommunication reforms passed as part of the Pact for Mexico, with those pending in social, economic, and energy matters are of equal interest to the north. Certainly, the speed with which several of these has been approved by Mexico’s Congress is a matter of envy to their counterparts in the United States, with a legislative branch that has been characterized by its lack of speed and lack of action. Now comes the implementation stage.

In this word association game that Mexico and the United States are going through, existing rules will have to catch up with our times, adjusting themselves to the individual and joint needs of our countries. Thus, no matter who we’re asking, a Mexican or an American, the first association that will come to mind will be one of friendship, cooperation, and equality.

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