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Zhenli Ye Gon — not the first Chinese-Mexican Ex/Im specialist

2 August 2007

The New York Times finally notices that those cheap Chinese goods transshipped through Mexico have a downside, and the Mexicans have a reason for worry:

But the irruption of Mr. Ye Gon into Mexican drug trafficking is also emblematic of much broader changes as Mexico adapts to China’s emergence in the global economy.

For at least a century, successive Mexican governments have been wary of China. Chinese immigration to northern Mexico in the earlier part of last century was often met with violence. In 1911, troops loyal to general Francisco Villa massacred 250 Chinese in Torreón. In 1921, president Alvaro Obregón passed a law barring future immigration of Chinese workers. In 1931, thousands of Chinese were expelled from the country. Until recently, Mexico’s economic ties to China were tenuous, at best. A decade ago, Mexico imported merely $1 billion worth of Chinese products.

Yet the bilateral links have grown. Last year, Mexico imported $24.4 billion in Chinese goods. Fears of competition from China, and its enormous and inexpensive labor force, have grown apace. Reports in recent years that some of the maquiladora plants along Mexico’s northern border have decamped to China have sent Mexicans into paroxysms of economic anxiety.

The saga of Mr. Ye Gon suggests that this rivalry is now extending into the most insatiable consumer market in the world.

The Chinese have been the exception to the rule when it comes to Mexican tolerance. While a good deal of the anti-Chinese pograms lay in Villa and Obregón’s anti-gringo biases (the Chinese were mostly railway workers, hired as U.S. labor at a higher, foreign rate). In the 1930s, it was the Depression: not an excuse, but these kinds of anti-foreign acts weren’t limited to Mexico, either.

For the most part the Chinese-Mexicans have assimilated into the broader culture. Other than an occasional Wong or Chew in a family name, you won’t recognize most Chinese-Mexicans by sight. I was at a Chinese New Year celebration at the Basilica (even Chinese-Mexicans honor la Virgin), and the folks throwing firecrackers and carrying the dragon didn’t look all that different than most Mexicans (except maybe the blonde, blue-eyed Chinese-Mexican family — ah the mysteries of genetics!).

Mexico City’s Chinatown — which had been around since the 1580s — has mostly disappeared under the new foreign ministry complex and new office towers. About the only “Chinese” building left is the Palacio Chino movie theater, and it has to compete with the Cinemex multiplex a few blocks away. Other than a few more Chinese restaurants, you don’t even realize it is Chinatown. You don’t find ethnic neighborhoods in Mexico, outside of maybe “gringo ghettos” and a few immigrant enclaves (with a mix of everything — Russians, Brazilians and Koreans all clumped together in the Mexican way).

People like Zhenli Ye Gon are only accidentally Mexican. There are troubling questions about how he obtained his citizenship, but what’s troubling to me — and to the New York Times — is that we want “globalization” in the economy, but we don’t want a global management. And, we’re embarrassed by what our wants are… so blame the country the seller had on his passport.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 5 August 2008 9:36 am

    That makes me wonder if America is the most ethnic tolerant country . I had never thought about it really since I’ve always been surrounded by multiple ethnicities, but at the same time it makes perfect sense.

    • Lily permalink
      2 February 2010 10:47 am

      Canada is know to be one of the most tolerant countries in America (note that America is a continent)


  1. Unintended consequences « The Mex Files

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