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The photo that launched a thousand comments

6 January 2020

I’m in no position to speak for Mexican–Americans… obviously… nor for Mexicans, nor — for that matter — for American-Mexicans (assuming there is such a thing).  Given that, I have noticed for a very long time that Mexican and Mexican-American cultural attitudes often diverge, sometimes because it is the same attitude, just from a different perspective.

This was posted initially on a Mexican-American site, expressing pride in both ethnicity and origin and patriotism.  Or at least “wrap yourself in the flag” patriotism.  Reposted on Mexican (and foreigners living in Mexico) sites, it took on a completely different meaning.  A slap in the face to Mexican ethnicity and Mexican patriotism… suggesting Mexicans should not serve their own nation and support its interests (right or wrong), but that of the more powerful country.

The reaction could just be the iconography… the mother (Mexico) blessing the son (America). Or la Virgen confronting Juan Diego?  That may be reading too much into it, but suggesting Mexico, or the Mother of God (and all Mexicans) blesses US military actions is bound to rub some the wrong way.

Of course, Mexican citizens do serve in the US armed forces … for several reasons:  they wish to become US citizens, and feel more ties to the US than to Mexico; they need a job; or, they come form a military or warrior tradition and don’t see the Mexican forces as giving an opportunity to uphold their cultural ethos  All perfectly legitimate reasons, though one criticized and not just by those on the political left.

I might note that numerous commentators on Mexican-American sites also questioned whether by supporting the US military, they weren’t also support US anti-Mexican bigotry, although I couldn’t find any positive commentary on Mexican sites.  I can’t explain it, but the shared and divergent histories of the two north American republics offers some room for speculation.

Mexicans have served in the US military going back to when both were colonies, and Viceroy Galvez generously provided men, materiel, and money to George Washington’s Continental Army.  And the United States was (and still is) seen as the land of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…. something Mexican had, and has, a difficult time finding a government that even pretends to have these worthy aspirations.  And, the United States military has done a much better job than any other sector of providing equal opportunity for minority people.  It has a lot going for it.

But, there is a sense among Mexicans that they are seen as despised outsiders in the United States (and they aren’t wrong), that the United States — never mind it having seized half the country a 150 years ago — takes Mexico for granted, or, more commonly, sees it as their dumping ground, when they aren’t trying to take its natural resources.  Mexico is defensive… never having fought an offensive war (nor, except for the 1942-45 “War Against Nazi-fascism”) one outside their own territory.  They have, however, had more than their share of civil wars.  And perhaps, see military activity, if it’s necessary, as something best done at home.

Most people do say home, and take little interest in the rest of the planet, but the  viewpoints of “official” Mexico and the United States look in different directions.  Mexico’s policy makers keep one eye on the United States, while if they look abroad, look southward.  They pivot north and south, while the United States, for the most part, looks east and west.  Mexico has no concern with events in the Middle East, and… especially with the new, and extremely popular, government returning to its non-aligned past, it’s even more understandable that many would object to its sons and daughters serving in the forces of a country in a part of the world not their own.


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