Andrew Selee set out to write a book explaining Mexico to Americans. He ended up writing a book about how important Mexico is to the United States, across all industries and aspects of daily life. Selee spoke at the Mission Foods Texas-Mexico Center Program Sept. 12 about his latest book, Vanishing Frontiers: The Forces Driving Mexico and the United States Together.
He opened his talk discussing the narrative of Hazleton, Pennsylvania. A small town that put itself at the center of the immigration debate by becoming the first municipality that prevented renting to a person who couldn’t prove his or her legal status. The town was struggling to adapt to the inflow of Mexican immigrants who sought factory jobs. In many ways, these immigrants saved the town economically, but people who had lived in Hazelton for decades were uncomfortable with the demographic shift.
Selee uses the example of Demetrio Juarez in this story, a man who migrated from Mexico and opened up a small Mexican restaurant in Hazleton. By working in the United States, he put six of his siblings through school in Mexico. Because they were able to get an education, none of his siblings chose to join him in the States. They were happy with their lives in Mexico. This story represents the changing patterns in migration– the net flow of Mexicans across the border is, according to many studies, zero. Mexican Americans are returning to Mexico and more Mexicans are choosing to not to leave in the first place.
Selee’s book explores ties between the two countries outside of government and politics, and it’s these ties, such as the robust economic interdependence, that will keep integration moving forward, despite current rhetoric.
“The forces driving us together are much more powerful than the forces driving us apart,” Selee said.
Selee was joined by a panel of two of the Mission Foods Texas-Mexico Center’s board members, Thaddeus Arroyo, CEO of AT&T International and AT&T Communications LLC, and Deborah Gibbins, CFO of Mary Kay.
Gibbins talked about how natural it is for Texans to do business with Mexicans. She told a story about one of her friends in Ohio who said she would be scared to conduct business across the border– but this idea of fearing the border and Mexico was hard for Gibbins to understand. “It’s everyday for me,” she said.
Mexico is Mary Kay’s third largest market. They’ve been able to benefit from the country’s growing middle class and the telecommunications reforms, which Arroyo championed on behalf of AT&T, that opened up the Mexican market to competition.
Arroyo was excited his company was able to be the first to invest in Mexico after the reforms; the investment paid off. All of the other telecommunication companies followed AT&T, practically erasing digital borders. Every provider now also offers a North American package for businesses.
Selee concluded that integration is driven by pragmatism, not emotion, between the two countries. With a solid economic backbone pulling the two together, there’s not much either government could do to reverse the tides of greater integration.