Guillermo Jesus Velasco and Maribel McMillian: A cultural dissonance that isn’t going away

This news story first appeared on April 10, 2015. For more information, click here.

Tower Center Associate, Jesus Velasco is a specialist on U.S.-Mexico relations at Tarleton State University.

Guillermo Jesus Velasco and Maribel McMillian: A cultural dissonance that isn’t going away

 The Dallas Morning News; April 10, 2015

In their recent piece in The News, Alfredo Corchado and Robert T. Garrett sized up the state of Texas-Mexico relations and a “growing tension … undermining a long-standing partnership.” They noted that, although Texas remains Mexico’s main trade partner among American states, there is tension at the political level, fueled by the deployment of Texas National Guard units to the border, anti-immigration sentiment expressed publicly by Texas political leaders and warnings against travel to Mexico.

What explains this tension in the bilateral relationship? What are the causes that have provoked the current state of affairs? In our view, the sources of this rift can be explained by domestic politics in Texas and Mexico and by societal and cultural dissonance that is not likely to end soon.

Start with the conservative politics in Texas. Since the election of Ann Richards in 1990, Texans have elected only Republican governors. The GOP has controlled all statewide elected offices since 1998. Since 2003, Republicans have controlled both chambers of the Legislature.

It is not strange, therefore, that conservative attitudes are reflected in relations with Mexico, where people view important issues very differently.

According to a Feb. 15, 2015 poll of Texans, conducted by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, the most important problems facing the state are border security (21 percent) and immigration (17 percent).

Gun control worries only 2 percent of the population. Forty-four percent said they favor deployment of the National Guard to the border, while only 9 percent are opposed. The poll also reveals that 35 percent of Texans strongly agree with deporting unauthorized immigrants, while only 16 percent somewhat disagree. Clearly, Texas’ public policy reflects the views of residents.

Of course, Mexicans have different views. According to a poll conducted by the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE) in 2012-13, 45 percent of Mexicans considered trade and investment the most important issue in U.S.-Mexican relations. Other concerns: drug trafficking and organized crime (18 percent), border security (17 percent) and migration (15 percent).

The topic of the death penalty follows a similar narrative. Texans, generally speaking, are in support. For most Mexicans, though, the death penalty contradicts the Catholic principle of preservation of life (although public opinion shows the wave of drug violence and kidnappings is changing some minds).

But the biggest issue is vastly different views on immigration. To the Mexican government, immigration is a foreign policy issue. For Texas — and the greater U.S. — it is a domestic policy concern. The majority of Texans support the deportation of undocumented workers for breaking the law. Mexicans see it as a question of fairness. Mexicans believe undocumented workers are in the United States because they are needed here to do the jobs Americans don’t want to do. Paradoxically, it is the very forces of American capitalism — and arguably of Texas’ friendly business climate — that drive the problem, which the United States works to stop with walls, border patrols and the National Guard. Law is not the issue here but fundamental cultures on which these laws rest.

Anthropologist Clifford Geertz says cultures are systems of beliefs, values, attitudes, traditions and ideas that distinguish the members of one group or category of people from others. If that’s true, Mexico and Texas have very different cultures. Though they share a historical background, strong cultural differences have created ruts in the relationship. It is likely that this cultural dissonance pervading Texas-Mexico relations will remain in place for the foreseeable future.