U.S.-Mexico diplomatic relationship, historically linked to the border

With the creation of the international line separating the two nations with border markers, without walls or fences, the U.S. economy became a giant magnet that attracted Mexicans in search of new economic opportunities.

U.S.-Mexico diplomatic relationship, historically linked to the border
A person can be seen leaning against the U.S. - Mexico border wall or fence in the north of the country. Photo by Max Böhme / Unsplash

Mexico is the first trading partner of the United States; both trade 1.5 billion dollars a day; more than 80 percent of Mexican non-oil exports go to the United States and less than 16 percent of U.S. exports go to Mexico. The relationship, since its origins, has been fundamentally related to territory and, therefore, to the border they share, which is more than 3,000 kilometers long. This, according to Marcela Terrazas y Basante, an academic at the UNAM's Institute of Historical Research (IIH), who also said:

Based on recent data from diplomat Arturo Sarukhán, 11 million Mexicans live in the United States, five million of them are undocumented and, according to information from the Department of Transportation Customs and Border Protection, in 2019 alone, more than half a million people crossed the northern border legally, on average, which shows that the importance of the bilateral link is beyond doubt.

Participating in the series "Dialogues of the Bicentennial of U.S.-Mexico Diplomatic Relations", she commented: "these are decades in which the United States and Mexico are incipient nation-states, and in which the advance for control of the governments in the border regions can be observed".

In the second session of the meeting, "Distant neighbors? Fictions and truths in a bicentennial relationship (the Mexico-United States, 19th Century)," she explained that the advance of U.S. colonization was overwhelming; Mexico, like Spain, was incapable of populating the border.

Another ingredient during this period were the indigenous peoples, nomadic and sedentary, especially the former: Apaches and Comanches, who constituted a factor little studied in the border region and their impact on relations.

During his intervention, Silvestre Villegas Revueltas, also from the IIH, mentioned that at the entrance of Robb Elementary School, in the town of Uvalde, Texas, where an incident recently occurred that left several dead, there is a sign with the legend "welcome" and below it, in the same size, but with different typography, that says: "Bienvenidos" (welcome).

This would have been unthinkable in 1900 when segregation was the norm; speaking Spanish was frowned upon and punished; in addition, the (Mexican-American) children of the farmers could not attend school, he added at the distance meeting organized by the Center for Research on North America and the UNAM-Chicago Extension School.

Today, some situations have changed on the Mexican-American border, such as greater social and cultural integration. However, in the opposite sense, Texas and the binational border continue to be violent zones by definition.

From 1868 to 1900, the borders between the two countries showed how, after their respective civil wars and foreign intervention, a route was strengthened to define and consolidate their national territories.

"During those three decades, two national states were seen to become increasingly interrelated. It went from the supposed Lerdian phrase: the best was the desert, to the railroad hubs in the two Laredos, the one corresponding to Paso Texas, which in turn connected the American Midwest with the railroad that, via Chihuahua, reached Mexico City," he argued.

In the border area and neighboring states, the topics were: the fight against insecurity on both sides of the Rio Grande, the migration of Mexican peasants -of low social status- and the problem of diseases that this phenomenon could bring, together with the economic interests of Texas, Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, and Chihuahua.

In turn, Michael Brescia, from the Arizona State Museum, commented that the 19th century was a period of complexity to explain the diplomacy between both countries, a relationship conditioned "by the crossroads of the heaviness of European colonialism and the growing demands and pains of the new nation, from its independence movements".

He recalled that in 1899 the U.S. legation in Mexico was elevated to embassy status when Porfirio Díaz accepted Powell Clayton's credentials. After the U.S. invasion, the loss of half of Mexico's territory, and the Porfiriato's ideological search for order and progress, this diplomacy was normalized in light of greater economic integration.

The creation of the international line separating the two nations with border markers, without walls or fences, made the U.S. economy a giant magnet that attracted Mexicans in search of new economic opportunities.

Along with the population growth of northern Mexico and the influx of capital, the emerging border saw the ebb and flow of illicit trade that included gambling houses, prostitution, guns, and alcoholic beverages. "Today, drug trafficking is not something new, its roots go back to the end of the 19th century; although the violence that accompanies it today and the existing threat to civil society are both new and extreme at the same time," he said.

According to the expert, illicit trafficking exists because of the appetite Americans have for drugs. The recent tragedies in New York and Texas remind us of the consequences of a kind of militarization deeply rooted in the historical experience of the United States.

Source: UNAM Press Bulletin