Tuesday, January 25, 2005

February 2, 1848: Yesterday Is Today

Rough Draft

Rodolfo F. Acuña, author of OCCUPIED AMERICA

On February 2, 1848, Mexico and the United States signed the Treaty of
Guadalupe Hidalgo, ending the Mexican American War. Very few places in
the United States or Mexico will be memorializing this date. Try
quizzing your parents or your peers. Even ask teachers what happened on
February 2, 1848 and I’ll bet 99 percent won’t know why February 2 is

February 2 is the day when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed.
It ended the Mexican American War and the borders shifted south. This is
what Chicanos mean when the say the “borders crossed them.” The war was
not popular with all Americans. Ulysses S. Grant called it an unjust
war. Abraham Lincoln questioned the invasion of Mexico. And, Benito
Juarez opposed signing the treaty. Years later, Mexican President
Porfirio Díaz would lament, Pobre México tan Lejos de Díos y tan cerca a
Los Estados Unidos!

The War cost Mexico over half its land and made Mexicans a conquered
people. However, it is a date that most Americans and Mexican politicos
currying favor with the United States would like to forget. For
instance, there is no rush in either country to declare February 2 a
holiday. Holidays are supposed to be special days that mark special
dates. More often than not we celebrate important historical dates
without really thinking about them. A holiday makes it special.

We can all appreciate holidays. From the beginning of time, rulers
marked special days. The ancient Maya would chisel them on use glyphs to
mark the importance of events in their lives.

But, not all important dates are chosen as holidays. The truth be told,
may dates that are not holidays are more important than the holidays and
they affect our lives much more than the so-called special days.

For instance, February 2 takes on special meaning in the context of what
is happening today. Arizonans recently passed Proposition 200 which
requires state and local employees to verify the immigration status of
people applying for public benefits and report undocumented immigrants
or face possible criminal prosecution. It makes snitches out of teachers.

If we isolate Proposition 200 from the past, the Treaty of Guadalupe
Hidalgo has no relation to it. Some would say it is the mixing of apples
with oranges. However, what happens today is an extension of yesterday.
And while I do not want to get bogged down in the merits of the war,
because like my sainted mother used to say, Palo dado ni Díos lo quita,
what would the world look like if Mexico had not lost more than fifty
percent of its land? Would Mexicans and Central Americans be clamoring
to cross the border?

The fact is Mexico ceded vast mineral deposits to the United States.
Playing what if, if Mexico today had California and Texas, it would have
more oil than Saudi Arabia. Mexico would today be one of the richest
nations in the world. This wealth would have allowed Mexico to build an
infrastructure to give employment to its citizens.

This is relevant to Proposition 200 because Mexicans do not migrate to
the United States for democracy, free medical services or handouts. They
migrate to the United States because of a lack of jobs. It is part of
the global economy that moves poorer countries to richer ones.

Mexico has a population of more than a 100 million people. It is larger
than Spain and most European countries. Because of its vulnerability,
small family farms have been declining. The last time I looked 30
percent of Mexicans lived in rural areas. But, because Americans want
cheap fruits and vegetables, Mexican farmers don’t grow as much for
locally consumed products. U.S. companies pay more for strawberries so
they produce berries and not beans or corn. The commercialization of
farm land means that machines have replaced the small farmer. The result
is that in the next twenty-five years the rural population of Mexico
will decline from 30 to 5 percent. So where will 25 to 35 million
displaced Mexicans go?

Logically we can ask, what role February 2 play in these phenomena and
whether Proposition 200 will stop Mexicans from coming over. Once they
are over here, do we as compassionate human beings have a duty to feed,
cloth and care for undocumented workers? The Catholic Bishops have said
that it was a mortal sin to discriminate against immigrants.
Unfortunately, the Church has not enforced this dictum. For example, to
my knowledge it has not withheld the sacraments to any politico
supporting Proposition 200.

As I have raised in past articles, thirty years ago, Spain was the
principal exporter of workers in Europe. Today, it is one of the main
importers of labor. Why? Because it has jobs. The European Union taxes
the richest countries and gives subsidies to poorer European nations
have used that money to industrialize. In contrast, the United States
has a policy of keeping Latin American dependent. It gives money to the
military of Latin America who in turn keep the poor poorer. In 2000,
Mexico received $15 million in aid from the US. Egypt received a
billion; Egypt has a population of 76 million. It gave Israel $6billion.
Israel has a population of six million. Mexico has a population of 106

Logically, if Americans wanted a solution, they would as in the case of
Europe try to strengthen the economies of Mexico and Central America.
History shows that quite the contrary the United States has frustrated
the development and reforms of the region.

Another fact is that Mexico’s economy and that of all Central America
would have collapsed without the migration to the United States. This
would have meant turmoil which the United States would have reacted with
military force. A case in point is the Central American revolutions of
the 1980s in which the US supported death squads.

Mexican workers send remittances to Mexico as do Central Americans.
Mexicans send more than $8 billion annually to relatives in Mexico.
Salvadorans another billion. Unlike the cases of Egypt and Israel, these
remittances do not cost the American taxpayer a cent. However, without
the remittances millions more undocumented workers would be forced to
come to the United States.

February 2, 1848 will continue to haunt Americans and Mexicans alike as
long as the Proposition 200s continue to be passed in the context of a
historical limbo. The past is the present.

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