Sunday, November 16, 2008

Educated workers also head north

Mexico is experiencing a ''brain drain'' as some of its brightest citizens flee to the United States.

McClatchy News Service

DALLAS -- For years, Mexico's relatively weak economy has pushed thousands of low-wage workers toward the United States. Now, worries about Mexico's long-term direction are pushing highly educated workers on the same path.

The brain drain threatens Mexico's prosperity, but it is creating more jobs in places like Dallas.

''We're permanently losing our best minds and best hands from both the countryside and the urban centers,'' said Rodolfo Tuiran, Mexico's education undersecretary and a demographic expert. ``These people represent a tremendous potential for Mexico's future economic development. Their migration needs to be reversed, or Mexico risks its future.''

Juan G. Rolon is part of the exodus.

Living in a place like Dallas never crossed his mind as he was growing up, Rolon said. But after attending an elite Mexican university, he was recruited by a Delaware-based software firm.

Today, a new U.S. citizen and homeowner, he's creating jobs for North Texans as a partner in a Dallas high-tech company formed with former classmates from Mexico. He has no intention of returning to Mexico anytime soon. ''I guess you can say that in some way, we're giving up on Mexico,'' he said.

Today's Mexican immigrants come increasingly from college campuses, including Rolon's alma mater, the prestigious Tech de Monterrey, or Monterrey Institute of Technology, known as Mexico's MIT.

Many of these well-educated immigrants say they're exiling themselves from a country that has failed to close the income and opportunity gap with its wealthy northern neighbor or provide basic security to its population.

The scale of the current brain drain has not been seen since the 1982-86 economic crisis in Mexico, according to U.S. and Mexican studies.

An estimated 14,000 of the 19,000 Mexicans with doctorates live in the United States, many in North Texas, according to the International Organization for Migration, part of a Swiss-based organization that studied the exodus of educated Mexicans to the United States, and the office of Mexico's undersecretary of education.

More than 400 recent graduates of Tech de Monterrey call North Texas home. They join other well-educated and highly trained Mexicans from other top universities.

''It's going from an issue of concern to one of alarm,'' said Juan Artola, chief of the International Organization for Migration.

``These people represent Mexico's cream of the crop, so their exodus is hurting Mexico.''


The number of Mexicans making a run for the United States has nearly doubled to an estimated 500,000 a year from 275,000 10 years ago. Nearly half are specialists or professionals, Tuiran said. Many come legally, through special work visas.

Dallas seems to be benefiting from that exodus of talent. A drive along and near North Central Expressway with chef Espartaco ''Taco'' Borga provides evidence.

There's Taqueria La Paloma, owned by Mexico City native Mario Ramirez near Meadow Road, and Borga's three restaurants, La Duni Latin Cafe on McKinney Avenue and La Duni Latin Kitchen and Baking Studio on Oak Lawn Avenue, and his latest venture, Alo Cenaduria and Piqueos at Knox Avenue. There's Ramir Camu's graphic design office, and Motopia, a new coffee bar at Fitzhugh that's become a magnet for high-end expatriates.

These businesses have two things in common: The owners have college degrees, and they're creating jobs for both Mexicans and Americans.

''Nowadays, Americans are benefiting from both gardeners and engineers coming to the United States,'' said Jorge Dominguez, professor of Mexican and Latin American politics and economics at Harvard University. ``That's a significant shift in migration patterns.''

Camu, past president of the Tech de Monterrey local alumni association, said a culture of opportunity that rewards hard work attracts budding entrepreneurs to the United States.

For these young professionals, the free enterprise system works -- particularly when the system is not tainted by state and public monopolies and the patronage that goes with them, as is the case in much of Mexico.

''In Mexico, it's about who you know,'' Camu said. ``In this country, you can actually have an idea, sell it and watch it grow.''


Paradoxically, Mexico has never looked so promising, at least on paper. The economy is growing, albeit with a few hiccups caused by the reversals in the United States. More students are attending school and graduating. The middle class is growing.

In his visit to Dallas last spring, President Felipe Calderón vowed to create millions of jobs. He said those positions, coupled with Mexico's declining birth rate, might someday stem the flow of immigration, both legal and illegal.

Mexico is trying to reverse the brain drain -- or to at least hang on to the coattails of its sons and daughters.

As part of the Mexicans Abroad Program, a government effort aimed at strengthening ties with Mexican expatriates, the new Red de Talentos (Network of Talents) targets Mexican entrepreneurs. The idea is to encourage investment in Mexico to create jobs there.

''It's difficult to build a country without the brightest minds,'' explained Carlos Gonzalez Gutierrez, director of the Mexicans Abroad Program. ``Our goal is to work with them, remind them that Mexico needs them in order to grow economically and become the country we all strive for.''

North Texas newcomers include Maria del Pilar Mendoza, 36, who arrived in Dallas two years ago planning to spend a week taking care of her sister's children.

She soon realized that she was making more in one week as a baby sitter than as a head registered nurse in her hometown of Guadalajara, where she earned $1,300 a month. She now lives in Dallas and works at the Mexican Consulate. She's taking English classes and studying for a state exam to certify her as a nurse in Texas.

''I don't so much feel like I'm giving up on Mexico as much as Mexico has given up on me,'' Mendoza said. ``The country has closed its doors of opportunity to us, so it's goodbye Mexico.''

For Rolon and his wife, Fabiola Espronceda, the idea of returning to Mexico is becoming more distant.

A native of the coastal state of Colima, Rolon was raised in Mexico City, speaking English in hopes of someday landing a job with a multinational corporation in Mexico.

He once believed that if only there were a true democracy in Mexico, if only there were a more open economy, if only Mexico were more closely linked to the United States through a free trade agreement, if only there were more jobs and no peso crises -- then Mexican workers would stay home to raise their families and build their country rather than making the journey to the United States.

Now that many of those things have become a reality, the old ''if onlys'' have been replaced by new ones.

If only jobs in Mexico paid better, if only free trade brought more benefits, if only the political parties weren't always fighting, if only there weren't so many drug killings. And if only there wasn't such a demand in the United States for young, ambitious students like him.

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