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A Story Behind the Numbers: Latin America

Times and conditions in Mexico are extremely volatile largely because of U.S. actions. It is not surprising that these actions are coming home to bite us in the ass. The most recent crisis came to a head when the 43 Normalistas de Ayotzinapa were disappeared by the Mexican state.

The magnitude of this atrocity touched off demonstrations throughout the world. It has been hard to explain to my friends why Mexican Americans are not at the forefront. After a critical mass of us crusaded against apartheid and other human rights violations. I guess they expect the kind of moral outrage from us that takes thousands to the streets. Also evident is that progressive media has lacked the moral outrage expressed toward other issues.

The truth be told, the liberal media is insensitive to what is happening in Mexico and the rest of Latin America. There is nothing new about this. Historically, pundits have commented on our lack of knowledge of the hemisphere. However, I never expected the progressive media to sound Voice of America. It was important for Mexican Americans to support the boycotts against South Africa, Israel and other nations; however, what is happenings in Mexico is in our own backyard.

I suggest that one of the reasons is that we so called scholars have failed to educate our institutions on the gravity of the situation. I can understand why many white professors have chosen to remain silent but there is no excuse for us who share the history of the oppressed.

Oblivion consumes all sectors of the Latino community. I regurgitate every time I see Mexican American scholars, Latino politicians and leaders of Latino organizations lined up for selfies with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, paying homage to him. They court the Mexican consul while the parents of the 43 Normalistas beg for justice.

The events surrounding the CSUN-UNAM (Mexican National University) accord are still fresh in our minds as are the actions of opportunist white and Latino professors who saw it as an opportunity to cash in.

We should know better. The reality is that the whole region is on the verge of blowing up as it did in 1910. We should know better because in the words of the great Cuban poet Jose Marti: “Vivi en el monstruo y le conozco las entrañas” (“I lived in the monster and I know its entrails.”). Because we know the monster, we have a duty to politicize the monster as to what is right or to at least give the monster indigestion.

It is our duty as professors of Latin America to keep everyone informed, that is why I am so hard on Latinos working in administration. They have failed to keep the administration abreast of the problems of the community on both sides of the border. We must remember that Mexico and Latin America do not begin at the Rio Grande.

Americans cannot afford to keep looking at the region as a commodity. Mexicans and Latin Americans are not objects and a source of profit.

According to the CIA World Factbook, Mexico is a nation of 120 million people. Another 35 million are U.S. residents. Proof of their strong bonds is the amount of remittances they send to their nations of origin. In 2012 Mexicans sent $23 billion in remittances to Mexico, which was 29 percent below the 2006 peak. Other nations in Middle America receive remittances: Guatemala ($4.4 billion), El Salvador ($3.6 billion) and Honduras ($2.6 billion). A rule of thumb is that where there are immigrants there are remittances.

Americans cannot afford to keep looking at the region as a commodity. Mexicans and Latin Americans are not objects and a source of profit.

Below is a rough synthesis of the population of Latin America. Numbers and distance are important to immigration. They are vital to a scientific assessment. The statistics are from the CIA World Factbook that in spite of its sponsors is accurate. Asking why and how we acquire knowledge is basic to historical epistemology.

The following charts show the population of each nation and the distance between selected Latin American nations and the United States. These variables explain the nature of U.S. political and economic hegemony.

Latin America Population
Sources: CIA Factbook 

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United States 318,892,103 Distance
Brazil 202,656,788 4552 miles
Mexico 120,286,655 0
Argentina 43,024,374 5610 miles
Colombia 46,245,297 2627 miles

Canada 34,834,841 0
Peru 30,147,935 3471 miles
Venezuela 28,868,486 2804 miles
Chile 17,363,894 5267 miles
Ecuador 15,654,411 2918 miles

Guatemala 14,647,083 1512 miles
Cuba 11,047,251 1521 miles
Dominican Republic 10,349,741 2001 miles
Honduras 8,598,561 1622 miles
Paraguay 6,703,860 4840 miles

El Salvador 6,125,512 1665 miles
Nicaragua 5,848,641 1797 miles
Costa Rica 4,755,234 2034 miles
Puerto Rico 3,620,897 2195 miles
Uruguay 3,332,972 5462 miles

Jamaica 2,930,050 1725 miles
U.S. Mexican origin 35,000,000

Focusing on Mexico: the Mexican population is young; 4 percent are older than 65, 34 percent are under 14. In contrast, the United States is old; 14 percent are over 65. Seventy percent of Mexicans live in overpopulated cities. Rural poverty has reached crisis levels. According to World Bank data, in 2010 61% of people in rural areas of Mexico lived below the national rural poverty line; more than 15 million rural people out of a total rural population of around 25 million.

My own training as a Mexicanist was the National Period and northern Mexico. In conversations with my colleague Alicia Estrada, however, I realize my limitations. She is a specialist on Guatemala and Mexico’s rural south where the Indian villages survived. Most of Mexico’s mestizaje took place in mining camps and centers of commerce. During the Colonial Period, the villages remained intact because they were a source of forced labor for the haciendas.

In order to understand the region more fully, I would have to study the Mayan language; so much of history is written in translation. I always remember the words of my teacher Fermin Herrera (I am older than he is) that many translations of the codices are based on translations by Mormon scholars who translated them through their own cultural and religious biases. History works on the same principle.

What is happening in Mexico today is rooted in the past. The privatization of labor, land and water occurred almost immediately following 1519. It was a process that dispossessed the Indian of their labor, land and water.

It is no accident that Guatemalan immigration has mushroomed in the past 40 years when foreign and domestic plantations proliferated there. Formed in 1899, the United Fruit Company by mid-20th century controlled “vast territories and transportation networks in Central America, the Caribbean coast of Colombia, Ecuador, and the West Indies.” Dictators friendly to American and foreign interest ruled Guatemala.

In 1954 constitutionally elected Jacobo Árbenz wanted to reform land policies and the CIA supported a coup. This was followed by genocidal wars against the Mayan people that saw millions of villager bulldozed and the villagers murdered or uprooted.

It is no accident that current Mexican upheavals are occurring in Mexico’s rural south, i.e., the Zapatistas and the 43 Normalistas of Ayotzinapa. There are ongoing assaults in Guerrero. This unrest will continue because the Mexican state and its one percent are intent on finishing the process that began in 1519.

It is important for us who have been part of this history to keep the memory alive and support progressive causes. There is a reason why Guatemalans, Mexicans and other Latin Americans are coming to the United States and the poor are becoming poorer in their countries. If our memory is erased we are dead as a community.

rudy acuna

Rodolfo F. Acuña