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FIRST-PERSON: Immigration & the Mexican flag

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–We have all heard the story about the frog that gives a scorpion a ride across a river only to be stung for all its good will. As the frog lies dying, it asks the scorpion, “Why did you sting me; after all, didn’t I help you across?” The scorpion responds, “I had no choice; after all, I am a scorpion and that is what a scorpion does.”

Some things in life are virtually instinctive, impossible to set aside; native Mexicans living in the U.S. are a case study of this phenomenon. Recently, evidence of this instinctual behavior reared its head during the demonstrations by illegal aliens across the country. One practice that offended the American citizenry, and even most Mexican Americans, was the display of the Mexican flag by the demonstrators.

What were they thinking? The American way of life has meant the survival of millions of native Mexicans both here and back in their home country. It is truly dumbfounding, but even as illegals admit that the U.S. has been their salvation, something compels them to lift their patriotic symbol, even at the risk of hurting their cause.

This action was dripping with irony, given that most native Mexicans have a general disdain for the deplorable way of life “back home.” The social and economic problems in Mexico are legion. According to a report by Jorge Ramos, anchorman for Univision news network, 50 percent of Mexicans are living in desperate poverty. And the World Bank calculates that almost 24 percent of Mexico’s population lives on less than one dollar-a-day. Most of Mexico’s cities are ringed with “Paracaidistas” (parachutists), people with no land who stake their claim to a few square feet of dirt wherever they can find it.

Not surprisingly, Mexicans consider most of their political leaders to be nothing more than “vividores,” functionaries who live off the wealth of the land at the expense of the poor. Some statistics show that while unemployment in Mexico stands at 3.6 percent, 25 percent of those who have jobs are severely underemployed. And keep in mind that this is in spite of the fact that one out of every six Mexicans lives in the U.S.

It is truly ironic that the poorest of the poor — those who are in the U.S. illegally — still feel the powerful instinct to glory in their national pride. This becomes understandable, however, when you begin to appreciate a distinct cultural phenomenon in Mexico that resonates throughout Latin America.

In his book, “The Soul of Latin America,” author Howard J. Wiarda reveals the constant influence of a “corporatist” and “organic” worldview that the Spanish and Portuguese inherited from their Greek and Roman predecessors only to bequeath it to the New World through their conquest of New Spain.

Space limitations keep me from delving into the Greek and Roman influences that helped shape the Iberian Peninsula. But suffice it to say that soon after Christianity became the religion of Rome, it subsumed the earlier non-egalitarian traditions of the ancient Greeks and the legal and societal hierarchical structure of the Roman Empire. Medieval times saw a continuation of the earlier systems, but baptized into the Holy Roman Empire.

Is there any surprise, then, that the Roman Catholic Church would turn to the Bible to legitimize the continuation of a medieval way of life in Latin America? It saw in Romans 12:4-7 and 1 Corinthians 12:11-27 a fitting model. Together with the state, Spanish and Portuguese theocrats of the 16th century exported to the New World a divinely sanctioned social structure that demanded loyalty at the risk of hell fire. For more than three centuries (1492-1821), the church and state drilled into the Latin American people a belief that, like a human body, they had a blood tie to country and church. Mexicans hold these beliefs deeply even after their independence from Spain and the official ties between the church and state were dissolved.

It is truly startling to see the differences between American citizens and Mexican citizens on this issue of loyalty to “place.” While many Americans might feel some embarrassment for their country’s stunning successes, poor Mexicans glory in a land that has given them little more than a pittance. Those of us who value our individualism do not necessarily tie our faith to a political system, or to our native land, but many Mexicans do; they are hard-wired for it.

The one thing that no amount of poverty can take away from the poorest Mexican peasants is that they are an organic part of a national identity called Mexico. This is a determinant force too strong simply to abandon because they crossed a river. They owe undying loyalty to their mother country, even if she has not been the best of parents. Thus, for many undocumented Mexicans, Mexico is where Mexicans live, even though 11-12 million of them are living illegally on U.S. soil. It is not too much to say that for many Mexicans, illegal or otherwise, “Mexico” is a state of being, not just a country.

The offence most Americans felt at seeing a sea of red, white and green is understandable; but knee-jerk reactions, even if justified, rarely serve the national interest and certainly don’t fit within the framework of a Christian worldview. We all know that knowledge is power. As it turns out, knowing something about what makes the millions of illegal Hispanics tick may prove to be a powerful aid in the service of Christ’s kingdom.

For me, I also know something about how it feels to be a stranger living in a foreign land, but having a longing for my eternal homeland. As a citizen of the Kingdom of God I am spiritually connected to a heavenly place that captures my imagination at all hours of the day. We may not understand it as Americans, but as followers of Jesus this insight may help us to see beyond the things that disturb us, and walk alongside the illegal aliens at our door, and present the claims of Christ with relevancy and compassion.
Rudolph D. González is vice president for student services & professor of New Testament at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

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  • Rudolph D. González