Sunday, January 13, 2008

Group seeks stronger U.S.-Mexico ties


Group seeks stronger U.S.-Mexico ties
The Associated Press

When Hurricane Katrina devastated the U.S. Gulf Coast region in the summer of 2005, the Mexican Army brought humanitarian supplies to some of the victims.
It was a first. Mexico had never before sent a disaster-relief aid mission to the United States, according to a report from the Department of State's information service. U.S. officials responded with gratitude.
A local group is hoping to use that example of assistance and other stories to encourage improved relations between Mexico and the United States.
Peter von Gundlach founded AMISTAD in 1988 in Tucson with a mission of promoting economic and cultural exchanges, and helping dispel biases and stereotypes on both sides of the border. AMISTAD stands for American Mexican Initiative Supporting Trade and Development.
"We are an information processing group that attempts to find solutions to dissension and dissidence between the two cultures," he said. "We are here to make things better and to lubricate the interface of the border."
Mexico also demonstrated its ability to comprehensively and efficiently respond to a disaster in its own country when the states of Tabasco and Chiapas were flooded in late October and early November of last year.
A U.S.-based organization called Hands On Disaster Response decided not to deploy a volunteer project there, according to an assessment report, because most of the flooded homes were cleaned out and inhabited soon after the floodwaters receded.
"The Army was there. They took care of it. They marshaled all the resources that they needed and there was minimal impact," von Gundlach said.
AMISTAD feels the U.S. is not taking advantage of everything that Mexico can supply.
In June, media outlets reported India's largest software services provider started outsourcing work to Mexico because of higher labor costs.
Jeff Harris, a coordinator for AMISTAD, said, "Why can't we recognize the value of Mexico and go directly to them and cut out the middleman?"
Also, AMISTAD recently suggested to the Bisbee City Council that it enter into an intergovernmental agreement with Agua Prieta, Sonora, to get help with repairing roads in Bisbee.
The roads in Agua Prieta are good, and Bisbee could benefit from the use of its engineering staff, von Gundlach said.
Harris said each culture has its own strengths and weaknesses, and each can learn from the other.
"If we can have something as tangible as having Agua Prieta help us put in new roads, people will begin to question the perceptions that all exchanges are one-way and that the Unites States has plenty to offer and Mexico has nothing to offer us," he said.
The group is currently working to reduce the emotional polarities resulting from illegal immigration and laws being implemented to control it.
AMISTAD does not support the new Arizona employer sanctions law, which makes it illegal to knowingly hire illegal workers.
"It leaves huge gaps open for stereotyping and for racial profiling and for arresting people who perhaps left their papers at home," von Gundlach said.
The United States needs to recognize that illegal workers have contributed significantly to the U.S. economy and culture, he said.
And AMISTAD praises the positive actions of some Mexicans.
For example, in November, a Mexican man who was illegally entering the United States found a 9-year-old boy wandering in the southern Arizona desert.
The boy's mother wrecked their van and later died. The man decided to rescue the boy and in the process of getting help, he turned himself over to the Border Patrol.
Von Gundlach also mentioned the significant accomplishment of Juan Quezada, a Mexican artist who developed a pottery style inspired by remnants of the ancient civilization of Paquime Indians.
Quezada trained family and neighbors in the village of Mata Ortiz in his techniques. Today, the pottery is recognized as some of the finest in the world.
Harris said Quezada's work exemplifies one of the strengths of Mexican society.
"We don't have that sense of community that they do there," he said. "We have what would be known as predatory capitalism. By sharing his knowledge with all of his neighbors, everybody benefits."
Harris said AMISTAD is constantly looking for alternative ways to find situations.
"Sometimes a fresh approach can provide solutions that just didn't occur to other folks," he said.

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