Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
San Antonio’s relationship with Mexico holds undeniable relevance, not just because Mexico is the 11th largest economy in the world representing a market of 120 million people, or because of its geographical proximity and shared history with Texas.
This truth resonates across the region and the state mainly because of the millions of economic and human interactions that occur on a daily basis.
But in light of today’s political climate, we must remember what is at stake when we talk about bilateral issues such as trade, migration, security, and the challenges our democracies face.
Mexico and the United States share 1,954 miles of continental border with 48 crossings – 29 of them in Texas – where 23 U.S. counties and 39 Mexican municipalities meet. It is the most frequently crossed border in the world with 350 million legal crossings per year related to business transactions, family reunions, tourism, or simply shopping.
So what happens in Mexico matters on this side of the border. A few weeks ago, many of our American friends watched with great interest as Mexican citizens elected more than 3,000 officials, including nine governors, all members of Congress, and our next president, with a turnout of more than 60 percent of registered voters. They celebrated with us as candidates, electoral authorities, observers, citizens who served in the polling stations, and voters alike demonstrated that Mexico is a mature democracy, that our institutions are strong, and that national unity in the hope of a prosperous future transcends differences.
Mexico is the No. 1 destination for American expats. Whether as permanent residents, seasonal visitors, documented or undocumented, there are close to 3 million Americans living in Mexico at any given time. Cities like San Miguel de Allende or Los Cabos would not be the same without our friends from the north who have found their homes among us.
On the other side of the border, there are 36 million people of Mexican origin living in the U.S., with around 11.7 million born in Mexico. Not many people know that 80 percent of those 36 million are legal residents or American citizens. Regardless of their migratory status, they contribute every day with their hard work, values, and talent to the success and wellbeing of the U.S.
Additional to the demographic element is the intensity of our economic partnership – trade in goods and services between both countries exceeds $1 million per minute. We cannot explain this without the North American Free Trade Agreement, which added $80 billion to the U.S. economy since its implementation. Since the signing of NAFTA in 1994, exports from Texas increased by 354.7 percent with the Mexican market representing 39.8 percent of Texas’ annual exports. Mexico is Texas’ main trading partner, before Canada and China.
To provide services to our diaspora and handle the wide array of exchanges that bring life to the bilateral relationship, the Mexican government developed a groundbreaking strategy of consular diplomacy in the U.S., where it has 50 consulates in 25 states – the country with the largest consular network of any one nation in any other single country. With 11 consulates, Mexico has its largest diplomatic footprint in Texas.
Recognizing San Antonio’s significance, Mexico opened one of its first foreign representations here in 1861. Its first permanent cultural institute in the world, evolved from the Mexican Pavilion in the 1968 World Fair to the wonderful venue we have today at Hemisfair, is a true statement on the confluence of civilizations.
Mexico’s economic exchanges reflect these strong ties with San Antonio. According to a recent study by the SABER Research Institute, from 1994 to 2016 NAFTA created 135,311 jobs in the city, with 63,204 of them being direct jobs. The same study indicates that the treaty added $10.6 billion in gross regional product and $20.5 billion in output across San Antonio’s economy. The founding of the North American Development Bank (NADBANK), headquartered in downtown San Antonio, also came as part of NAFTA’s impulse for a new partnership, and to push for a regional plan to address environmental issues.
The presence of Mexican companies and binational entrepreneurs in the San Antonio area is also notable. Some of the most prestigious local organizations were created hand in hand with the Mexican Consulate, such as the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, founded in 1929 as the Mexican Chamber; the San Antonio Mexico Friendship Council (SAMFCO), created in 1996 by the Consul General and a group of key leaders to promote education exchanges and the numerous ties shared by our communities on both sides of the border,;or the Mexican Entrepreneur Association (AEM), established the same year.
Most Mexicans perceive San Antonio as a referent of our closeness with our neighbor to the north. We acknowledge the role this city has played in our history, the city where the exiled Francisco I. Madero wrote the Plan de San Luis calling for the establishment of a democracy in 1910, and where the presidents of Canada, the U.S., and Mexico signed NAFTA in 1992.
Equally, Mexico is a vital part of San Antonians’ collective imagination. We can recognize our shared heritage when visiting the Missions, we can relate to each other through the vibrant colors of the Día de los Muertos at the Pearl, or simply by looking at the familiar and friendly faces of the almost 2 million people of Mexican origin living in Bexar County.
I invite you to look around and discover the testimonies of all the positive, constructive, and friendly ties that bind us together. Next time you drive by Sebastián’s Torch of Friendship, Ricardo Legorreta’s San Antonio Central Library, Juan O’Gorman’s mural at the facade of the Lila Cockrell Theater, or take your picture at Jorge Marin’s Wings of Mexico, consider this: Mexico and San Antonio are not neighbors or partners – We are family.