Would you rather have a low fence between you and your neighbor or a high wall? One can be a meeting ground where people can lean into conversation and coexistence, and strangers can become friends. The other is an impediment to contact, a barrier where people on each side sacrifice freedom and opportunity in favor of false security against an enemy that doesn’t even exist.
The world is trillions of dollars poorer today than it was last Sunday, and decades of social and political evolution in Europe has been undermined by anti-globalization and anti-immigration fears and the vote of England’s least literate and informed citizens. The secondary reverberations have yet to be felt across the continent and world markets.
The so-called British exit, or ‘Brexit,’ turned out not to be the choice of the British, but really the English, or ‘Exit.’ Despite all evidence to the contrary, a narrow constituency that believes what divides us is greater than what unites us in this world carried the day and sent us all tumbling backwards.
Closer to home, the same virulent rhetoric of the presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his supporters has hacked the Republican Party, and left many a party leader fumbling to justify his tepid support for the party’s candidate. The campaign feeds its followers, mostly less educated white people, a diet of nationalism, racism, and Islamophobia. Who can imagine four more months of such unhinged behavior?
All of this global and national convulsion seemed somewhere far away Thursday evening as a bicultural, mostly bilingual audience filled the Frost Bank Plaza Club for a reception welcoming newly arrived Mexican Consul General Héctor Velasco Monroy.
The people who gathered to meet and hear the new consul general are fence builders, not wall people. They understand San Antonio’s unique place in New World history and culture and, as the city approaches its 300th anniversary, the opportunity that comes with open doors and welcoming embraces.
Velasco Monroy made no pretense of playing it safe. He condemned Trump’s anti-Mexican rhetoric and promised that no wall would ever divide the two nations.
After all, in this instance, neighbors are family, and there is no divorcing our shared history or our mutual interdependence. A majority of the city’s population has roots in Mexico, and tens of thousands of Mexican nationals live and work here and contribute to the city’s vibrancy and growth. Build a wall and watch San Antonio’s economy crumble. Open the city’s gates while others turn inward and we can create new opportunity.
The city’s relations with Mexico have ebbed since 9/11, and it has been more than a few years since we have played host to a truly dynamic consul general who has the ear of the Mexican president. The last truly influential consul general was Carlos Sada Solana, who served here from 1995-2000 and recently was named Mexico’s ambassador to the United States.
Velasco Monroy is close to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, I am told, so perhaps the moment has to come to look beyond years of cartel violence and enduring corruption and search for new ways to deepen our economic and cultural ties.
More Mexicans are leaving than arriving in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center. Trump’s fear-mongering about Mexican rapists and criminals and others flooding across the border illegally is basically a lie.
In the world where I live and work, as a neighbor of Geekdom in the Rand building, the Mexicans I meet are talented young entrepreneurs who have come here to build new companies, to use technology and talent to solve problems, to find their place in an environment where they can work alongside other young entrepreneurs and find the support and the capital to realize their dreams.
Visionaries in San Antonio built this environment. It didn’t happen by itself. And it’s no coincidence that one of San Antonio’s most prominent businessmen, philanthropists and civic leaders, Red McCombs, has underwritten an annual luncheon speaker series for the Asociación de Empresarios Mexicanos (AEM), an organization of Mexican business owners and executives in the United States that was founded in San Antonio in 1996.
The AEM promotes U.S.-Mexico trade and relations and serves as an international business development bridge between the two countries. McCombs knows that good neighbors make good trading partners.
Why shouldn’t San Antonio work to become the destination city for talented neighbors to the south who are seeking to come where they stand the best chance of succeeding? Every major employer in the city, from USAA to Rackspace, is competing for talented tech workers. There simply are not enough to meet the demand.
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Over time, innovative schools like the recently announced CAST Tech and other planned Centers for Applied Science and Technology will produce more homegrown talents, but why wait when people are asking to come here and help build the new urban economy?
Of course, today San Antonio’s economy and job base is intertwined with Japan, Germany, South Korea and other countries. Our international connections are growing. The city’s developing World Heritage profile will draw visitors from countries around the world who otherwise might never have come here.
Even before the epic disaster of Great Britain’s referendum where Leave defeated Remain, it was evident in the United States that cities had become the catalysts for growth and change. National and state governments are polarized by political extremism and seldom can be counted on to act in the interest of the majority.
San Antonio is responsible for its own future well-being. People here can reject the siren call to hate your neighbor, to blame outsiders for everything, to lock the doors and load your guns. The truth is life isn’t terrible, other people are not to be feared, and the country is not spiraling into oblivion, as Trump and others would have us believe.
Look out your window, walk through your neighborhood, make your way through the city, and look at all the different people living, working, and playing together. Yes, there is crime, terrible poverty, people without homes, children without good parents, social injustice and economic inequality. These ills must be fought and surmounted.
But acting out of anger, fear or frustration accomplishes nothing and, as we have seen in Europe these past few days, can wreak havoc and damage that will not be easily undone. It probably will take a generation to regain what has been lost.
Globalization has produced its share of winners and losers. Every possible political scenario does the same. Many in the media search out the losers and present a simple and incomplete narrative when only an understanding of complexity will do. That’s why it’s so important to elect smart, educated and worldly leaders who know that only hard work and good will produce lasting results.
Totalitarian governments and sectarian wars have done far more to displace millions of people who now are homeless refugees doing exactly what any of us would do in such circumstances: seek shelter, security, and employment for themselves and their loved ones.
There isn’t enough concrete and barbed wire to shut everyone out. Technology and smart phones have done more to take down borders and walls than anything governments have done in recent times. There is no going back. The only way to work ourselves out of the problems we share as a world community it to work together.
That’s why San Antonians who gathered Thursday night to reaffirm our city’s welcoming disposition represent real leadership.
Top image: Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) and Mexican Consul General of Mexico in San Antonio Héctor Velasco Monroy. Photo by Scott Ball.