Scoping Out Pepe

Why We Should Get It Right, But Won't

March 26, 2008

Gringos here in Mexico talk endlessly about how they love and admire the Mexican people, how friendly the natives are, how wonderful the culture is and, by strong implication, how wonderful the gringos are for appreciating Mexico. Actually they don’t. They live in gated communities in the hills, can’t speak three words of Spanish, and have surprisingly little contact with the country. They have invented a Mexico that doesn’t exist, and have fallen in love with it.

Thus many of their ideas about Mexicans are wrong, compounded equally of ideology and wishful thinking. The same happens in America. This will one day give birth to surprising children.

The truth is that Mexicans are about like people the world over, which means that regarding them with syrupy condescension as fuzzy heartwarming Pedros and Marias is a mistake. They don’t much like Americans, regarding them as arrogant and rich. The distaste is no more than distaste: they do not dream of lynching Yanquis. Nonetheless, regarding Mexico as a nation of smiling maids and obedient gardeners overlooks a somewhat darker picture. They would not be quite so smiling and obedient if they had a better economic choice.

An interesting observation: In five years I have encountered no hostility from Mexicans who have always lived in Mexico. The five or six men who were aggressively hostile all spoke barrio English. They had spent time in the US. Think about it.

The US would be well advised to take certain realities into account when it ponders today’s unrestricted immigration. Those who favor immigration tend to hold an idealized view of the newcomers. They are so-o-o-o hardworking! Yes, in the first generation. They just want a better life! So they do. They are just like Italian and Polish immigrants of the last century. No, they are not. They are Mexicans.

Mexico is a third-world country—yes, an upper third-world Latin American country, functioning reasonably well, and not Haiti or Bangladesh. It’s a nice place to live, which is why a half million North Americans are here. Yet Mexico is very, very different from America. If America and England are a few inches apart, Americans and France a few more, Mexico is several feet off in the distance.

While gringos and Mexicans live next to each other here in amity, they do not mix. They can’t. A retired executive from Boeing has nothing in common with a man with a fourth-grade education who will never read a book in his life. Pepe is smiling and amiable while working in the garden. He is also a grown man, not a teddy bear. If the retired engineer met Pepe in Pepe’s favorite bar, the engineer might come to a very different understanding of Pepe.

It is one thing to have Mexicans in America while they still fearful of being deported. They are polite and brown and eager to work. This encourages the tendency to which Americans are prone, to patronize them as just the nicest babysitters and garbage men. Why, they are almost like real people.

It will be a different thing when they are legal and have a voting majority in the Southwest. They understand perfectly that their day is coming. A couple of years back I listened on the radio to a Mexican-American politician from Texas. He pointed out that when the Mexican children now in school reach the age of eighteen, they will control the government of the state. He was not hostile, did not say as Barack Obama’s minister did, “God damn America.” Yet he saw what was coming, and was well pleased. From the Mexican point of view, they are getting back states which rightly belong to them.

They assuredly are. Shortly the US will have a southern tier of states under Mexican-American control.

The hopeful idea is that they will meld as did the Irish and Italians and Vietnamese. The flaw in this happy ointment is that they do very poorly in school—better than blacks, but well below whites and Asians. This is not a problem of the first generation only, in which case it might eventually cure itself, but of later generations also. It looks innate, or at least as if it will continue. Then what?

Then they will have no choice but to be waiters and garbage collectors. The first generation will tolerate it, happy to be making what seems to them good money. A few will succeed and move up. Most won’t. The second generation, relegated forever to jobs of low pay and less esteem, will become resentful. Inevitably they will see the relegation as indicating discrimination, not incapacity. The young, unable to compete, will gravitate toward others who can’t and we will have another permanent underclass. If you don’t believe me, watch.

The United States advertises itself as a land of opportunity, and in fact is, but only for the bright. A poor kid who pops 1500 on his SATs can get into a good university and come out as anything he chooses. Universities look for such students. A kid who barely reads has no chance. For him, there are no opportunities.

Why is it unlikely that the immigrants will improve scholastically? For reasons a fair few understand but nobody talks about. Intelligence. Mexico consists of three layers, or maybe two layers with a spectrum between. The governing class is white, and at about the European level on IQ tests, not surprising because they are European. You have the mestizos, who do conspicuously less well, and the pure Indians, lower yet. The white upper class is not swimming the river.

IQ is a forbidden topic, but it tracks reality depressingly well. No country below Laredo has ever produced anything important in the sciences. And while in any group there are exceptions, it is the majority who determine social results. This bears thinking about. Reality does not respect politics. Holding one’s breath and turning blue will change nothing. Insisting that something can’t be so or shouldn’t be so doesn’t change whether it is so.

Inequality can be seen in the streets here. In Guadalajara, una ciudad muy guera, a very white city, you have highly sophisticated people who talk of the arts on the radio as intelligently as any in America. They go to the opera, buy in good bookstores, and serve competently as doctors and technicians. In the villages you find people with far more Indian blood and almost no academic achievement or interest. Out in the hills there is, dead serious, a lot of witchcraft.

It’s a different world. And coming to a mall near you.