United Mexican States

The majesty of spanning two seas, vertiginous mountains and endless plains, sultry swamp and punishing desert, lots of Wal-Marts. Mexico is as American as pie de manzana and what a spectacular place it is.

Outgoing President Calderon, however, is seeking to remove the country’s more overt connection to its northern neighbor, forever ensconced in its constitutional name and identity. We might all know it as Mexico, but the country’s real name is Estados Unidos Mexicanos, or “United Mexican States”. Calderon, in a last ditch attempt to do something with the final days of his presidency before the country’s Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI) claws back its power from the opposition, wants to sever these ties and just call the country by its nickname, boring old Mexico.

He has a point that the name was established in a time of competition and emulation of the political system in its northern neighbor. He’s also right that nobody calls Mexico by its official name except for those stodgy old French-speaking international bodies that begin with “international” and end with “commission” (think “Olympic” or “Postal”).

Where he’s not right is the idea that it’s some unbreakable deferential reference to the United States, and if he’s celebrating a newfound Mexican independent stride, he’s coming to the party about 20 years too late.

Mexico should be proud of its name for two reasons, one emotional and one totally and utterly wonky.

Let’s start with the wonky part. Mexico, like the United States, is a confederation of sorts. Sure it has a different birth than America’s 13 colonies, and certainly the powers that Mexican states wield differ significantly from their counterparts in the United States (from less taxation power to less devolved constitutional power that has stuck through all of the country’s turmoil).

In the great North American tradition that is confederation and federal government, the three countries of this great continent have bridged cultural and linguistic divides (Canada), geographic tiffs (U.S.A.) and even indigenous tensions (Mexico – think Chiapas).

The tradition of state and federal governments working together is as old as all of our constitutions, and is an unalienable part of the North American identity. This is something that Mr. Calderon should take pride in. Indeed, his successor, Mr. Enrique Peña Nieto, came to power through ruling the country’s most powerful and influential state (Estado de Mexico), and gained a national platform and recognition through his work there. Maybe it’s sour grapes with Mr. Peña Nieto or all the other powerful opposition governors he had to deal with in his sexenio (six-year, no reelection term) but the lame duck president is missing the point of how ingrained Mexico’s federal identity is in its politics and identity.

Now the emotional part. Mexico is a revolutionary country with the most embattled history of any of Latin America’s large countries (read the history of Paraguay for a true tear-jerker). It has endured waves of war, revolution, internal turmoil and more external pressures from its neighbor to the north than anybody deserves. The country continues to suffer from a reputation of lawlessness and violence that is unfair if not untrue.

Contrast that with the ascent of the other United States over the same period into the world’s preeminent power and then imagine the noblesse oblige necessary as a Mexican to stomach this. Compound that with the invasion of American brands, the mass migration of Mexicans to the United States, and you get a powerful inferiority complex.

But look around now, and Mexico’s tocayo (namesake) up north is becoming more Mexican by the day, and North America, despite it all, is beginning to fulfill the promises of integration and economic complementarity as NAFTA reaches adulthood.

Mexicans, instead of trying to cast off a 200-year shadow of inferiority to the United States, should instead be embracing their own important and inimitable contributions to the past, present, and more importantly, future of North America.

Removing the United States from Mexico might be politically expedient for a certain group of nationalist Mexicans eager to make a statement about what their country is and is not. But it would be untrue, and unfortunate, because a United States more like Mexico and a Mexico more like the United States is not only unavoidable, it is admirable.

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