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Mexican government looking beyond remittances

By SAMANTHA HENRY, Associated Press Writer

NEWARK, N.J., Nov. 23, 2008 (AP): As the United States economic crisis worsens, the money that Mexicans living in the United States send home to their families in México continues to decline—reaching record lows over the summer.

But the Mexican government has long known that the day would come when the historic migration North would slow, and the remittance revenue stream—México's second largest source of foreign income behind oil exports—would eventually dry up.

They've been preparing for the scenario with initiatives aimed at solidifying ties to their communities abroad; especially with the U.S.-born children of Mexican immigrants whose allegiance to their homeland weakens with each new generation.

``The long-term impact that this migration will have will not be seen in its full potential during this generation, but in future generations,” said Carlos González Gutiérrez, the executive director of the Institute of Mexicans Abroad. ``That impact will change the social fabric not just of México, but of the United States. If you look at things from that long-horizon view, the remittance boom is only one chapter.''

Gutiérrez' organization, an agency of the Mexican government, was formed in 2003 to institutionalize immigrant relationship efforts that he says began in the early 1980s. Gutiérrez says that's when the Mexican government's once-disdainful attitude toward its ex-patriots started to change.

``They've tried to take a much more proactive stance with these communities, with the recognition that they might not be coming back,'' Gutiérrez said in a telephone interview from México City.

The institute supports education and cultural programs for Mexican immigrants and their families in the U.S., including Spanish classes, a program that sends Mexican teachers to U.S. districts with a shortage of bilingual educators, donations of Spanish language materials to U.S. schools and libraries, and literacy initiatives for adult immigrants in the U.S.

Other programs are aimed at the children of immigrants—many of whom may have been to México—that include sponsoring soccer tournaments, cultural programs, youth exchanges and academic scholarships.

Gutiérrez says the Mexican government wants to emphasize to immigrants that it doesn't just view them as revenue streams for the estimated $23 billion they have pumped into the economy yearly over the past few years.

He says that remittances, although important, account for just 3 percent of México's overall gross domestic product.

``For México, migration is a very bad business, even with the remittances,'' Gutiérrez said. ``We end up losing a lot more than we gain, and these losses—of production, of workers, of families broken apart, of talent, of skilled labor that could be useful to our national economy—these losses are nowhere near compensated for by the flow of remittances workers abroad send home.''

The Mexican government has also expanded the role—and reach—of its 50 U.S.-based consulates, and made legislative changes to allow Mexicans to hold dual-citizenship and vote in Mexican elections from abroad.

After speaking before The United Nations General Assembly in September, Mexican President Felipe Calderon decided his final U.S. stop would be a visit to Mexican immigrants in New Jersey.

Herminio García, who runs a travel agency and a Mexican cultural center called Casa Puebla in Passaic, attended Calderon's speech at a New Brunswick elementary school.

``The Mexican government seems to be a lot more worried about us these days,'' García said. ``They seem to be working on things, but they need to make more investments in México—especially in the rural areas where many of our families live—and to make it easier for people to open small businesses there.''

García is exactly the kind of community leader the Mexican government has been reaching out to. The 65-year-old recently declined an offer to run for a seat on a consular advisory committee the Mexican government established to give immigrant leaders input into foreign affairs.

García says when he emigrated from Puebla, México to Passaic in the early 1970s, his contact with the Mexican government was remote. He only went to the consulate if he needed paperwork processed.

Now, the Mexican consulate comes to him, with mobile consular services and traveling diplomats who set up temporary centers across the tri-state region to be more accessible to Mexican communities springing up in increasingly remote areas.

Mexican consulates around the country have extended hours or added weekend shifts to accommodate working immigrants, and expanded consular services to include things like health fairs and cultural events.

But García’s main concern—one he shares with government officials like Gutiérrez—is how to make sure the new American-born generation stays in touch with its Mexican heritage.

``They will definitely lose the connection in three or four generations; like the Irish and Italians,'' García said. ``They'll easily adopt the culture of the country they live in, but I hope it doesn't happen too quickly.''






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