Mexico’s Fox stands by racial
President said Mexicans take
U.S. jobs that blacks won't
Associated Press, May 16, 2005 Mexico City - President Vicente Fox
refused to apologize Monday for saying Mexicans in the United States do
the work that blacks won’t — a comment widely viewed as acceptable in a
country where blackface comedy is still considered funny and nicknames
often reflect skin color.
Fox’s spokesman, Ruben Aguilar, said Mexican and foreign news media have
misinterpreted the remark as a racial slur. He said the president was
speaking in defense of Mexican migrants as they come under attack by the
new U.S. immigration measures that include a wall along the
Stung by the U.S. crackdown on illegal immigrants, many Mexicans —
including Mexico City’s archbishop — said Fox was just stating a fact.
“The president was just telling the truth,” said Celedonio Gonzalez, a
35-year-old carpenter who worked illegally in Dallas for six months in
2001. “Mexicans go to the United States because they have to. Blacks
want to earn better wages, and the Mexican — because he is illegal —
takes what they pay him.”
But the Rev. Jesse Jackson said Fox should apologize.
“His statement had the impact of being inciting and divisive,” Jackson
said Monday, noting that in many U.S. cities tensions are already high
between blacks and Latinos because they compete for scarce jobs and
often have children crowded into underfunded schools.
Another American civil rights activist, the Rev. Al Sharpton, said the
comment was especially disturbing because Fox was educated in the United
States and “he is not unaware of the racial sensitivities here.”
Fox made the comment Friday during a public appearance in Puerto
Vallarta, saying: “There’s no doubt that Mexican men and women — full of
dignity, willpower and a capacity for work — are doing the work that not
even blacks want to do in the United States.”
Responding to criticism
Responding to the criticism during his daily news conference Monday,
Aguilar read a statement expressing Fox’s “enormous respect for
minorities, whatever their racial, ethnic or religious origin.”
“The purpose (of the comment) was none other than to show the importance
Mexican workers have today in the development and progress of U.S.
society,” Aguilar said, repeating a statement released Saturday.
He refused to comment further, saying only that Fox would “intensify his
diplomatic efforts to protect the integrity of the Mexicans living in
The dispute reflects Fox’s growing frustration with U.S. immigration
policy and deteriorating relations between the two nations.
The Mexican government was expected to send a diplomatic letter to the
United States on Monday protesting recent measures that include
requiring states to verify that people who apply for a driver’s license
are in the country legally, making it harder for migrants to gain
amnesty, and overriding environmental laws to build a barrier along the
California border with Mexico.
The measures have been widely criticized in Mexico, where residents
increasingly see the United States as adopting anti-migrant policies.
Even Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, the archbishop of Mexico City,
criticized the U.S. policy as ridiculous and defended Fox’s comments,
saying: “The declaration had nothing to do with racism. It is a reality
in the United States that anyone can prove.”
While Mexico has a few, isolated black communities, the population is
dominated by descendants of the country’s Spanish colonizers and its
native Indians. Comments that would generally be considered openly
racist in the United States generate little attention here.
One afternoon television program regularly features a comedian in
blackface chasing actresses in skimpy outfits, while an advertisement
for a small, chocolate pastry called the “negrito” — the little black
man — shows a white boy sprouting an afro as he eats the sweet. Many
people hand out nicknames based on skin color.
Victor Hugo Flores, a 30-year-old bond salesman, cringed when asked what
he thought of Fox’s comment, but said it isn’t too different from
popular sayings celebrating what Mexicans see as a strong work ethic
“It was bad, but it really isn’t racist,” he said. “Maybe the president
shouldn’t have said it. But here we say things like, ‘He works like a
black person,’ and it’s normal.”
© 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.