Seattle is a long way from Mexico, but it is getting closer all the time. Immigrants and trade are drawing us closer to our southern neighbor, and Mexico’s representative here, Consul Eduardo Baca, would like to see even stronger ties.
Baca, who’s just finished his first month in Seattle, said he wants to serve the Mexican expatriate population, expand economic relationships and cultural understanding, and find time to enjoy the Northwest, maybe go whale watching in the San Juans.
We spoke last Thursday as the U.S. Senate was passing an immigration bill in which the border with Mexico and the relationship between the peoples on either side was central.
Baca was, well, diplomatic about the bill. It would offer a path to citizenship for millions who are in the country without legal permission, and would make the border harder to cross. “At this point we view it as an internal matter of U.S. government process, and we are following it very closely to see what eventual implications it would have for our citizens,” he said.
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Baca acknowledged that the United States and Mexico have a complex relationship that includes both positives and negatives but said the important thing is that the countries have created frameworks for dealing with the
negatives without letting any one issue contaminate a relationship that is beneficial to both.
Washington state “is a long way from the border,” Baca said, “but we do have an important Mexican community here.” More than 11 percent of the state’s population is Hispanic, he said, and close to 80 percent of that are people who have roots in Mexico some recent, some generations old.
Since the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect in 1994, Baca said, trade between the state and Mexico has increased 500 percent, to about $3 billion last year. Most of that trade, $2.5 billion worth, is in goods Washington sells to Mexico.
One of Baca’s goals is to encourage Washington businesses to further expand that trade. His consulate serves Washington state and six counties in Idaho. In addition to managing Mexican interests here, the consulate provides assistance with passports, visas and other help for Mexican nationals and people traveling to Mexico. When I visited the consulate, on Third Avenue near Blanchard Street in downtown Seattle, it was packed with people waiting for services.
The staff of 19 serves 2,000 to 2,400 people a month, most of them wanting passports, birth certificates and other documents. A team of six staffers periodically sets up shop in a mobile consulate in other parts of the state.
Baca said his first impression is that because of its geographic location, and tradition, Washington state has been focused on Asia. Mexico is also interested in Asia, he said, but he hopes the relationships that Mexico, the United States and Canada have with one another can make all of North America more competitive in the global market.
He cited the auto industry as an example of a business sector in which cooperation benefits all three countries, making them stronger than they would be separately. He’d like to see some form of that model in other industries.
Baca, who was born in Veracruz, is a career diplomat with 25 years of service, most of it involved with North American affairs. He’s worked in Washington, D.C., and in Ottawa, and before coming to Seattle, Baca was assistant secretary for North American Affairs in the Mexican Foreign Ministry.
He said he and his family (he and his wife have two young children) are looking forward to being part of the community and experiencing what Seattle’s “cultural institutions have to offer, what nature has to offer.”
The closest he’d been before moving here was Vancouver, B.C., where he was surprised to see the forested landscape. “For us in Mexico,” he said, “If you have the sea, you have palm trees.”
While he’s getting to know the Northwest, I asked what he would like us to know about Mexicans, and he said, “We are a very strong and caring people. We are a proud people … we are very hardworking. We are willing to participate wherever we are, but we do like to carry on our heritage, our traditions, which doesn’t mean we don’t want to integrate into the host society, for sure we do want to.”
Neither people should let stereotypes be an obstacle to getting to know each other better, Baca said. That’s a good attitude for any neighbors to have.
Jerry Large’s column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or firstname.lastname@example.org