By Matt Hartman
There are at least two ongoing tragedies in Modern American culture that are accepted: murder and poverty. Moreover, they go hand-in-hand. A murder in a rich suburb will always make itself known while the countless violent crimes that happen daily in the rotting inner-city neighborhoods around the country usually only make back pages. The disparity in class here cannot be overlooked–class in terms of both social status and income. The only violent crimes which make national news are those involving beautiful little girls or something exceedingly heinous.
What’s worse, this carries over to our attitude on issues outside our nation, such as the ongoing drug war in Mexico. Every important media outlet runs frequent stories on the Mexican drug war, and many have run cover stories. And yet there is no public discourse about the events. The issue, then, is that Americans do not care enough about it for it to become a pressing matter. The reason for this is the very same reason we ignore the crime in our ghettos.
To see this, it’s important to first note what we do discuss with regard to Mexico: immigration. The political discourse is focused on jobs plans, medical inefficiencies, and tax rates, all with implicit references to the illegal immigrant as the cause of these problems. He is the one, as the often mocked story goes, who is stealing our jobs. He is taking all tax revenue for his medical care. Modern American politics often contains the illegal immigrant as the great Other who is threatening our way of life. Such a discourse does not easily allow or encourage a humane discussion about the situation in Mexico.
With the only real imprint of Mexico on American life being the illegal immigrant, Mexico is seldom viewed as more than a land of poverty and crime. What else would force so many to risk their lives to come to a nation trying to remove the little social structure that exists for the poor? Just think of the typical picture of Mexico in the American psyche: It is a nation that exists in the picture of Tijuana, of a dirty, cheap, and hilariously shameful place to party or buy drugs. This caricature does not entirely represent the stance Americans’ stance on Mexico, but it is reflects how our southern neighbor is adopted into the American zeitgeist. It also must be mentioned, of course, that the drug cartels who are pillaging the country made their fortunes supplying our drug habits.
So what separates Mexico from America? The obvious answer seems to be class. If Mexico exists, as the cartoon picture of it goes, to supply Americans with cheap fun and drugs, it is because Mexico is lower class. Mexico is thought of solely as our “dollar store,” as our supply of shameful and cheap things that America is too good to supply. Think of the typical ways you hear Mexico mentioned. I, for one, have not heard it discussed often, as it should be, as a land of culture and history, of pride and strength. No one mentions the glorious history of Mexican nationals, rebels, and those who gained independence. It seems, then, that the American picture of Mexico is one of a lesser place, of a place without worth. It is lower class and of lower value.
But it would be premature to say Americans ignore Mexico simply because of class. It helps to see the numbers here. Since December 2006, 34,600 people have been murdered in Mexico in cartel-related violence. But every year in the United States about 14,000 are violently killed. Twice the number of people killed in cartel violence have faced a parallel fate within the (ostensibly) most first world of first world countries. Per-capita that still leaves far more murders in Mexico than here. However, Mexico is in the hands of an extreme situation, an all out war on the streets while we are living with the highest standard of living in the world. For that reason, few discuss our murder problem as a blight or epidemic. It’s something we’ve come to accept of our rotting ghettos and collapsing inner-cities.
The problem, then, is an apathetic lack of understanding. By painting Mexico and our own poverty stricken areas in such a poor light, we have made a psychic separation along class lines that allows us to overlook their horrors. In a strange way, Mexicans have been adopted into American culture through our disregard of them–this apathy is simply how we respond to poverty and violent crime. It is, in fact, something that lies at the core of American culture: poverty and murder existing together without any real remorse. The Mexican drug war is the perfect example of what is wrong with our culture, and if we won’t react to the tragedy unfolding everyday with a discussion of how to give aid, we should at the very least discuss the reflection it has on our very uncivil values.