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In the Shadow of the Giant

The Americanization of Modern Mexico

Joseph Contreras

Publication Year: 2009

The influx of Mexican immigrants to the United States throughout the years has impacted our culture, labor force, and economy. Often these individuals are blamed for the perceived ills they bring to this country. Yet few people ever consider the profound influence that the United States has on Mexico. In this first book to view modern Mexico in the era of NAFTA and globalization, In the Shadow of the Giant offers insight into the land on our southern border.What we find is a nation that looks more like the United States than even Mexicans themselves could have imagined a decade ago: Rates of obesity are second only to the United States among the world's industrialized countries. Recreational drug use is soaring among young Mexicans Citigroup owns the largest bank in Mexico Wal-Mart is the country's biggest private employer revealing a vastly different physical and cultural landscape from his days as a young journalist living in Mexico in the mid-1980s, Joseph Contreras tracks the relentless and ongoing Americanization of his ancestral home. Although these changes may seem a natural part of globalization, the country had long prided itself on the social, political, economic and even spiritual differences that distinguished it from the United States. In addition to embracing our virtues and vices, Contreras argues that our southern neighbor has become a de facto economic colony of the United States.At a time when immigration looms as a leading hot-button issue in American politics, the time is ripe for examining our influences, for better or worse, on our neighbor to the south.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

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pp. ix-xii

One of the very first Spanish words I learned as a child was pocho. Though my Mexican immigrant parents, Joe and Olga Contreras, started speaking to me almost exclusively in English in the months prior to my entering kindergarten in the Los Angeles suburb of Pico Rivera in the early 1960s, Spanish was always in the air at home, especially when relatives came calling or Mom...

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Introduction: The United States of Mexico

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pp. 1-15

Every modern society has catch phrases that become ingrained in the collective subconscious of its people. Ask any American of my generation to complete the sentence uttered by President John F. Kennedy in his 1961 inaugural address that began, “Ask not what your country can do for you . . .” and without missing a beat, most will answer “. . . ask what you can do for...

Part I

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1. A Chicano Comes to the Big Enchilada: Mexico City, 1984–1987

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pp. 19-37

Octavio Paz was in his late twenties when he won a Guggenheim scholarship to travel to the United States in the 1940s and pursue his studies at the Berkeley campus of the University of California. During his stay in the Golden State, Paz encountered the unique cultural phenomenon known as the pachucos, the flamboyantly dressed Chicano gang...

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2. Not Such Distant Neighbors: Mexico in the Era of Vicente Fox

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pp. 38-62

Twelve years elapsed before I next set foot in Mexico. My career trajectory at Newsweek had taken me to South America, southern Africa, and the Middle East, and during that time I had only casually followed events in Mexico. I had seen the headlines: the 1988 presidential election brazenly stolen by the Mexican government on behalf of the ruling...

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3. Looking Northward

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pp. 63-83

The ambivalence that Mexicans harbor toward the United States is a familiar clich

Part II

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4. NAFTA: The Double-edged Sword of Free Trade

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pp. 87-102

When Malcolm Lowry moved to Cuernavaca in 1938 to work on the manuscript of what eventually became his classic novel Under the Volcano, the Hotel Casino de la Selva was the gathering place for foreigners living in the picturesque city south of the Mexican capital. The resort hotel appears in the opening pages of the book, and Lowry is unsparing in his description...

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5. The New Breed of Mexican Businessmen

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pp. 103-117

Emilio Azcárraga Jean doesn’t make much of an impression when he enters a room. I was chatting with his lifelong friend Bernardo Gómez in Azcárraga’s private office at one of Televisa’s Mexico City studio complexes when the boyish-looking scion of the country’s top broadcasting dynasty walked in. Gómez, who heads up the television network’s news...

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6. The Modern Mexican News Media

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pp. 118-132

My return to Mexico in June 2000 after an absence of twelve years was full of eye-opening episodes. Owing to my professional background, perhaps the most palpable revelation of all occurred on the morning I picked up a copy of the newspaper Reforma for the first time. In visual terms, the broadsheet was a far cry from the stodgy, black-and-white dailies I read in...

Part III

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7. The Mexican Dream

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pp. 135-150

On Sunday mornings the courtyard of the public library in the colonial town of San Miguel de Allende fills up with Americans. The drawing card is a weekly house-and-garden tour that spotlights some of the splendid homes purchased by American expatriates in the historic city center and on the hillsides overlooking San Miguel, and on a typical weekend in the fall of...

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8. The Gringo Riviera

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pp. 151-164

“What’s the difference between Cancún and Miami?” a Mexican tourism official asked me during my first visit to the world famous resort. I shook my head and said I had no idea.“In Cancún, everybody speaks English.”The pithy truth of that joke stuck with me throughout the four days I spent in Cancún in March 2005. On the last night of my stay, I hailed a taxi in...

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9. The Umbilical Cord of Remittances

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pp. 165-182

The rather impertinent question came at the tail end of Felipe Calderón’s first joint press conference with George W. Bush as president of Mexico, in March 2007. “President Calderón, it’s been reported you have relatives working in the United States,” began Stephen Dinan, the White House correspondent of the conservative newspaper Washington Times. “Do they...

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10. The Southernmost City in Texas: Monterrey, Nuevo Le

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pp. 183-201

It hits you almost as soon as you leave the glittering terminal of Monterrey’s international airport. First come the hotel signs with names so familiar to the American business traveler: Hampton Inn, The Courtyard, Best Western, Fairfield Inn. As you drive around Monterrey, the same restaurant and store logos that line American interstate highways dot the...

Part IV

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11. Made-in-the-U.S.A. Diseases

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pp. 205-219

The descent of Pedro Rocher into the sordid world of crack cocaine addiction is a sad but familiar tale for millions of American families. The son of a Mexico City secretary began drinking alcohol at the age of fourteen and smoked marijuana for the first time a year later. It wasn’t long before Rocher started snorting powder cocaine, in part because he wanted to set...

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12. The Evangelical Challenge

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pp. 220-234

In an era when the once omnipotent PRI finds itself outnumbered by two parties in the national congress and its candidate finished a distant third in the country’s most recent presidential balloting, the central state of Hidalgo lives on as a steadfast bastion of Mexico’s erstwhile ruling party. The state’s voters elected the PRI’s gubernatorial candidate in 1999, only a...

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Conclusion: An Invaded Country

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pp. 235-244

Few Mexican cities can boast a central plaza matching the beauty and elegance of Puebla’s main square. The zócalo is dominated by the city’s seventeenth-century cathedral and its 225-feet-high towers, the tallest of any church in the republic. On the opposite side of the plaza sits the Municipal Palace, an imposing, belle époque edifice that stands as...

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pp. 245-246

I like to think of the acknowledgments section of a book as a vehicle to express the author’s gratitude to those who made vital contributions to the researching and writing of the work and also tell readers a little bit about its genesis. In that spirit, I wish to thank the New York literary agent Carol Mann for selling Rutgers University Press on the idea of publishing...


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pp. 247-260

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 261-263


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pp. 265-276

About the Author

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pp. 277

E-ISBN-13: 9780813546551
E-ISBN-10: 0813546559
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813544823
Print-ISBN-10: 0813544823

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Foreign relations -- Mexico.
  • Mexico -- Civilization -- American influences.
  • Mexico -- Politics and government -- 1988-2000.
  • Mexico -- Economic conditions -- 1994-.
  • Mexico -- Social conditions -- 1970-.
  • Mexico -- Foreign relations -- United States.
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