This article was originally written and was published on April 2012 on the  “The Public Servant“, the Bush School’s Monthly publication:

Intimate Strangers

by E.A. Calcaneo

Every year thousands of Americans mistakenly refer to Cinco de Mayo asMexico’s Independence Day. While brewing companies should be partly blamed, it is astonishing that most Americans, with Texans in particular, have such a mediocre knowledge of their neighbor to the south.

While misinformation campaigns aboutMexicohave been in place from the days of Stephen F. Austin and the old northern state of Coahuila y Tejas, long gone are the days where U.S.and Mexico interests are misaligned. Since 1994 and the implementation of NAFTA, both nations coordinated strategies to achieve mutual goals of prosperity, economic growth, and to provide a better quality of life to their citizens. John F. Kennedy often said “a rising tide lifts all the boats.” This was true then as it is now, especially inNorth America. Cooperation, however, will remain elusive and difficult as long as politicians, in both countries, continue to appeal to antiquated notions of mistrust and an outdated sense of rivalry.

In recent years, the bilateral agenda has been hijacked by two main issues: Immigration and the War on Drugs. Unilateral action to try to contain either the demand or the supply of these mostly economic issues will not work in the long run. These are two issues that neither country can solve alone, rather a solution requires building a mutual understanding and strategy to face these difficult challenges. In other words, politicians of both sides must set aside any damaging rhetoric and join forces to solve what, no matter how they slice it, a common problem.

Cooperation, however, is difficult to achieve as long as ignorance is rampant in either country. It has been said that the problem of the U.S. and Mexico relations is that one cares too much (Mexico) and the other one cares too little (the U.S.). I prefer what Mexican Nobel Laureate Octavio Paz one said, “The problem is that theMexicodoes not know how to talk and theUnited Statesdoes not know how to listen”.

As someone that lived 19 years in Mexico and 15 in the United States, this is painfully evident. Few people are aware of the mutual dependency of these nations to one another. I would argue that there is no country in the world that affects the lives of American citizens more than Mexico(and vice versa). Mexicois the third largest trade partner of the United States. According to the latest Census numbers, every year 300 billion dollars worth of goods crosses the border. More importantly, Mexicobuys almost twice as much of US products than China. This translates, with the exception of Canada, that more American jobs depend upon Mexican consumers than any country in the world.

Perceptions matter, and as long as the population of the United States fails to take full advantage of the potential of their relationship with their neighbor to the south, we will continue to miss opportunities to improve the lives of the people on both sides of the border. Until then, we are condemned to celebrate Mexican Independence Day on a day that means little to an average Mexican.