Bordering on Better Relations

Point of View column by Mexico Institute Director Andrew Selee

Apr 07, 2004

Mexico and the United States share a 2,000-mile border, but only recently have the two countries begun developing healthy bilateral relations, evolving from distant neighbors to cautious partners.

The most interesting engagement between the two countries is occurring outside of government-to-government interactions, though these too have become more frequent, institutionalized, and complex. The relationship is being energized by demographic changes, economic exchange, and border integration, all of which are reshaping both countries.

Today, some 24 million people in the United States are of Mexican descent, comprising 8 percent of the U.S. population. Mexican immigration has added another layer to America's long immigrant history, as new words, music, food, and ideas enter the mainstream of American culture. This has, in turn, made Americans more aware of their southern neighbor, as previous waves of immigration made us aware of the countries of Europe and East Asia.

At the same time, the North American Free Trade Agreement-which fosters economic exchange among Canada, Mexico, and the United States-has helped triple the volume of trade among the three countries in 10 years, with Mexico second to Canada as the United States' leading trading partner. If economics can help shape ideas, the increased commercial relationship certainly has contributed to the countries' awareness of each other.

Finally, the shared border between the two countries has become a fertile ground of interchange and experimentation-an area some call "MexAmerica" because of the creative blending of cultures and languages. The border also has become a focal point for collaboration among federal, state, and local governments as they try to balance the constant flow of goods and people with the need for enhanced security and the care of shared natural resources.

The Woodrow Wilson Center's Mexico Institute strives to raise awareness of this bilateral relationship. This effort includes addressing key policy issues that affect both countries—such as trade, immigration, and border management—and looking at the broader context of how perceptions, press coverage, and political changes in each country shape understandings of the other.

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