by Adolfo Guzman-Lopez
Many Mexican-Americans in the United States have watched helplessly as drug violence has tightened its grip on the country of their ancestors. Some high-profile Mexican-Americans, including some from Los Angeles, are visiting Mexico City today where a cross-border group intends to start taking action.
The group is called the Mexican American Leadership Initiative. Former federal Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros helped to launch it earlier this year. Cisneros and a handful of other prominent Mexican-Americans wanted to gather people of similar heritage and achievement who’d expressed frustration that U.S. policy toward Mexico hasn’t helped to curb drug violence.
The group’s targeting people like James Blancarte, a partner at the law firm of Adorno Yoss Alvarado and Smith in downtown Los Angeles. "With over 300 lawyers nationwide, we’re the largest minority-owned law firm in the country," he said.
In a three-decade career, Blancarte has sued rock bands, defended white-collar criminals, and helped Latin Americans conduct business in the United States. As an American of 100 percent Mexican heritage, he says he’s concerned about what drug cartels are doing to his mother’s native country.
"Every time you pick up the paper and you read about the kind of atrocities and the kind of violence that’s going on in Mexico and you realize you’ve been in that town, that you’ve been in that region, you’ve been in that part of the country, and you’ve enjoyed being there, and you then think of what’s going on in those areas, it’s obviously very disturbing on a personal level," he said.
A few weeks ago, Blancarte co-hosted a meeting of prominent L.A. Mexican-Americans at the exclusive City Club downtown. Former politicians, medical researchers, academics and cultural leaders turned out. A staffer pledged the support of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The Mexican American Leadership Initiative is organizing under the auspices of the US-Mexico Foundation – a bi-national non-profit that’s funded grants for dropout prevention programs in places where drug cartels recruit disaffected young people.
Martha Smith de Rangel, the interim CEO of the Foundation, is an American who’s lived in Mexico for three decades. "This initiative is a call to action basically to Mexican-Americans in California and all over the country to join us," she said. Mexican-Americans should help repair the social fabric of Mexican communities torn by drug cartel murders and corruption, she added.
Loyola Marymount University professor David Ayon is enlisting members and securing financial support for the group in this, the country’s largest Latino metropolis. Ayon says he wants the group to influence U.S. policy in the same way Jewish-American and Cuban-American organizations do. "I mentioned at our event tonight, the Armenian community, the Irish community, the Polish community. The Polish community was very active in lobbying for the expansion of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, during the Clinton Administration," he said.
Four people – all to become board members of the U.S. Mexico Foundation – will lead the initiative: Ayon, Henry Cisneros, former Clinton Administration policy adviser Maria Echaveste and Texas lawyer and Democratic fundraiser Jose Villareal. They and others plan to form a larger group, the Mexican American Leadership Council, in the coming months.
Even with talent like that on board, the group’s got a tough road ahead, says Jim Gerber, a U.S.-Mexico relations expert at San Diego State University. But the establishment of the Mexican American Leadership Initiative, he says, arrives at the right time.
"I think to some degree it feels like we’ve sort of turned our backs on the problems in Mexico and that the intractibleness of the drug problems, and the scariness of the drug problems, have really I think, caused many Americans to see it as, as somewhat of a hopeless case at this point about which we can’t do much except fortify the border and try to protect ourselves from whatever influence it might have in the U.S.," Gerber said.
The Mexican American Leadership Initiative plans to meet with prominent Mexican-Americans in San Francisco, Dallas, Chicago and Washington, D.C. The group plans a national conference in the nation’s capital next May.