Late this year, if early commitments hold up, a group of San Antonians will do something rather remarkable for U.S.-Mexico relations.
San Antonio may be the first U.S. city to land a team in Mexico under the auspices of the U.S.-Mexico Foundation. Preliminary plans call for the team to help build a playground, outfit a public school and health clinic, and help create a small online university.
This is set to happen in Chiapas, the Mexican state that borders Guatemala, with a San Antonio team headed by former Mayor Henry Cisneros.
The foundation started in 2009 with the help of San Antonio's North American Development Bank and was led in the beginning in the U.S. by former NADBank Managing Director Rául Rodriguez and law firm adviser José Villarreal.
U.S. groups arrive in Mexico constantly to help with various community and social projects. What makes the San Antonio-Chiapas project somewhat different is that the U.S.-Mexico Foundation is a binational organization with San Antonio roots.
The foundation's main goal, like other nongovernment organizations, is to turn the tide for Mexican youths in favor of a future with various career opportunities instead of opting for a life in organized crime.
But Mexico lacks a culture of U.S.-style philanthropy and the institutions to deliver economic opportunity. Mexican leaders, such as wealthy Monterrey bottling executive José Antonio Fernández Carbajal, are using the U.S.-Mexico Foundation to connect Mexico's upper class with Mexican Americans to foster a broader philanthropic class in Mexico.
“We've all been heartbroken over what we've seen in Mexico over the past couple of years,” Cisneros said to a group of about 40 San Antonians — all with can-do reputations — that he convened this week. “We might think there's not much we can do and walk away. But San Antonio and individuals here cannot walk away.”
Among the people in attendance were state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, state Rep. José Menéndez, University of Texas at San Antonio President Ricardo Romo, chamber of commerce CEOs Ramiro Cavazos of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber and Richard Perez of the Greater San Antonio Chamber, Eduardo Bravo of the Asociación de Empresarios Mexicanos, city and county officials, and Mexican airline executives.
Cisneros, a foundation director, said he was looking to accompany a group of 10 to 15 to Chiapas for up to one week, tentatively set for the week after Thanksgiving. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, founded by the cereal company, already has laid some preliminary groundwork for the projects awaiting action by the San Antonio team, foundation leaders told the group.
Activities will center around a city of about 35,000 called Chenalhó, not far from San Cristóbal de las Casas, a large city in Chiapas.
The San Antonio team could attract national attention. Univision, the U.S.-based Spanish-language television network at which Cisneros once worked, has expressed interest in news coverage.
Cisneros said the week would not be a vacation. He recalled similar trips he has taken, such as for Habitat for Humanity International. “These are the things I remember, spending time in work clothes and the high-touch experience,” he said.
“If we do this right,” Cisneros said, “there could be 30 to 40 U.S. communities that could become active” with the U.S.-Mexico Foundation. “We're setting the pace. We have to make it work.
San Antonio Express-News