by James E. Garcia
GUADALUPE, Arizona --
Hernandez is a new age conquistador. His mission? To reconquer the millions of Mexican people who have journeyed north across the Rio Grande and the Southwest desert in search of wealth and opportunity -- or at least a meager living.
His latest foray is to an elementary school cafeteria in the tiny hamlet of Guadalupe, Arizona in the Phoenix Valley. The people here are mostly low income Yaqui Indians and Mexican immigrants.
But Don Hernandez arrives not clad in gilded armor and flanked by a mighty army. No, this tireless, red-bearded knight dons modest and somewhat ill-fitting business attire and says he drives a Subaru to work in the mornings.
And Hernandez comes armed only with the promise of a better future. Or so he tells the 300 or so mostly working-class Mexicans who have arrived to grill him with questions about the motherland under its new President Vicente Fox.
Mr. Fox, who took office in December, is the first democratically elected president of Mexico in more than 70 years. Hernandez is the president's chief emissary to Mexicans who live abroad, including the 21 million or so people of Mexican descent in the United States.
Why the interest all of sudden by Mexico in its exiled populations? To hear Mr. Hernandez tell it, Mexico has entered a new era. He adds that under President Fox, Mexicans, no matter where they may be, will no longer be neglected.
While that may be true, Mr. Hernandez also hopes to keep the money that these economic exiles send home to their families in Mexico flowing freely. Love of the motherland is all good and well, but the $11 billion in cash remittances that Mexicans in the U.S. send home every year are Mexico's economic lifeline.
To his credit, Hernandez isn't shy about letting his audience know that Fox considers the dollars they send home a critical source of revenue. He calls it a "gift" for which Mexico should be eternally grateful.
As if to prove his gratitude, I recently watched as Hernandez stood for nearly three hours and responded to a litany of questions and complaints during his visit to Guadalupe.
When a man raised a homemade poster charging that Mexican authorities routinely commit human rights violations, Hernandez welcomed the man and insisted with the tact of a seasoned diplomat that even his government's harshest critics have a right to be heard.
And when a young woman with a toddler in her arms broke into tears as she angrily recounted a terrifying tale of being robbed by uniformed police officers on a recent visit by her family to Mexico City, Hernandez metamorphosized into an almost priestly figure and vowed to do everything possible to track down the heartless culprits.
Watching Hernandez as he took question after question in that school cafeteria, I wondered to myself whether he could really help many of the people there. Most of their problems were the sort of things that only U.S. authorities could address. One woman, for instance, wanted help in getting her son a U.S. visa, even though she herself is in the country illegally.
But I think it was a statement by a man named Hector Mota that crystallized why it really mattered that Hernandez had come to Guadalupe that afternoon.
Like so many others, Mr. Mota deeply lamented having to leave Mexico. An engineer by training but unable to find a job back home, Mota explained that he had no choice but to leave his homeland and find work here as a common laborer.
Speaking in Spanish and struggling to hold back tears, Mota told Hernandez: "Sir, I'm not here to ask you for any help. All I want is for you to tell President Fox to keep his promise to the Mexican people to protect democracy and to improve the Mexican economy. So the young people of our nation don't have to come to the United States and toil in dead-end jobs, as I have."
In a heartfelt response, Mr. Hernandez vowed to take that message back to President Fox. If he does, and if Mr. Fox actually listens, then maybe, just maybe, the new age conquistador will be on his way to accomplishing a truly historic mission.
May 21, 2001 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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