Mexican consul general enthusiastic about collaborating with UCLA
Consul General of Mexico in Los Angeles Carlos M. Sada. (Photo: Peggy McInerny/ UCLA.)

Mexican consul general enthusiastic about collaborating with UCLA

At a recent meeting with Mexican experts from across the UCLA campus, Mexican Consul General Carlos M. Sada expressed a keen interest in collaborating with the university.

The Consul General noted that the city's Mexican-American community was largely unaware of the highly successful Mexican businesspeople living in the city, where they run import-export businesses.

by Peggy McInerny, Director of Communications

UCLA International Institute, June 9, 2014 — Mexican Consul General Carlos M. Sada enthusiastically pledged to collaborate with UCLA on issues of mutual interest at a May 21st meeting with Mexicanists from across the campus. “I’m very excited by the number of research projects and groups at UCLA; it’s like a dream to be here with so many experts on Mexico,” he said.

The meeting, which was organized by the Center for Mexican Studies and the UCLA Latin American Institute, brought together UCLA professors from a range of disciplines — from history to political science to medicine to Chicana/Chicano Studies to anthropology.

Director of the Center for Mexican Studies Rubén Hernández-León. (Photo: Peggy McInerny/ UCLA.) UCLA faculty and graduate students with long-term research interests in Mexico expressed great interest in improving information sharing on both sides of the border, particularly finding ways to publish their research in Spanish and to access research published in Mexico.

The meeting was held as a prelude to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between UCLA and the consulate. As Director of the Center for Mexican Studies Rubén Hernández-León explained, the idea is to establish a working relationship with the consulate in which the latter can facilitate relationships between UCLA researchers and institutions in Mexico, as well as with Mexican individuals and groups in Los Angeles. A variety of collaborative projects are expected to ensue.

Mexico and the United States: A relationship in need of renewal

A diplomat and previous mayor of the city of Oaxaca, Sada has previously served as consul general in several U.S. cities with large Mexican populations, including San Antonio, Chicago and New York. California alone has 10 Mexican consulates, but the one in Los Angeles is the most important because the city has the largest Mexican population in the United States.

Sada argued that the U.S.-Mexican relationship was in need of renewal, wondering out loud whether both parties had been taking it for granted. “We are disconnected,” he said, claiming that the people present at the meeting were “the very people [who] are meant to continue this relationship, to keep pushing it forward.”

“It is better to renew our relationship deliberately,” he remarked, “rather than leave it to market forces. We have the obligation to see where our future lies.” Sada urged California and its universities to take the lead in renewing and directing the bilateral relationship.

Of particular concern to the consul general was what he described as a “free fall” in student exchanges between the United States and Mexico. Of the 800,000 foreign students in the United States in 2013, he recounted, only 14,000 were from Mexico — a mere 1.7 percent. That same year, American students studying in Mexico accounted for only 1.2 percent of all U.S. students abroad, with greater numbers going to Costa Rica, Argentina and Brazil (in that order).

He stressed that it was important to understand why these exchanges have diminished. On the U.S. side, he said, it is unclear whether the drop is associated with negative perceptions of Mexico or students’ preference for European countries.

Sada emphasized Mexico’s growing volume of foreign trade beyond the NAFTA block, pointing to the country’s new trading partners, such as South Korea, and its work to refashion its trading patterns, including the adoption of 50 constitutional amendments to facilitate that process.

Given that Mexico is now the fourth-largest exporter of cars in the world and has a growing aerospace sector, its economy will need growing numbers of well-educated workers, said Sada, especially in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) sectors.

“We want students to come to Mexico to see what kind of employment is available,” he said, observing that many well-trained young people from Spain, where youth unemployment continues to hover at 25 percent, are coming to Mexico to work.

As part of an initiative to increase student and faculty exchanges between the two countries, Mexico hopes to send 100,000 students to the United States by 2018, including a hoped-for 100 additional Mexican students at each of the 10 University of California campuses. This issue, noted Sada, was specifically raised by a group of 10 consul generals from Mexico in a meeting with UC President Janet Napolitano two months ago.

Raising the awareness of both partners

Consul General Sada repeatedly observed that much was happening in both countries that remained under the radar of the other. This lack of awareness even characterizes the Mexican population in Los Angeles, he observed, a population he described as lacking coherence.

Much of Sada’s work in Los Angeles to date has been to put different groups of Mexicans together —connecting them both with each other and with Mexico. For example, he noted that the city’s Mexican-American community was largely unaware of the highly successful Mexican businesspeople living in the city, where they run import-export businesses.

“They live here and do business here, but we are lacking cohesion,” he remarked. “If we want to change the perception of Mexico here, we need to have a say in it.” At the same time, the Mexicans living here are not reaching the many U.S. businessmen living and working in Mexico.

Sada confessed to being delighted by the range of scholarship on Mexico that UCLA researchers were publishing, saying it was a big discovery for him. And he pledged to find ways to promote this research in Mexico in conjunction with UCLA’s Center for Mexican Studies and Latin American Institute. Finally, he encouraged campus experts on Mexico to work with him to push the Mexican-American relationship in the right direction.

Impressive range of expertise on Mexico at UCLA

In response to this challenge, Director of the Center for Mexican Studies Rubén Hernández-León presented a panel of distinguished Mexican specialists from UCLA.

Chris Tilly, director of the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment and a professor in the urban planning department, gave a brief presentation on his Institute’s past and ongoing research projects on workers in Mexico and on Mexican migrants in the United States, many of which involve collaboration with Mexican institutions of higher learning.

One current Institute research project is examining the quality of retail employment in Mexico, based on field research that is surveying the entire range of retail establishments. Findings are then being compared to retail job conditions in the U.S. and European countries. Another current project focuses on building voice for informal workers, such as street vendors and construction workers, in eight countries, including the United States and Mexico.

Tilly noted that his Institute hosted a couple of visiting scholars from Mexico every year and was engaged in ongoing dialogue with a number of Mexican universities.

Dr. David Hayes-Bautista, professor of medicine and director, Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and a faculty member of the department of Chicana/Chicano Studies, began by saying that he owed Mexico an intellectual debt. He attributed that debt to its wonderful bookstores, where he has purchased many books over the years that were not available in the United States. “We do need to figure out how to get the intellectual exchange right, particularly for our students,” he commented.

Hayes-Bautista described joint research projects with Mexican colleagues as wonderful, but difficult in terms of funding, permissions and dissemination of findings. He claimed a great deal of binational work could be done in medicine, where much synergy exists, arguing, “We need to find out how to get beyond the bureaucracy that stops us in our tracks.”

The UCLA physician related that University of California Press, after an unsuccessful attempt with an initial partner, was currently seeking a new partner in Mexico that could publish works in Spanish. Translating professional journals published in Mexico and the United States would also be useful, he noted, particularly in his field. “It’s interesting to understand the health discourse in Mexico,” he remarked.

One area where Mexico could really help the United States, said Hayes-Bautista, is in meeting the current shortage of 43,000 Latino physicians in this country. In the discussion that followed the panel’s presentation, he also noted that between 3,000 and 5,000 American students were studying medicine in Mexico in any given year.

Patricia Gándara, research professor at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, noted that over half of all students in California schools are Hispanic, and most are Mexican. Unfortunately, due to lack of communication and reciprocity between U.S. and Mexican schools, Mexicans in the United States don’t receive credit for courses taken in Mexico, and those who return to Mexico do not receive credit for courses taken in the United States.

Consul General Carlos M. Sada, Dr. David Hayes-Bautista and Research Professor Patricia Gándara. (Photo: Peggy McInerny/ UCLA,) Noting that her brother had dropped out of school in California in the 9th grade precisely because of this problem, Gándara said she was working with Mexican colleagues to try to bridge these gaps. At present, she is trying to develop a binational curriculum that would allow students to receive credit for courses taken on both sides of the border. The professor also noted that she was looking for a partner in Mexico with which to develop a binational program for teacher preparation.

“We live in a world that is amazingly affected by the border, but yet, for so many of our citizens on both sides, it is an illusion of a sort,” she commented. “Unless we help Tijuana-educated children on that side of the border, and help San Diego and Los Angeles educate their children, the economic engine represented by the region will decline.”

Opening a lively question-and-answer period, Professor Hernández-León noted that a recent survey of Mexican-related projects at UCLA revealed that nearly 80 professors and 16-17 centers on campus are doing research on Mexico

One of the originators of institutional relationships with Mexico at UCLA, Edwin Cooper, was in the audience. A distinguished professor of neurobiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine, Cooper noted that he was in in his 52nd year at UCLA; in 1966 he was invited to participate in a faculty exchange program with the School of Medicine of the Instituto Politécnio Nacional in Mexico City. In May of this year, he was invited to give a Plenary Lecture and conduct workshops at the XXI Mexican Society of Immunology in Querétaro.

A number of questions raised by UCLA researchers concerned the lack of communication between the communities they study in Mexico, particularly in Chiapas and Oaxaca, with immigrants from those regions living in Los Angeles. As one Ph.D. student remarked, many people who return from LA are impressed with the research work that is being done at UCLA on their region(s), but the locals don’t know about this work and want to be able to access it.

Consul General Sada concurred, saying he had just discovered several such studies and that L.A.-based Mexican community groups were equally unaware of them. He promised to build connections between local migrants and the university by inviting UCLA professors to present their publications and research findings to the relevant community organizations.

Two major issues were identified in the ensuing discussion. First, it is very difficult for U.S. researchers to have their work published in translation in Mexico, and second, greater institutional support is needed to facilitate information exchange between the two countries. As the meeting came to a close, it seemed possible that Casa California, a beautiful conference facility in Mexico City purchased by the University of California several years ago, may become a venue for such exchanges.