Across the Border
texasmonthly.com: What led you to write about Mexican politics?
Dick J. Reavis: It sure wasn’t the pay or prestige: American readers are essentially indifferent to Mexico; Europe and the Middle East are much “nearer” to most Americans.
Ultimately, I don’t think we know the whys of anything we do unless we do it for simple reasons, like money. (Of course, a part of my interest in reporting on Mexico was that the job paid.)
I grew up in Texas, aware, not that another world is possible, but that one exists just south of the Rio Grande. From childhood I knew that at least two approaches exist to doing or thinking about anything, the American way and the Mexican way, because Mexico is not merely a different country, but an embodiment of another civilization. It’s in many ways as different from the U.S. as China or India.
For reasons unknown to me, I was always interested in politics. Once I discovered Mexico’s political system, I realized that it was more sophisticated and more interesting than ours. I have since kept up with Mexican politics at least as much as American politics. A part of Mexican politics is that country’s history, which is much more colorful than that of the U.S., even more than the past of Texas.
texasmonthly.com: How often are you in Mexico on assignment?
DR: That depends on various things. I have lived in Mexico full-time, twice, and for years I went there three or four times annually to write. Sadly, I now go less often.
texasmonthly.com: What were you doing in Mexico City when Aleida Alavez called you about the election controversy?
DR: Waiting for something to happen.
texasmonthly.com: Would you consider yourself a supporter of Andrés Manuel López Obrador?
DR: As an American, I have no business proclaiming support for any Mexican candidate.
texasmonthly.com: How might a reporter who supports the other side write about your experiences?
DR: Though I deny taking sides in partisan affairs in Mexico, my understanding of Mexico and my methods are different from those of most American reporters.
The American press, generally speaking, treats Mexican elections as American elections, Mexico as a child of the United States. The American press, for example, has billed the current controversy in Mexico as a repeat of the American presidential election scandal of 2000. It’s as if everything was already known here, and the job for reporters was to find the analogies to an American experience.
American reporters, as a rule, don’t go into the field in the way that I do. They go to press conferences, and they interview public leaders. That’s where the “news” comes from.
In the United States, such journalistic formalism, its advocates say, produces stories that are objective, or at least, fair and balanced. I only want to tell stories about things that I see.
texasmonthly.com: If this election was a “battle between the struggling and the prosperous,” why don’t the struggling masses win in a landslide?
DR: The PRD probably did a poor job of addressing two influences: television and consumer credit.
texasmonthly.com: You write that your journey taught you “much about how Mexican politics works today.” What would you say is the main lesson you learned?
DR: 1. That corruption is a problem in at least Mexico’s three major parties, just as campaign financing is a problem in both American parties. 2. That we will probably never know who won the presidential election. 3. That grass-roots organizations produce one kind of democracy, television-based appeals, another.
texasmonthly.com: What about your experiences during the voter controversy surprised you the most?
DR: I was impressed by the persistence of the PRD and in general, of the Mexican people. They are no longer as fatalistic as they were twenty years ago. Many of them now believe that democratic mechanisms can be made to work. On this side of the Rio Grande, public opinion seems to be drifting in the other direction.
texasmonthly.com: What, in your mind, is the hope of Mexican politics?
DR: The politics of which Mexicans?