"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 16 October 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Bottoms Up


[Man Sign]

The giant sucking sound coming

out of Washington, D.C., on

Sunday wasn't just the

anti-immigrant crowd making like

Speedy Gonzalez. Sure, tens of

thousands of Spanish-speakers

marching on the Mall must strike

fear in the heart of the

FAIR-minded folk - especially

when the marchers are waving

Mexican flags and placards that

read "We are a borderless

people." Rather than vainly

defend Fortress America while

the drawbridge was down, the

Beltway blue bloods retreated,

perhaps drowning their sorrows

with another disaffected

minority, the dismal scientists

who think the economy needs

nothing stronger than a shot in

the arm.



The consensus majority, however,

seems to have swallowed the

Reform Party rhetoric that this

once-great country is "going

down the tubes."


Perot's populist brew, despite

his watered-down poll numbers,

has built up considerable brand

awareness, thanks to his

infomercials and his slippery

grasp of hemispheric hydraulics.

"Yes, folks, we predicted it,"

he proclaims, at once proudly

and ominously. "There is a giant

sucking sound coming out of

Mexico. They're sucking your

jobs down there, they're sucking

our dollars down there."



Now, some factories did head

south with the North American

Free Trade Agreement; like all

such treaties, NAFTA liberates

capital to follow the bottom

line rather than be bound by

petty local concerns like

unemployment. The infusion of

borderless assets, said

boosters, would fuel an export

boom by teaching campesinos to

vote with their dollars instead

of their feet. Critics compared

free trade to a free lunch,

claiming the scheme could

succeed only through

institutionalizing the lowest

common denominator on both sides

of the fence. But despite

runaway plants and a steady tide

of illegal immigrants, the

pan-American pact has turned out

to be less a sump pump draining

our standard of living than a

trickle-up conduit of the

continent's confused consumer

culture. Take a look at El

Machino in action.



Chevys contrived its nationwide

success with Fresh Mex,

combining the clamor of a

cantina, the manner of a

minimall, and the

last-possible-minute inventory

of a modern assembly line. For

diners who don't know the

difference between Cesar Chavez

and Caesar salad, pronouncing

fajitas is adventure enough.

Maybe this maragaritaville

didn't make the list of "50 Best

Hispanic Restaurants" - but,

hey, it's a helluva lot closer

than Mexico. Besides, having El

Machino manufacture abuelita's

authentic tortillas is as near

as most folks will get to living

in a two-Mercedes household.


Just ask Juan Valdez.



While Colombia's quicker

picker-upper needs no marketing

campaign, for four decades the

country has hired a fictitious

cafetero and his mule to

stimulate US demand for "the

richest coffee in the world."

Producing the superior-quality

washed arabica used in

Café de Colombia is a

painstaking, labor-intensive

project. Yet the carefree,

smiling Valdez seems to have

learned to "grab life by the

beans" - if his hands are full

at harvest time, he's more

likely to be hang gliding than

hauling burlap. In an industry

that demands exacting standards

but allows for little mechanical

assistance, he is an

iconoclastic icon indeed: an

upwardly mobile peasant who has

risen so high he barely needs to

work - or speak Spanish.



Indeed, our peripatetic neighbors

who dream of el norte can now

run for the border without ever

crossing the Tropic of Cancer,

much less the Rio Grande.

Likewise, low-income Middle

Americans in search of

mexcellence can enjoy a little

Latin flavor without daring to

drink the water. Who needs virtual

community - the faux taqueria

has become the common

ground of our new Double-Decker

drive-through democracy.


As National Hispanic Heritage

Monthwinds to a close, let us

celebrate our Mixtecan identity

and our newfound sense of place.

Clever marketing mexploitation has

kept the Colossus of the North from

falling down completely and the

South from rising too much further

than the kitchen or the fields.

Like the twisted Eyeball straws

that have taken up their posts at

Taco Bells everywhere, the waves

of restless strangers with a

thirst for opportunity have

been converted into reliable

sentinels for a true New World

Order. Forget privatizing Pemex -

take a sip of PepsiCo's cultura.

It's good to the last drop.

courtesy of Bartleby