Thousands crowd to hear Mexican president speak

The Associated Press
Friday March 23, 2001


FRESNO — Often scorned at home and ignored in the United States, migrant laborers found themselves celebrated as heroes Thursday by Mexican President Vicente Fox. 

Nearly 3,000 people crowded into a convention hall to hear Fox, who praised field workers and promised to work on issues that matter most in their lives. About 2,000 more listened outside through loudspeakers. 

Fox pledged to push Mexico’s Congress to allow people to vote from outside the country, to work with U.S. officials on a solution to long-standing disputes over immigration and to make it easier for expatriates to return to Mexico. 

“You are important, believe me, very important,” Fox said, as cheers drowned out his words. 

Such talk is a change for Mexican leaders. Money sent home by expatriates is one of Mexico’s largest sources of income. But past leaders did little to court the men and women who fled their homes to work long hours and difficult jobs in the United States. 

Fox campaigned in California last May and views expatriates as a source of financial and moral support for his right-of-center National Action Party and its legislative agenda. 

“You are permanent ambassadors of Mexican culture,” he told the crowd. “You have become a link between the United States and Mexico.” 

Fox pledged Mexican consulates would do more to investigate civil rights abuses against Mexicans in the United States and said he would devote more money to rural Mexico so people might not have to leave. 

After the morning rally with agriculture workers, Fox visited an elementary school in San Fernando with first lady Laura Bush. 

Fox asked Bush to use her influence to help Mexicans working in the U.S. get an affordable university education. 

The first lady told The Associated Press afterward that the federal government should not be involved. 

“I think that’s something that’s really left up to the state,” she said. 

Gov. Gray Davis, who accompanied Bush and Fox to the school, has said it would be too expensive to offer in-state tuition to non-citizens. 

Still, Fox’s plea won repeated standing ovations from the largely Latino crowd of parents. 







About two dozen anti-immigration protesters lined the street outside the Century Plaza Hotel in Century City where Fox was due for a town hall meeting. Barry Bartindale 56, a woodworker from Los Angeles, said he was protesting “the invasion of the U.S. by Mexico.” 

Fox’s visit to Fresno also drew about 100 protesters, but with a different message. Angel Noriega said both the Mexican president and Davis could do more for immigrants. 

“Things are better than before, but we’re waiting for more,” Noriega said. 

But the majority of people at the Fresno event seemed enthusiastic, saying Fox’s visit gives overdue attention to immigrant laborers. 

“Finally, we have a president who seems concerned with the plight of poor people,” said Jessie Oviedo, 56, who came to the United States from Mexico as a child and worked as a farm laborer before eventually landing a government clerical job. 

“This is a big day for us,” said Emilio Bolanos, 80, who showed up at the convention center at 6 a.m. for a front-row seat. “President Fox represents the future.” 

Fox’s tour with Davis also represents the growing influence of Latinos in the nation’s most populous state. The governor noted that more than a third of California’s 34 million residents are of Mexican descent. 

“We are not just neighbors, we are partners, and we are partners for life,” Davis said.