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President Fox during the 29th Richard W. Leopold Lecture. Photo Credit: Genie Lemieux/Evanston Photographic Studios

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox talks international cooperation

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox’s family has an unusual immigration story. In the late 19th century, his grandparents moved from Cincinnati, Ohio, to the Mexican state of Guanajuato— which is the opposite direction from that of the 11 million Mexican citizens who currently live in the U.S.

Fox, who served as Mexico’s 55th president from 2001 to 2006, was born in Mexico City in 1942, and was raised at his family’s ranch in San Francisco del Rincón, Guanajuato. Still, he managed to develop ties to his grandparents’ American culture. As a teenager, he studied English in Wisconsin for a year and, almost two decades later, returned to the U.S. for a management seminar at the Harvard Business School.

During his presidency, Mexico’s exports to the U.S. nearly doubled, and special attention was given to the development of strong relations with its NAFTA partners. Then-President George W. Bush even paid a special visit to Fox’s ranch in Guanajuato during his first international trip in 2001.

Since the completion of his term in 2006, Fox has focused on running Centro Fox—a presidential history center—along with giving speeches on different causes around the globe.   

In late October, Fox returned to the U.S. again—this time, to visit Northwestern’s Evanston campus. During the 29th annual Richard W. Leopold Lecture, he shared his thoughts on the relevance of NAFTA, the future of Mexico, the challenges President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador will face, and the implications of Donald Trump’s policies on U.S.-Mexico relations.

“We all migrate in one direction or the other,” said Fox. “Just as many people come here looking for opportunities, my grandfather did the same there [in Mexico]. My family found the American dream in Mexico.”

MEXICAN PRESENCE ON CAMPUS

Fox addressed a crowd of nearly 650 people, including diplomats, scholars and students, many of whom were either Mexican immigrants or first-generation Mexican-Americans. His presence on campus was especially relevant in the context of Chicago-area demographics: In 2016, almost 75 percent of Hispanics living in the city—more than 600,000 people—self-identified as Mexican.

Last year, in addition to the many Mexican-Americans among more than a thousand self-identified undergraduate Hispanics, there were 44 Mexican students enrolled at Northwestern. In 2017, Northwestern appointed alumnus Fernando Chico MBA ’76 to the Board of Trustees. Chico, an active member of the NU-Kellogg Club of Mexico, helps foster relations among the more than 700 alumni currently living in the country.

Last year, he and alumnus Adolfo Autrey MBA ’70 hosted a panel in Mexico City to discuss U.S.-Mexico relations with experts from Northwestern. Paul Gillingham, an associate professor in the Department of History and former director of the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program, was one of the panel participants. For him, events like the panel are especially relevant as Northwestern is “forming an identity as one of the leading institutions in the country for Mexican Studies.”

“We have, in the History Department alone, three faculty with specializations in Mexico,” Gillingham said. “This is more than just about every other university outside Mexico, including most of the Ivy League. Within the last three years, we have hosted speakers on Mexican Studies from, among other places, Oxford, Brown, Columbia, Dartmouth, Chapel Hill, University of Chicago and El Colegio de México. This is, in short, a good time to teach about and study Mexico at Northwestern.”

COOPERATION AS A MOTTO

Northwestern continues to partner with different Mexican institutions to further the exchange of information, academic ideas and learning opportunities for students and faculty from the U.S. and from Mexico.

This past September, Northwestern, along with Colegio de México and the NGO Artículo 19, launched the Mexican Intelligence Digital Archives (MIDAS). The online platform will eventually make public more than 300,000 documents pulled from the archives of  two of Mexico’s main intelligence agencies, Dirección Federal de Seguridad (DFS) and Dirección General de Investigaciones Políticas y Sociales (DGIPS).

Every summer, the Office of Undergraduate Learning Abroad sends Northwestern undergraduate students on a specially designed “Public Health in Mexico” study abroad program, hosted by Universidad Panamericana (UP) in Mexico City. The eight-week program is designed to provide Northwestern students with an in-depth, hands-on overview of the Mexican public health system. In 2015, the U.S. government recognized the program with a $25,000 grant from the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Initiative. The Northwestern-UP partnership also includes a dual-degree law program and a medical student exchange.

Northwestern’s initiatives abroad and at home benefit many students, professors and scholars, and aim to strengthen the ties between the two neighboring countries. As Fox pointed out during his lecture, the building of U.S.-Mexico relations took a long time and a lot of effort to be constructed and thus needs to be celebrated.

“I am not for walls,” Fox said. “As the Dalai Lama recommends, this world, our world, belongs to all of us. Not to one country, not to one nation, not to one president or prime minister. It belongs to us. It is our home. And we must work together.”

Photo Credit: Genie Lemieux/Evanston Photographic Studios