More than anything else, the 550,000 first-generation Mexicans living in North Carolina need information and encouragement to become better integrated in the state, Mexican Consul General Javier Diaz de Leon said Friday.
The Mexican government opened a consulate in Raleigh in 2000 to issue visas and other documents, to promote business with Mexico and to help Mexican nationals with immigration matters and other problems.
“Our job is to engage, provide assistance, provide information for them,” Diaz de Leon told editors of The News & Observer on Friday. “The largest challenge for all these people is lack of information, not the lack of resources available, not the lack of institutions that are willing to help them out.”
About 30 percent of all current U.S. immigrants were born in Mexico, far outstripping any other single country, according to the Pew Research Center.
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Many Mexicans used to come to the U.S. for work, sending money to families back home. That is changing, Diaz de Leon said.
“One of the greatest misperceptions on migration is that migration is temporary, and it used to be temporary,” he said. “It used to be circular.”
Instead of coming to the United States for work and eventually returning home to their families, immigrants are bringing their families here, creating a need for integrated communities. Diaz hopes working with local governments and training local officers in cultural engagement and sensitivity will aid that endeavor.
He also encourages immigrant families to be more engaged in the community by attending PTA meetings or utilizing neighborhood resources.
“You need to be very proud of who you are. You need to be proud of your background, your Mexican culture, your parents, and that’s very good,” Diaz de Leon said. “But it’s also critically important to understand that if you’re not going back to Mexico, you also need to be very proud of being a Carolinian.”
Diaz de Leon also aims to raise awareness among both Americans and Mexicans about the mutually beneficial relationship that exists between North Carolina and Mexico.
Mexico is the second-largest international trade partner for North Carolina, second to Canada. Every year, $7.2 billion is traded between the state and Mexico, and more than 180,000 North Carolina jobs depend on that relationship, Diaz de Leon said.
North Carolina has also had representation in Mexico City for more than 10 years, creating connections that lead to business and exports.
“An economic relationship goes both ways, and we feel very strongly about that,” Diaz de Leon said.
Diaz de Leon emphasized the economic relationship between Mexico and North Carolina that also exists within the state, due to the work of immigrants.
“They do pay taxes, and they do create jobs, and they are supporting some of the most critical industries in the state,” he said. “The construction and the agricultural industries in the state could not survive without them.”
Diaz de Leon was appointed in April 2013 by Mexican President Enrique Peña-Nieto and has been with the Mexican Foreign Service for 22 years. Before coming to Raleigh, he worked as deputy consul in San Diego and New York City and as head of the office of immigration and Hispanic affairs at the Mexican Embassy in Washington.
A Mexico City native, Diaz de Leon ultimately hopes his work will ensure better perceptions of the country from which he came and solidify good relations with his new home for the people he represents.
“We are very proud of where we come from, we are very proud of our traditions and our background,” he said. “But we don’t want to be perceived as people who are stuck in the past. We want to be perceived as a country that’s looking to the future.”