"John Clark’s Mexican connection

In his Sagamore Institute office near the canal on Michigan St., John Clark, a senior fellow for policy research at this local think tank, continues to mull the feedback he and his colleagues have been receiving since the release of their report, Connecting Mexico and the Hoosier Heartland.

The report, says Clark, has drawn “a lot of attention.” It has opened the door to more research – a follow-up paper with policy recommendations was released Aug. 31 — but, says Clark, Sagamore’s initial findings, which were intended to provide a clearer picture of economic and demographic linkages between Mexico and Indiana, have also been controversial. “Some people are really angry at the Sagamore Institute,” says Clark. “They’re really angry with me.”

The source of that anger has to do with peoples’ raw feelings concerning illegal immigration, an issue that hadn’t erupted when the Mexican Consul in Indianapolis, Sergio Aguilera, requested that Sagamore undertake this research.

“The anxiety that people feel about Mexicans in Indiana is an enormous problem,” says Clark, who points out that a shortage of good information and an abundance of inaccurate information about the Mexico/Indiana connection served as impetus for the study. He cites, as one example, how a northwest Indiana newspaper printed the assertion of a general assemblyman that there are 300,000 illegal immigrants in Indiana. “That number is maybe eight times bigger than what we came up with,” says Clark. “This idea that one out of every 20 human beings in the state of Indiana is an illegal immigrant is unrealistic. But it still has taken a grip because for people who are afraid of this, it makes perfect sense.”

The Sagamore study found that Indiana ranked sixth in the United States in the value of its exports to Mexico, and that the total value of imports and exports between Mexico and Indiana was $5,454,052,554. According to the study, the state of Indiana and its counties received an estimated $200,249,224 in tax revenue from Mexicans living here, including naturalized citizens and non-naturalized immigrants.

The study also found that Mexican population growth accounted for nearly half of Indiana’s entire population growth between 2000 and 2004. The size of the Mexican population increased by more than 60,000 in that period — Indianapolis had the fifth-highest rate of Hispanic population growth of any metropolitan area in the United States.

“The reality,” says Clark, “is Indiana needs Mexico and a deeper reality is that Indiana needs a prosperous Mexico — a Mexico that has jobs that pay well and consumers who can afford to buy products that are made here.”

Clark says the Mexico/Indiana study has provided a useful to way to think about what calls “glocalization,” the idea that global issues and local issues are interdependent in ways we are just beginning to understand. “In some ways this makes problems worse because we can’t count on national government to protect us,” Clark says. “On another level it creates a dizzying array of possible solutions because now, whether they want to or not, local organizations – from state governments to churches – have a capacity to carry out an independent foreign policy that didn’t exist before.”

But this blurring of traditional lines of authority makes people feel vulnerable. Clark believes glocalization can help reduce this anxiety. “Let’s try to integrate these people by sharing an appreciation for the values we have. There are things here we are proud of and we should feel confident enough in these values that when people come here looking for jobs, they’re going to want to share in these things, too. We can’t think of the workers who come here as laborers, but as people we can educate and talk to.”

Up to this point, Clark thinks Indianapolis has managed to deal effectively with its burgeoning Hispanic population. “Part of that is fortuitous,” he says. “It’s the fact that we haven’t been the first destination. So people are going through that initial disorientation with social skills, job skills and the process of reacclimation somewhere else. We don’t have neighborhoods where a majority speaks Spanish as a first language, and when you don’t have that, assimilation comes a lot easier.”

This, however, is changing. Recent census data confirms that Indianapolis is now becoming a primary destination, which will create a new set of challenges. “After recognizing that we can’t wait for Washington, and after recognizing that it is in Indiana’s interest for Mexico to be prosperous, we can start to talk differently about some of our policies,” says Clark. “With newcomers, we have to encourage integration and circulation.”

Clark insists that building relationships between people, communities and countries is not a zero-sum game. “If we invest in providing training for Mexicans here in Indiana, it isn’t a loss for Indiana if those Mexicans go back to Mexico,” says Clark. Rather, he sees it as the basis for partnerships — reflecting a vision of Indiana being part of the international economy that has been openly encouraged by such Indiana political leaders as Orr and Daniels, Lugar, Hudnut, Goldsmith and Peterson.

“In opening up Indianapolis to the creative class, you end up being welcoming to everyone,” observes Clark, referring to the group economist Richard Florida has said drives prosperous communites. “It’s hard to close yourself to one part of the world while opening yourself to another.”

To read the Sagamore Institute’s study, Connecting Mexico and the Hoosier Heartland, go to www.sipr.org.




Recommended for you