I visited Phoenix at the end of Hispanic Heritage Month. It was a symbolic moment to acknowledge the strong relationship Mexico has built with Arizona as well as the important and beneficial impact the Mexican community has had on the state.
The Oct. 13-14 visit was fruitful and engrossing. I had distinct meetings with members of the Mexican community in Arizona and the chance to hear about their needs, interests and success stories while promoting health, education and assistance services that positively impact their empowerment and protection.
I also met with authorities from major academic institutions such as Arizona State University (ASU) and its Thunderbird School of Global Management to foster the development of educational programs as well as the connections between Mexico and Arizona through academic, technical, scientific and cultural exchanges.
Meetings with political actors such as Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and the leadership of the Arizona state Legislature were also part of my agenda. It was especially important to acknowledge their support for migrant causes and Senate Bill 1420, which accepts the Mexican Consular ID as a valid form of identification in the state of Arizona.
Arizona and Sonora have a strong, longstanding bond
During the reception hosted by the Phoenix Committee on Foreign Relations, I told the audience that “I believe that the present of Arizona and the U.S. cannot be understood without [understanding] its shared history with Mexico.”
During my two-day visit, I had the chance to witness the strong bond between Mexico and Arizona, especially through the Arizona-Sonora Megaregion. It represents a great example of transborder collaboration that has been growing rapidly during the last few decades.
The relationship goes back more than 60 years, when former Sonora Gov. Alvaro Obregón and then Arizona Gov. Paul J. Fannin reached an agreement in 1959 to bring the two regions and countries together. This important agreement has been very successful: Mexico is now Arizona’s main trading partner. In 2020, their bilateral trade generated almost $16 billion in revenue.
Mexico is also Arizona’s largest export destination and its first source of imports. Mexico is intrinsically linked to the state of Arizona and deeply involved in the daily lives of Arizona residents due to their geographical proximity.
It's not just our economy that ties us
There are 35 Mexican companies in Arizona that employ more than 5,000 people, and more than 96,000 jobs are supported by trade and investment with Mexico, both directly and indirectly.
Mexico accounts for 39% of all imported fruits and vegetables consumed in North America each year. Nogales, Ariz., which is on the Mexican border, serves as the main gateway to other North American markets for Mexican products that include avocados, mangos, tomatoes, grapes, squash, cucumbers and peppers.
Approximately 330,000 trucks cross the border annually through Nogales, bringing in about $3 billion worth of Mexican fresh produce.
Economic ties are an essential part of our special bond, but the cultural, social and educational aspects cannot be ignored. Our border is culturally porous and we share traditions, food and values.
Mexican restaurants are famous throughout Arizona and give a glimpse of the excellent Mexican cuisine that is available. Before the pandemic, visitors from Mexico crossed the border for groceries, shopping and visiting. Our daily lives are indeed intertwined.
It’s worth remembering that approximately 36% of the total population in Phoenix are of Mexican origin, and 30,000 Mexican women own small- or medium-sized businesses in Arizona’s capital. Phoenix has always been keen on developing projects to improve the everyday lives of the community.
It can be argued that Arizona’s relationship with Mexico, especially with Sonora, the Mexican state directly south, does set a good example for other states and countries when it comes to building solid and rich ties.
Border reopening is a perfect opportunity
Despite the pandemic, the North American region never suspended relations and keeps cooperating for the benefit of the entire region.
The pandemic was, however, a loud wake-up call that brought the challenges we face in our daily lives into sharp focus: How can we protect our people and communities when they need it the most? How can we adapt to changing conditions?
This experience will certainly encourage us to evolve and develop sustainable ways to be ready to face future challenges. It also highlighted the importance of moving forward as an integrated region.
Since the border reopened on Nov. 8, it is important to revitalize the activities and various mechanisms on a local scale to ensure that the needs of the border areas are met during these difficult times.
Arizona relies heavily on visitors from Mexico to boost its economy. According to many estimates, in 2019 Arizona had four million overnight visitors from Mexico who spent $1.4 billion. Approximately 84% of them visited Arizona for leisure and 16% came for business.
After 20 months of closure to nonessential travel, the border reopening is a step in the right direction for both Arizona and Mexico. It will hopefully bring further constructive opportunities and open new horizons for a better and safer future together.
As we can see, the importance of this bilateral relationship is so broad and deep that we should care to keep it on the best track possible, which is forward.
Esteban Moctezuma Barragán is ambassador of Mexico to the U.S.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: How can Arizona and Mexico can grow, now that border has reopened