Air Date: October 22, 1996||
Various residents of Mexico;
Gurinder Chadha, filmmaker
(This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely
distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)
JEFF MARTIN: This is Common Ground, a program on world affairs and the people who
MALE (Translator): To get to the heart of the matter, it shouldn’t be a simple
commercial treaty, but rather a multinational treaty. A free movement of capital, goods, and
MARTIN: In this edition of Common Ground, the North American Free Trade Agreement
and human rights in Mexico. Amnesty International has just issued a warning that human rights in
Mexico are worsening. And then later in the program, England’s immigrant population is changing
the culture of that ancient nation.
GURINDER CHADHA: The cultural expressions of the diasporic generations is, for me, one of
the most exciting new paradigms.
MARTIN: Common Ground is produced by the Stanley Foundation, I’m Jeff Martin.
During the debate over the North American Free Trade Agreement, many activists pushed for
provisions meant to strengthen labor and democratic rights. For the most part those activists
felt that Washington and Mexico City largely ignored their concerns. Three years later, new
reports charge that human rights violations in both Mexico and the United States are on the
upswing. Reporter Kent Paterson recently traveled throughout Mexico and the US border region
where he found grassroots activists who say NAFTA and human rights should be given a second look.
CONGRESSMAN BERNIE SANDERS: And what many of us believe is that the NAFTA Agreement was
arranged by the very wealthiest people in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
PATERSON: In 1993, Congressman Bernie Saunders of Vermont addressed rural activists from
the United States and Mexico, meeting to oppose the passage of the North American Free Trade
SANDERS: …and that the major beneficiaries of that agreement are going to be the very
wealthy and not the workers or the farmers of those three countries.
PATERSON: A fierce debate arose in the US Congress over the trade packs expected impact
on the environment, jobs, and the human rights of workers on both sides of the border. Proponents
argue NAFTA would tie Mexico and the US together in a prosperous economic union, while
encouraging democracy south of the border. Now three years later, some charge that democratic and
human rights have been forgotten in the business of NAFTA.
PATERSON: Hello sir, what’s your citizenship?
PATERSON: We’re were at the junction of El Paso, Texas, and Cuidad Juarez, Mexico,
thousands of people visit one of the world’s greatest border crossing every day. But NAFTA’s
promise of closer relations is not always evident at the frontier. Long delays force Mexican
visitors to sit in their vehicles as US border guards scrutinize documents. National Guardsman
wearing combat fatigues shuffle bags through x-ray machines. Called “Operation Hard-line” by the
US Custom Service, the search has prompted public criticism from the Mexican council in El Paso.
But Roger Meyer, spokesman for the US Custom Service, says the stepped up enforcement is
MEYER: We do receive complaints about not only the frequency of inspections, but the
lines. However, the numbers show that we are having a lot of success, we’re seizing a lot of
drugs. Drug abuse is a national problem, a national epidemic. It’s unfortunate that the
law-biding citizens have to be subjected to the occasional long lines and the expanded searches.
But it is something that is necessary. The reports have shown that up to 70% of the drugs
entering the United States are coming through the 2,000 miles US-Mexican border.
PATERSON: Not far away, border patrol agents are deployed to prevent illegal Mexican
immigrants from entering the United States. Just to the north at Semlin Park, New Mexico, a new
fence built by the United States will divide the two nations. The Mexican government has
expressed unease over such Clinton administration policies and protested incidents including the
1996 police beating of undocumented workers in Riverside, California. Reports compiled in the
last three years by the US based organization, Human Rights Watch documented numerous cases of
brutality committed by border control agents. Mexican nationals and US citizens of Latino descent
alleged physical and sexual abuse, shootings, and improper detentions. Mexican human rights
organizations are also critical.
Francesca Jimenez is a spokesperson for the Chihuahua Commission and Solidarity, with the defense
of human rights or Cossydach a non-governmental group based in northern Mexico.
JIMENEZ (Translator): Contrary to a good faith collaboration between the
countries, one can see how Mexico has been effected in other ways. One of these is a concern
since we are neighbors of the United States, over the increase in military forces stationed along
the border of the two countries. This is contrary to a spirit of goodwill that the Free Trade
Agreement should have produced. It creates a conflict of situation because it’s Mexican workers
who are having their human rights violated. They don’t receive dignified treatment.
PATERSON: Supporters of NAFTA cited jobs as a key reason to approve the pact. They argue
that greater investment in trade would create employment opportunities on both sides of the
border. But after the December 1994 Paso devaluation, almost one million Mexicans lost their
jobs, creating a renewed push to the North arrest of undocumented Mexicans by the US government.
Subsequently soared by 40% between early 1995 and 1996.
Some of NAFTA’s critics argue the agreement failed to consider the long-standing labor
relationship between Mexico and the United States. With US agri business claiming a dependence on
Mexican labor, proposals for a new legal program of guest workers are reemerging in the United
States business community. The question is, whose interests and rights will be protected. Antonio
Villalba is a spokesman for the Authentic Workers Front of Mexico, an independent union group
representing about 35,000 members. He says that if NAFTA allows the free transit of goods, it
should be amended to also permit the free circulation of people.
VILLALBA (Translator): To get to the heart of the matter, it shouldn’t be a simple
commercial treaty, but rather a multinational treaty. A free movement of capital, goods, and
people. In the European union, there’s a citizenship status that’s called Community Citizen. And
the Community Citizen can live in Portugal, Spain, Greece, Germany, France, and travel in any of
the 15 countries of the community. We’re proposing the same concept here.
PATERSON: The post NAFTA human rights issue was not just confined to the increasingly
tense border region. Here in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero, labor, peasant, and
neighborhood groups met in 1996 to counter what they charge as wide spread repression of their
political and democratic rights. Dramatized by the June 1995 Aguas Blancas massacre of 17 members
of the peasant organization of the southern Sierra Madres by the Guerrero state police.
Since NAFTA’s enactment, scores of opposition activists in Guerrero have been murdered by police
or mysterious gunmen. Others are in jail, disappeared, or on the run from police.
Higinio Torres is a fugitive leader of the March 6 movement in Guerrero, an organization of small
farmers who want democratic and economic change in a region of Mexico long dominated by single
party rule and rural bosses. Torez says that in the eviction of protesters from the town of San
Marcus last spring, he was almost murdered three times. But the Guerrero state government blames
Torres and other opposition leaders for the violence and has issued warrants for their arrest.
Andres Campusano, spokesman for Guerrero governor Angel Aguirre, claims there are no political
prisoners in Guerrero. He says the people in jail are there for damaging property and breaking
the law. And he adds that one of the priorities of the Aguirre administration is the promotion of
COMPUSANO (Translator): The days of Aguas Blancas, which hurts all of us in
Guerrero has been magnified to an extent in which it would appear that this happens every day in
the state of Guerrero. And that’s just not true. What happened is very regrettable. And I feel a
lot for my peasant brothers who were the object of the vile aggression. But that’s not a
generalized thing in this state. I think that after the bad experience of Aguas Blancas the same
thing will never be repeated in this state, if God wills it.
PATERSON: But since the Aguas Blancas massacre other political activists have been killed
in Guerrero. In Mexico more than 400 members of the opposition PRD party have been murdered
nationwide since 1989. Despite the carnage, the US State Department recently declared that the
Mexican government generally respects the rights of its citizens. Scores of complaints made by
Mexican human rights advocates to the inner American Human Rights Commission, tell a different
story. Although the Mexican government has both federal and state human rights commissions, some
citizen activists say they have no confidence in the officials. Rocio Masino is a leader of the
peasant organization of the Southern Seitta Modrays??, a group that suffered the killings of 27
members since 1995.
MASINO (Translator): We have more faith in non-governmental human rights
organizations because they’ve been helping us. We’re talking about Amnesty International, the
French human rights group. And here in Mexico Rocio Culebro’s group, Human Rights for All. As
well as the human rights promotion organization of Mari Claire Acosta in Mexico City. All these
organizations are supporting us. We have more trust in non-governmental human rights
organizations because the government human rights organizations don’t benefit us.
PATERSON: At this forum in Acapulco, a Mexican and US human rights groups heard witnesses
testify about alleged political assassinations, disappearances, and police brutality. Eric Olson,
a staff member of the non-profit Washington Office on Latin America, says the US Congress omitted
human rights concerns when it took up NAFTA.
OLSON: There were actually hearings on the hill on human rights in Mexico as part of the
thinking that went into the Free Trade Agreement. Ultimately, it was left out. Ultimately, the
only sort of, a rights issue that was included indirectly were the labor side agreements. And
those, even those agreements were fairly weak.
PATERSON: Three years later a deteriorating political climate in Guerrero and other parts
of southern Mexico, has the region in a state of war between the Mexican army and a new rebel
movement, the Popular Revolutionary Army. According to Eric Olson should be reconsidered in the
context of NAFTA.
OLSON: If there’s going to be economic development, economic growth which presumably
everybody wants, there has to be basic respect for human rights, basic democratic principles been
observed. And I think it will ultimately undermined any kind of benefits that come from a trade
relation between US and Mexico. And I’m afraid that the United States government has not placed
enough importance on democracy, human rights issues in its relationship with Mexico. Its entirely
focused on the economic relation. I think…
PATERSON: Some non-governmental human rights groups advocate making international loans
contingent on compensation of human rights victims. Others favor putting the matter on the agenda
of trade agreements. Cossydach’s Eric Urizar says a revision of NAFTA could incorporate human
rights. But he cautions against making one sided changes.
URIZAR (Translator): I think the great danger many times is wanting to become the
supreme judge who says rather or not rights are violated and who then issues demands. A little
like the policy the policy of former US President Jimmy Carter. I think that it would be valid to
demand respect for human rights from a country if the same thing is done for all the countries
who made the agreement. That’s to say that Mexico would also be able to sanction, revise,
observe, and condemn the violations that happen in the other countries. Many of the abuses that
happen to Mexican workers aren’t done by Mexicans, they’re done by North Americans. And the basic
rights of important sectors of the North American population are also affected.
PATERSON: Almost three years after NAFTA’s enactment, labor, democratic and immigration
controversies are unresolved between Mexico and the United States. At the same time, the human
rights issue is emerging in other pending trade pacts. For instance, some members of the European
Parliament now say human rights guarantees with enforceable sanctions must be part of any
expanded commercial ties between Mexico and European Union. And although human rights advocates
in Mexico and the United States are taking a second look at the issue. No such proposals are
being entertained by the respected governments.
For Common Ground, I’m Kent Paterson reporting.
MARTIN: When Common Ground continues, the impact of an increasingly diverse
population on England’s culture.
CHADHA: I think the world is much bigger than nationalist boundaries. I think the world
is, has a lot more to gain by being more open.
MARTIN: Printed transcripts of Common Ground and audio cassettes of this program
are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details on ordering. Common Ground
is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that conducts
varied programs and activities meant to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.
MALE: This happy breed of men, this little world, this precious stone set in the silver
sea. This blessed plot, this Earth, this realm, this England, this…
MARY GRAY DAVIDSON, Senior Producer: Shakespeare and Britain’s royal family are what
often come to mind when Americans think of England. But this England of centuries ago is far from
the reality today. Britain has seen an empire rise and fall since Shakespeare’s time. And for
several generations now, residents of the former colonies have been migrating to England. British
filmmaker, Gurinder Chadha, whose parents came from India breaks through old stereotypes of
England in her films to show the diversity and complexity of her country today.
CHADHA: The idea is that I’m resisting being categorized. And I think all too often
people always put race into the problematic and therefore culture into the problematic. And
people often, in Europe, you know, people obviously have quite a strong year or Eurocentric view
of the world. And what I like to present is the opposite of that. And to show that by having
several languages, several cultural backgrounds you’re actually living a much fuller and varied
life than if you were monocultural, monolingual. And I think that, I feel very much that I’m part
of a wide cultural force that is gaining more and more ground. I mean its been there, you know,
ever since people starting moving around the world. But its gained a lot of ground in the
As Salman Rushdie said, you know, “The twentieth century is the century of the migrant.” And I
think, you know, as we now move towards the millennium and the next century the cultural
expressions of the diasporic generations is, for me, one of the most exciting new paradigms,
cultural paradigms to happen.
DAVIDSON: That’s fascinating. I was wondering if, in order to live a full life, as you
mentioned, is it necessary to create what could be called a third identity and not to maintain
the traditions of the past and the life you might have left behind if you’re a migrant?
CHADHA: I’m not sure if it’s a third identity, because I think the nature of identity is
that it’s continually changing and continually shifting. I think that what’s happening is that as
we move into more of a kind of internationalist arena and as the world gets smaller and as
people, like myself, and other people like me in kind of cosmopolitan centers and cities around
the world—as people like me grow up and as newer generations come up and as we move ahead with
our kind of combinations of cultural influences and combined identities I think what we’ll end up
with is a way of living where we automatically all accept and assume a multiple sense of
identity. A very pluralistic society. And pluralism as the norm as opposed to essentialist
identities being the norm.
I mean there’s always a problem in this country when people talk about being American. Because,
you know, it always throws up all kinds of things. What’s an American?
DAVIDSON: In one of the recent films directed by Gurinder Chadha, she takes on some of
the more difficult issues facing both the former empire nation as well as the rest of modern
society. The film titled “Bhali on the Beach,” explores with great humor themes of racism,
feminism, family, tradition, and domestic violence by following a group of Asian women who live
in London on an outing to the English resort town of Blackpool. These women range from elderly
sari-clad immigrants trying to hold on to the values and tradition of the India they left decades
ago, to two teenage girls out to pick up some boys on the beach. Leading this disparate mix of
women is Simi, the director of this Saheli Asian Women’s Group.
SIMI (from film): Hello sisters. It is not often that we women get away from the
patriarchal demands made on us in our daily lives. Struggling between the double yoke of racism
and sexism that we bear. This is your day, have a female fun time. (women yelling yeah)
DAVIDSON: What you can’t see, because this is radio, is how Chadha pokes a little fun at
this feminist jargon, by fixing on the bewildered expressions of two of the older women. The
group first clashes when the older women learn that Asha, a pre-med student whom everyone has
high hopes for, is pregnant and by a Black man at that.
FEMALES (dialogue from film): Thirty years I have lived in this country. Never
have I known anything like this.
Look, so what if she’s pregnant? So what is the father’s black.
Tis the twentieth century, you know.
That will kill your family, you know.
It is not color. It is culture.
And why a black boy? What’s wrong with our men?
What about the child?
DAVIDSON: Eventually, the women overcome their generational differences when they come to
the defense of another character who is attempting to leave her abusive husband. In “Bhaj on the
Beach” and much of her other work, Gurinder Chadha says, “The pull is between tradition and the
freedom to create one’s own identity.”
CHADHA: And that’s one of the pleasures of growing up, you know, for me in Britain where
there’s a prescribed way of looking at things and doing things. Whether that’s an English way of
looking at things or whether it’s a more traditional Indian way of looking at things. And the
pleasure is finding that path between. And negotiating that path between. And coming up with
what’s right for you. I think also, what’s important to say is that in Britain I feel very very
lucky, because I’ve been part of a very vibrant development within my community to deal with
these matters in a very creative and celebratory way.
Obviously there are problems and these are conflicts, you know, in some ways. There are also a
lot of plus points. And one of the most exciting moments in my life has been to document this
process of defining what is a British-Asian identity. And that’s what I set about recording in
all my work. And because I’ve come from such a position of empowerment, I’m able to then look in
other countries where it’s still seen as the problematic, and hopefully try shifting away from
Recently, I was in France at a festival in Brittany where the theme was migrant communities of
Europe. And they showed all my work there. And also work by the kind of people equivalent to me
from France, that is North African, kind of young filmmakers. And it was very very sad, to me,
how kind of separate and isolated they seemed to be. And how their lives and everything about
them seemed to be wrapped in the problematic. They were a problem, living in France was a
problem, the French thought they were problems. I mean everything seemed very negative. And it
was very important to be at that festival and to be there with Bhaji, because of that sense of
celebration within that film. It was important for a lot of black and white people there to see
the film, and to see another European community kind of dealing with those questions in a kind of
DAVIDSON: Do you feel that England has dealt with immigrants better than the rest of
CHADHA: I don’t know about better. I mean, I think that there are plenty of problems in
England in the same way that there are in other countries. And there is institutionalized racism
within England, as there is in other parts of Europe. I mean, you know Europe was the supreme,
kind of, colonizer and imperialist power. So those facets of their kind of cultural heritage and
legacy is there. But I think what’s happened in Britain, perhaps this is strangely because of its
relationship with its colonies, it meant that we are allowed a voice of sorts, you know. I don’t
know how loud that will ever get.
But at the moment I’m quite optimistic about the way we’re able to make inroads across all kinds
of sections of life. In that we have MPs, we have Black and Asian MPs. We have black and Asian
artists, filmmakers, writers, you know. Every walk of life is represented by black communities
and Asian communities. And several have risen to quite, you know, famous status. Salman Rushdie
again, Hanit Kareshi, you know, I myself among, won in the British Film Awards—the Best British
Newcomer. So in that sense, I think there is a progressive element there that is coming to terms
with the fact that Britain is a pluralist country and has a responsibility to all its citizens.
The point is, is that there’s more to being Indian than coming from India. There’s more to
Indianness than India. And I think that what I represent is precisely a sense of Indianness,
which is very British and at the same time pretty much international now. And I think the world
is much bigger than nationalist boundaries, I think the world is, has a lot more to gain by being
more open. And if a culture is strong enough, you know, it survives. And cultures will change,
they always do, things will change century after century. It’s just a question of people being
more open minded and tolerant about how they change. And accepting change, rather than holding on
for the wrong reasons.
DAVIDSON: Director Gurinder Chadha’s film “Bhaji on the Beach” came out in 1993 and is
available on video cassette. Chadha says she’s now working on a screenplay set in Colombo, Sri
Lanka, about a young gay man coming of age in the midst of the Tamil-Sinhalese conflict there.
For Common Ground, I’m Mary Gray Davidson.
MARTIN: Our thanks to Michael Hordern and Living Shakespeare Inc., for the performance of
“King Richard II.” Also to First Look Pictures for the clips from “Bhaji on the Beach.”
For Common Ground, I’m Jeff Martin.
Cassettes and transcripts of this program are available. Transcripts are free, cassettes cost $5.
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Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
Copyright © 1996,
The Stanley Foundation