Vicente Fox hasn’t been in public office since his six-year term as President of Mexico ended in 2006, but it was obvious last Thursday that his very public appearance at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Theatre on the University of San Diego campus was a welcomed sight.
“It was so surreal when he just appeared,” explained Mario Domogma, a junior finance major at USD, shortly after having his picture taken with Fox (see Domogma, third from right). “I’m from Tijuana. Growing up there, I’d see him on my TV and on fliers. My mom voted for him. Being a student here and getting to see him on our campus now is just amazing.”
Fox’s presidential victory in the 2000 election was an historic achievement in Mexico politics. He is the first presidential candidate from an opposition party — the Partido Accion Nacional (PAN) — to win the post, snapping more than seven decades of single party rule by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) at the time. Fox’s victory brought with it an opportunity for change. He ultimately wasn’t able to get enough support for some major reforms, but did make inroads on the drug war and strides in the economy before his term ended. Felipe Calderon, whose term expires in 2012, succeeded him.
Fox, the keynote speaker for USD’s 15th annual Sister Sally Furay Lecture, has been busy since leaving office. He does public speaking engagements, wrote a 2007 book, “Revolution of Hope: The Life, Faith and Dreams of a Mexican President,” and is raising money to build the Vicente Fox Center of Studies, Library and Museum in his home state of Guanajuato where he was governor from 1995-99.
During his speech last Thursday, “Advancing U.S.-Mexican Relations in the 21st Century” Fox commented on the need for U.S. and Mexico to “build bridges” instead of having a border wall, or, as he put it, “a symbol of fear”; the challenge, but necessity of creating a new North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); leadership development, drug violence, legalizing drugs — something he opposed as president but recently expressed support to decrease violence — and about Centro Fox, a center for the advancement and study of democracy where Mexico’s poorest people have opportunities to better themselves.
Fox’s thoughts on drug violence focused on what it has done to future generations in Mexico. “We’re losing kids ages 14 to 25. … Somewhere these kids lost their way. How many are from broken homes? How many would like to be attending a university right now? It has to do with creating opportunities.”
He mentioned visiting San Diego’s Reality Changers, a local non-profit organization founded and run by USD graduate alumnus Christopher Yanov. Fox said he was impressed with its program to help inner-city teenagers become first-generation college students through academic support, financial assistance and leadership training.
“He talked about reconstructing Mexico’s brand,” said Monica Phelps-Zambrano, a business programs coordinator through USD’s Office of Corporation and Professional Education who is originally from Mazatlan, Mexico. “It’s losing so much credibility when there is so much potential in every way. He seems very engaged in trying to get everyone, including young people, to participate, do community work and raise the level of everything.”
Fox expressed hope for progress on immigration reform and support for those working to improve themselves. “Mexico’s migrants are my heroes. They are the ones making a great contribution to this nation. They’re loyal, hard-working family people who are just looking to improve themselves and their families. There needs to be a change of perception because many have been misrepresented that they’re not good for the nation.”
Fox encouraged programs that builds new leaders with the mindset to “do good for others, have the energy to move things ahead and create change.”
Domogma said Fox’s speech was motivational. “I need to check it out more (Centro Fox) but it seems like something where USD students and students from Mexico could work together on cohesive leadership. I liked what he said about leadership. He was encouraging us as students that we have to take it upon ourselves to take that step forward. It makes me feel empowered, more aware that I can be a positive leader and can make a positive impact in the U.S. and in Mexico.”
David Shirk, director of USD’s Trans-Border Institute, felt Fox’s impressions during his entire USD visit were in sync. “I think the things he spoke about, the ideals and vision he’s trying to promote is very much in keeping with the values of the University of San Diego. He was educated at a Catholic (Jesuit) institution, Universidad Iberoamericana. Many times during his visit he mentioned the mission of promoting social justice. Most importantly, whether you agree or disagree with what he said, this talk advances what TBI is about, which is promoting dialogue and understanding between the U.S. and Mexico and to address shared challenges by embracing our mutually beneficial opportunities across the border.”
— Ryan T. Blystone
Photo courtesy of Diana Rodriguez-Agiss ‘12