Monday, January 15, 2007


Immigration as a topic makes people say and do stupid things.

Mr. Ramirez, 20, received his change in American coins and said he liked the chain’s new “Pizza por Pesos” promotion. He had been in the United States for 15 days — his home is in Guanajuato, Mexico — and he wanted to spend the last of his Mexican currency.

“I just arrived,” he said in Spanish, smiling nervously. “It’s my first time here.”

The employees at this Pizza PatrĂ³n in East Dallas, one of 59 in five Southwestern and Western states, were still puzzling over the conversion rates almost a week after the chain started accepting peso bills on Jan. 8.

But the promotion has already hit a nerve in the nationwide immigration debate. The company’s Dallas headquarters received about 1,000 e-mail messages on Thursday alone. Some were supportive, but many called the idea unpatriotic, with messages like, “If you want to accept the peso, go to Mexico!” There were even a few death threats.[...]

Just before 8 p.m., the phone rang with another boycott announcement. “Next thing you know, we’re going to be raising Mexico’s flag,” the caller complained.

Where to begin?

Many smart businesses on both sides of the Canada-US border have accepted both currencies for decades. And not only tourism-intensive businesses; tat the supermarket where I worked as a teenager, some 200 miles south of the Canadian border, we accepted up to a dollar in coins at face value and then were supposed to check for an exchange rate after that point.

Business establishments all over the world accept the U.S. dollar under a variety of conditions.

Airports often function in multiple currencies, and there doesn't seem to be any reason to restict that convenience to people who travel by air.

As someone who hops back and forth across a border a fair amount, I instantly recognized the pizza place's rationale:

“It’s for convenience,” Mr. Palacios said. “Most of Mexico’s people, they go in December to Mexico to celebrate and be with family. They come back and say, ‘Oh, I’ve got 200 pesos; what do I do with it?’

The default answer is "stick it in a dresser drawer and hope you remember to get it out before your next trip" (just like all my old Washington MetroCards)-- at which point you'll spend it in the other country. What's the dimension on which it's worse for the U.S. to have people buying an extra pizza in the U.S. than hoarding their money and spending it in Mexico? The amounts are too small for it to make sense to go to a currency exchange; the commission would eat it up. So the options are spend pesos in the U.S., spend them in Mexico, or don't spend them.

I know, I know, it's supposed to be all "symbolic."
“It’s a trivial example, but Hispanics now have their own pizza chain,” Mr. Krikorian said. “It’s a consequence of having too many people arrive from a single foreign culture, and may well reflect a kind of cultural secession"

But it's an act of interpretation, not a natural fact, that makes this a symbol of "cultural secession." And it's a particularly bad synecdoche. Why not treat it as symbolic of the cleverness of Mexican-American entrepreneurs, and their canniness at combining currency trading with pizza delivery and thereby speeding up their pursuit of the American Dream? Or, for that matter, why not express appreciation to the consumers who are spending their had-earned pesos north of the border rather than south, and keeping the local economy that much stronger?

I'm surprised that the massive remittance economy hasn't ever been demagogued; seems ripe for it. But this is effectively the reverse of remittances. Weird.

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