Remember those class discussions in which professors pushed students to question every supposition and provide evidence to support every claim? Some might think of such conversations as intriguing and challenging intellectual exercises, but somewhat removed from the conduct of daily life after college. But Daniel Hernandez Joseph '81 thinks that those classroom experiences formed the core of his life and career.
Hernandez is General Director for Protection of Mexicans Abroad, a key government official who shapes the nation's policies on the migration of its citizens to the United States. As such, he is charged with trying to form a bilateral approach dealing with issues related to Mexican citizens who immigrate to the United States, particularly those who do so illegally.
A career diplomat who served for many years in consulates in Texas, he says that the liberal arts education he received and the mindset he formed at Earlham have proved indispensible as he has worked his way through the worlds of bureaucracy, diplomacy and politics.
"Earlham taught me how to question everything, and to make sure that every argument had evidence to back it up," he recalled during a recent visit to campus. "That way of thinking has become fundamental to who I am, and I believe that approach is helpful in every line of work."
Hernandez notes that although he majored in International Relations, he sampled widely from the curriculum - including heavy doses of biology and chemistry - as he contemplated a variety of careers. And although he did not set out to work in the Mexican Foreign Ministry, Hernandez believes that his Earlham experience, both inside the classroom and out, was ideal preparation for his chosen field.
"I think that the diversity on campus and the sense of respect that people have for one another is very important," he says. "I think the whole experience of Earlham gave me a much better sense of myself, and I realized that even as a student. I didn't know where I was going in life, what my career would be, whether I would go to graduate school or whether I would be rich or poor, but I was aware of the effect that Earlham was having on me. I was really forming as a person."
Hernandez was back on campus last week for the first time in 20 years and he gave a lunchtime talk on the evolving relationship between Mexico and the United States related to immigration policy. Students, faculty, staff and community members packed the Richmond Room, a dining room in the Landrum Bolling Center. The first 50 to arrive enjoyed complimentary box lunches, but dozens more stayed even without lunch, with some attendees standing in the back of the room or sitting on the floor to hear the talk.
Nattily dressed in a suit and tie, accented with a pink shirt and stylish eyeglasses, Hernandez projected a worldly confidence as he spoke for nearly an hour, rarely referring to his notes.
Citing the startling statistic that fully six percent of the migrants in the entire world are Mexicans living in the United States, Hernandez pointed out that the relationship between these two neighboring countries is without parallel elsewhere on the planet.
"When you begin to study how this relationship ought to work, you discover that there is no model," he told the group. "So now we realize we are the model."
He expressed hope that with the beginning of a new U.S. presidential administration, the two neighbors could find mutually beneficial approaches to immigration policy. He suggested that a bilateral approach could offer better protection of human rights while also addressing security concerns. Hernandez acknowledged that the two countries have long viewed the migration of Mexicans to the U.S. very differently, with the Mexican government thinking of it as a foreign policy concern involving issues of social justice and economic opportunity, while the U.S. government has considered immigration a domestic policy issue, viewed primarily through the lens of law enforcement.
He noted with optimism, however, that in recent years both governments have begun to take seriously the links between immigration and development.
"Any change in administration brings with it a space of opportunity," he says. "Already in the first months of the Obama presidency we are seeing a careful review of policies. That is a hopeful sign."
- Jonathan Graham
(Posted March 17, 2009)