The San Diego Union-Tribune

September 6, 2001

Toledo a surprisingly good choice for field trip


TOLEDO, Ohio -- At first glance, this city seemed like an odd choice for a campaign-style visit from Mexican President Vicente Fox and President Bush, who today will take a 400-mile side trip from Fox's first state visit to Washington.

It has a small Latino presence compared with cities more traditionally linked to U.S.-Mexican issues. And as a Democratic stronghold, it is not generally friendly territory for a Republican president.

But Toledo, population 314,000, is grappling with two issues high on the summit agenda in Washington: immigration and trade. The visit helps dramatize that U.S.-Mexican issues have spread far from the Southwest and have entered the political debate even on the shores of Lake Erie.

The debate here is most impassioned over the North American Free Trade Agreement, which the two presidents enthusiastically embrace as a model for
a trade agreement that would cover the entire Western Hemisphere.

But there is strong and loud opposition to such deals in Toledo.

Long known for the manufacture of automotive glass, Toledo is a heavily unionized town whose fortunes are closely linked to the auto industry. Detroit is less than an hour's drive to the north.

Toledo and Mexico are connected. DaimlerChrysler's PT Cruiser, which is assembled in Mexico, has its transmissions made in Toledo. Many in Toledo
are unhappy to see so much automotive work farmed out to Mexico.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat who represents Toledo, has estimated that Ohio has lost at least 37,000 jobs because of the agreement with Mexico.

Baldemar Velasquez, founder of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, a union affiliated with the AFL-CIO that represents migrant workers, said he
believes Bush is hoping to soften opposition to the hemispheric pact with his visit.

Bush and Fox also favor a more liberal immigration policy, a stand on which many Latinos here are likely to agree. While Latinos make up less than 6 percent of the city's population, their numbers and influence are growing in northwest Ohio.

Many of the area's Latinos are descended from Mexican migrant workers who have come here to harvest tomatoes and cucumbers since World War II.

Beyond political issues, Ohio has a personal lure for the Mexican president. His grandfather, Joseph Fox, was an Ohio resident of Irish descent before emigrating to Mexico.

And two of Fox's brothers studied English in Toledo.

Not all Latinos here are Democrats who oppose trade pacts.

Hernan Vasquez, the first Hispanic member of the University of Toledo board of trustees, is a Republican who believes NAFTA has been good for the economy even though some jobs have moved south.

He's hoping Fox's speech at the University of Toledo this afternoon will inspire Hispanics to pursue their education through high school and beyond.

He said that with a Hispanic dropout rate exceeding 50 percent, "we have a problem in Toledo and we want the notion of education to be instilled in (students') minds."