MUCH of the United States' recent attention to Mexico has been driven by fears: Would a potential Marxist chain of dominoes, pushed by Nicaragua, topple governments all the way to the big domino at the United States border? Will the Soviets, soon to send Mikhail Gorbachev to the Latin New World as part of an expanded presence there, heat up the ideological competition to meet the region's economic needs? Will hordes of Hispanic folk wade across the Rio Grande, steal jobs, and make the Anglos speak Spanish? Will the drug flow over the border likewise disrupt life in the United States?
Unfamiliarity too often lies behind such fears. Policy decisions too often are based on the imagined scope of the threat. So it is useful to make the effort to find out what motivates a people like the Mexicans, what they think of their neighbors to the north and south, what values are held in common and the magnitude of differences. The New York Times has done this with a new face-to-face survey of the Mexican public's views on their own and hemispheric affairs.
Foremost, Mexicans admire the US democratic system of government. Next they like the relatively low US rate of inflation, and then its work opportunities. On the downside, they disapprove of US drug use and sales, its buildup of nuclear arms, its intervention in other countries' affairs, and its crime, violence, and racism.
Overall, their view of the US is favorable; they think US-Mexico relations are friendly. Half of those interviewed have a close relative already living in the US, a third have visited the States themselves, a quarter have personal acquaintance with a US citizen, and 2 out of 5 would live in the US if they had a chance.
Most Mexicans see Nicaragua as a potential threat to the region. They perceive that the Soviet Union is seeking Latin American influence. Still, a majority disapprove of the Reagan administration's attempts to dislodge the Sandinista government.
Mexicans see themselves as more secure in family, cultural, and religious values than their northern neighbors.
This portrait of today's Mexican show him a rather familiar kind of fellow. He is less a sitting duck for Marxist blandishments than policymakers might suggest. He is in tune with common democratic values and concerned about public issues like drugs. It shows the prospects for building public policy on the considerable ground that unites peoples, rather than focusing on their imagined differences.