- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 24, 2001

MEXICO CITY — Few people cross borders and boundaries more easily than Juan Hernandez.
Born in Texas, raised in Mexico, the literature professor from the University of Texas at Dallas finds himself a historic figure in a historic government, a U.S. citizen in Mexico's Cabinet representing migrants in the United States.
"I never knew the border as a limitation. I'd be delighted if all of us could come and go between these two marvelous countries," Mr. Hernandez, 45, said in a recent interview.
"I believe that Mexico has enriched the United States culturally, economically, and the United States can be the great promoter of economic development in Mexico."
His Vandyke beard, handlebar mustache and effusive optimism give Mr. Hernandez a bit of the air of Don Quixote. And until recently, the idea he might serve in Mexico's government would have been as gloriously mad as one of Quixote's hallucinations.
But Vicente Fox's presidential election last year ended 71 years of single-party dominance and broke many of the rules in Mexican politics — apparently including an unwritten ban on guitar-playing Texan poets at Los Pinos, the presidential headquarters.
"I do believe it is a mission, a beautiful mission, heaven sent," said Mr. Hernandez, whose brother says he "never gets out of bed without reading the Bible."
"I think we are going to be surprised in six years when we look back," Mr. Hernandez said. "We are not going to believe what we have accomplished."
Mr. Hernandez said that so far he's met "very, very little" opposition to his role and his dual citizenship — though there have been a few complaints from hard-line nationalists in Mexico and anti-immigration activists in the United States.
"Those who don't like it, I'm sorry. But there are 20 million of us," Mr. Hernandez said. "There are 20 million people that have one foot here and one foot there."
Mr. Hernandez was at Mr. Fox's side during a tour of the United States earlier this month, a trip that included meetings with Mexican-Americans and the migrants Mr. Hernandez serves.
Few are more firmly rooted in both countries than Mr. Hernandez himself.
He was born in Fort Worth, Texas, to an American woman who had married a Mexican law student she met while studying art in the colonial city of San Miguel de Allende — about 75 miles east of the Fox family farm in Guanajuato state.
Mr. Hernandez grew up in San Miguel, with frequent stays in Texas, where he developed a taste for Agatha Christie novels and the Beatles.
His younger brother, Francisco, now a Fort Worth lawyer and a member of the Texas Ethics Commission, says Mr. Hernandez cried when John Lennon was killed.
Sometimes treated as a Mexican in Fort Worth, Mr. Hernandez, whose hair is reddish blonde, said he can remember taunts of "Go home, Gringo" from schoolmates in San Miguel.
His family moved to Texas for good in 1977. Mr. Hernandez graduated from Lawrence University in Wisconsin.
While earning a doctorate at Texas Christian University, he played guitar in a spangled suit at a popular Fort Worth restaurant, Joe T. Garcia's, where visitors such as Linda Ronstadt and Johnny Rodriguez would sometimes join him on stage.
Mr. Hernandez later became an associate professor of literature at UT Dallas and founded the Center for U.S.-Mexico Studies there, sponsoring exchanges of students and scholars between the two countries.
In 1995, Mr. Hernandez invited the brash new governor of Guanajuato state to Texas, where Vicente Fox met another state leader, George W. Bush.
After a rushed, three-day trip, Mr. Fox boarded his plane and, Mr. Hernandez recalled, "he turned and said, 'Thanks, Juan. Do you have any other ideas?'"
He did. Standing on the tarmac, he suggested Mr. Fox open a Dallas trade office for Guanajuato, as if it were a country.
"He said, 'Let's go.'"
"'What do you mean, let's go?'"
"'When do we start?"' Mr. Fox replied.
A week later, Mr. Hernandez signed on as part-time director of the new trade office, and gradually became an influential adviser, helping Mr. Fox mount the improbable opposition-party campaign for the presidency that transformed the country.
The appointment of an official to watch over the interests of migrants caps a slow but major change in attitude.
While past governments often complained of U.S. prejudice against migrants, officials themselves frequently viewed them with disdain. But Mr. Fox has proclaimed them "heroes."
The money migrants send home is now Mexico's third-largest source of foreign income, and it is on the rise: Remittances jumped 42 percent in the first quarter of 2001.
Mr. Hernandez has lobbied to make life easier for Mexican migrants in the United States. He has worked to cut the costs of money transfers, helped win lower tuition at Texas state universities and urged U.S. states to loosen restrictions on drivers' licenses.
He has helped Mr. Fox push for better treatment of returning migrants at the border and is organizing investments by Mexican-Americans in the impoverished towns they or their families left.
He is also campaigning against the increasingly dangerous practice of illegal immigration, urging would-be migrants to stay home rather than test a border that killed 491 Mexicans last year.

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