The Fantastic Mr. Fox
The former President of Mexico looks to San Diego for help in fixing his country
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Library, Fox Center
Soon after the university reunion, Fox left Coca-Cola. While he acknowledges that Coke was generating wealth and jobs for people who needed them, Fox felt that he needed to be doing more than selling sugar water. He went back to his family’s ranch in San CristΌbal, in the state of Guanajuato, and worked in the family business raising cattle and broccoli for 15 years. But that wasn’t enough either.
“When I was invited to get into politics, I remembered the words of Father Schiefler,” Fox said, “and I thought maybe this was it.” Fox and much of the rest of the country were frustrated with Mexico’s corrupt leadership, expanding poverty, and the lack of direction. Fox became mayor, then governor, and in 2000, became Mexico’s first democratically elected president in more than 70 years.
His legacy as president is that of the plain-speaking bullfighter, rancher, and business executive. He wore cowboy boots and big belt buckles, and turned his country toward democracy and accountability. The country became stable economically, and was more attractive to businesses that needed a manufacturing base. But during his presidency, and much more so after his term ended in 2006, violence and fear escalated as drug cartels gained influence and confidence. He still feels responsible for fixing his country’s problems.
Recently he invited leaders of two San Diego entities to visit the family ranch in San CristΌbal near Leon to see if ideas that are working north of the border could also work in his country. One of those leaders was Chris Yanov, the founder and president of Reality Changers, a nonprofit organization based in City Heights. Reality Changers helps high school students prepare application materials so that they can be the first in their families to go to college. Founded in 2001, Reality Changers has helped hundreds of local high school students attend and graduate from college in four years. Another 250 are in the program right now. The group got the former president’s attention when Fox was in San Diego in April 2011. Now he wants Reality Changers to do something similar in Mexico on a much larger scale.
“The message of Reality Changers can be true in Mexico, too,” Fox said at the hacienda where he grew up. Sitting at the same breakfast table where he ate as a little boy, he pictured himself speaking to all the children of Mexico. “Reality Changers goes directly to people and says, ‘Look at your life. Wouldn’t you like to try something different? Wouldn’t you like to be a successful football player instead of a gang member, or swim for your country in the Olympics? Wouldn’t you like to have a scholarship to college? We can make that reality come to you.’ That is the message we want to deliver on a massive level. We want to connect with every single kid who is working for the cartels. We have to do something.”
Yanov was instantly receptive to Fox’s idea of creating something like Reality Changers, Mexico-style.
“When a head of state asks us to put a program together in his country, that’s a great stamp of approval,” he said. “If they wanted to run a program like ours, they could.”
Yanov and other Reality Changers staff will visit with Fox again in Mexico in January to develop a specific strategy.
“Working with President Fox is making my job easier,” Yanov said. “He wants us to connect with kids who are involved in drug cartels in Mexico. That makes dealing with kids in City Heights a breeze!”
Charles Pope of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego also met with Fox, to plan conferences and workshops on law enforcement, security, and community development along the U.S./Mexico border. While they spent much of their time discussing drug-related violence in Mexico and its possible solutions, they also began planning for a summit in conjunction with a major university in Mexico to discuss law enforcement and Mexico’s judicial system. Pope also asked Fox to be part of the TBI’s advisory board, which would mean regular visits to San Diego.
“It would be great if the Trans-Border Institute could serve as a resource to help the president keep his policy ideas moving forward,” Pope said. “And his involvement with our institute would give us a great deal of insight in how our countries can work together to improve our region.”
Both Reality Changers and the Trans-Border Institute are working with what Fox started soon after his presidency ended. The Fox Center, or Centro Fox, is a combination presidential library/community center/leadership institute, all on the property that has been his family’s ranch for more than 100 years. The old walls from the historic cattle ranch are blended with modern architecture. It has his presidential papers archived electronically for researchers, along with displays of significant events during his presidency, ornate saddles given to him by world leaders, replicas of his presidential office and cabinet meeting room, a gallery that exhibits local artists’ work, open space for concerts and dance (Elton John and Carlos Santana appeared there recently for fund raisers), and banners from the ceiling with portraits of himself along with his heroes, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Lech Walesa, and Marie Curie.