By Edwin Garcia
MediaNews Sacramento Bureau
Article Launched: 02/12/2008 01:43:00 AM PST
SACRAMENTO - Mexican President Felipe Calderón will make his first - and some have argued overdue - official visit to California on Wednesday as part of a tour of major U.S. cities in an effort to reach out to the 12 million Mexican immigrants in this country.
In California, Calderón will address the state Legislature and attend a private lunch meeting with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez and other officials.
He is also scheduled to tour a wine country vineyard owned by an immigrant from his home state, Michoacán, and meet with migrant workers in Los Angeles. His appearance in California culminates a tour that includes stops in Boston, New York and Chicago.
"There has been a lot of criticism from Mexican leaders in the U.S., that he hasn''''t traveled to this country, he hasn''''t visited with them," said Andrew Selee, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "And unlike Vicente Fox," the former president, "he hasn''''t paid the kind of consistent attention to Mexican communities in the United States, and he''''s trying to address that."
Fox made a similar trip to California in 2006.
The acting Mexican consul in San Jose, Jose Loreto, said Calderón, who took office in late 2006 after a close election against a liberal candidate, has been too busy dealing with internal matters to schedule a trip north.
"His main objective
is to get close to community groups," Loreto acknowledged.
Although he won''''t be meeting with President Bush or going to Washington, D.C., Calderón is expected to speak consistently about the plight of Mexican immigrants. Calderón has publicly stated his concern for the "growing harassment" and "frank persecution" of Mexicans in the United States.
His comments, made to the Mexican government''''s migrant assistance agency in November, were in apparent reference to U.S. presidential candidates who voiced their desire to curb illegal immigration; he''''s also expressed disappointment at Congress'''' inability to agree on an immigration reform measure.
Calderón, who holds a master''''s degree in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, told an audience of students and faculty there Monday evening: "It''''s important to change the perception that Mexicans are the enemy."
Calderón is expected to share his sentiment about immigration when he addresses a joint session of the California Legislature.
Fox used the same platform to push for immigration reform in a speech to the state Legislature in May 2006, a day when several Republicans in attendance silently protested Mexico''''s economic and education policies, which they said lead to illegal immigration, by wearing yellow buttons with the phrase "No mas," or, no more.
On Wednesday morning, Calderón, 45, will meet privately with the Latino Legislative Caucus as well as Senate and Assembly leaders from both parties before addressing both houses.
Speaker Núñez said Calderón''''s visit underscores the importance of economic and cultural ties between both countries.
"People are going to see a young president who is very practical and understands that, beyond the racial biases that some Americans have about Mexico, there is strength in that economic interdependency that exists between California and Mexico," Núñez said.
Mexico accounts for nearly $20 billion in export trade from California each year, according to the governor''''s office.
After the luncheon, Calderón and his delegation will head to Robledo Winery, which is owned by a family whose patriarch immigrated from Atacheo, Michoacán, 39 years ago to pick grapes.
Calderón will then fly to Los Angeles to meet with Mexican immigrants.