You see it all the time in the movies. Americans traveling outside the county are fleeing danger or persecution. If they can just make it to the U.S. Embassy, they’ll be OK.
Well, there’s a similar place of sanctuary in the heart of Albuquerque for travelers from Mexico.
The Mexican Consulate on Fourth Street half a mile south of I-40 is one of 50 in the United States. It’s a small version of the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C., and its mission is to assist and protect Mexican citizens and boost trade and friendship between the two countries.
The Albuquerque consulate is a busy place, but that’s how Mexican Consul Efrén N. Leyva Acevedo likes it. He was assigned to Albuquerque a year ago and since then has been a constant public presence around the state.
“There’s a lot of work to do” he said Wednesday, noting the consulate’s proximity to the border. His comments were translated by Helder López, coordinator of community outreach.
Leyva estimates his office assists more than 50,000 clients a year – sorting out problems with passports; issuing the matricula consular; assisting Mexicans who are arrested; and certifying birth certificates for children born to Mexican parents in the United States.
An aide briefly interrupted our interview so Leyva could sign a handful of birth certificates. “This gives them dual nationality,” he said.
To extend the reach of the consulate in a big state, the Albuquerque office established the Consul on Wheels program, in which Leyva offers periodic service around the state, in places as far-flung as Ruidoso, Gallup and Taos.
But his interests go beyond the nuts-and-bolts duties of caring for his fellow citizens. He says he is frequently in Santa Fe meeting with state officials on economic issues.
Just last week, he accompanied more than 20 New Mexicans on an “economic trip” to Mexico City. “The delegation met with high Mexican officials and company owners who might be interested in buying natural gas and oil produced in the state,” Leyva said.
This week, he and the governor of Chihuahua were to meet with New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez. Two months ago, it was with the governor of Sonora.
“I’m looking forward to bringing other governors to meet with Gov. Martinez on economic and other issues,” he said. “New Mexico is a very political state, and I’m more involved in politics than I was before.” His last post was in Orlando, Fla.
But before you get into a tizzy, being involved in politics means working with political leaders on trade or educational and cultural ties – not interfering in elections.
“We do keep a close watch on the political process so we know what is happening in this country, but we do not get involved in elections,” he said.
Besides trade, there are cultural and educational duties.
Currently, a monumental Mexican folk art sculpture, “Xólotl: Dios Perro” (Dog Diety), is on display at the University of New Mexico Center for the Arts. It is on loan until Sept. 2 from the Mexican Cultural Center in Denver through the efforts of the consulate.
And last year, the consulate’s Institute for Mexicans Abroad donated $150,000 in scholarship money to New Mexico higher education institutes.
On the cultural side, the consulate presents Mexican movies at the New Mexico Hispanic Cultural Center and recently had a fashion show there with clothing styles from around Mexico.
In September, for Mexican Independence Day, the consulate is planning celebrations in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. The governor of the state of Guerrero is expected to attend and will meet with New Mexico’s governor to sign agreements on educational and cultural issues.
Leyva said the high-profile events promote a positive image of his country and serve as a reminder to his fellow citizens that they have an advocate close at hand.
Perhaps maintaining a public face is easy for Leyva; he is not your stereotypical diplomat. He is a lawyer and a politician. Among his offices, Leyva served as a Mexican senator and a lieutenant governor.
But do people ever show up at the local consulate seeking refuge? You bet they do.
Leyva said a woman from Monterrey, Mexico, recently showed up seeking political asylum after her husband was murdered, presumably by cartel members. She feared that she, too, would be killed if she was sent home. The consulate got her legal help, and her case is under investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he said.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to editorial page editor Dan Herrera at 823-3810 or firstname.lastname@example.org.