Culture and Communication in Inter-AmericanRelations: The Current state of an asymmetric Debate


publicado en: When was Latin America Modern? Editado por Nicola Miller y Stephen Hart


Culture and Communication in Inter-AmericanRelations: The Current state of an asymmetric Debate

publicado en When was Latin America Modern? Editado por Nicola Miller y Stephen Hart


When,how, and where was, or is, Latin America modern? Answering this question, as weknow, implies entering into that debate about what we understand by terms suchas "modernity," "modernization," and "modernism."The task of understanding Latin America was understood throughout thenineteenth century as a search to understand the contradictions between, on theone hand, an exuberant cultural modernism and, on the other, a deficient modernization.I t was also a question of deciphering how it was that modernization, which hadbeen accelerated by the twin processes of industrialization and urbanization,existed side by side with archaic traditions. The different paradigms ofmodernity with which these contradictions were analyzed almost always had onething in common: they were conceived within a national context. The fundamentalquestion was as follows: How are Brazilians, Peruvians, and Mexicans able tolive in modern nations, and what can they do with those throwbacks (rezagos)or hybridizations that persist in exhibiting non-modern features?

Inrecent years the space of the nation has become blurred; it is no longer thebackdrop against which modernization occurs. To be modern, nowadays, is totravel, communicate, exchange with the world. Goods, messages, and people areconsidered to be modern if they circulate globally, if they speak variouslanguages, and are attractive in a high number of markets.

Forthat reason I shall be investigating the ways in which we Latin Americans aremodern in relation to circulation and globality. Perhaps thespecific place we inhabit, like that of other peripheral regions makes clearthat a key characteristic of the current stage of globalized modernity is thatgoods and messages travel with greater ease than people do. To test thishypothesis I shall focus on migration patterns and intercultural communicationvia various media.

Migration at Different Stages of Modernity

ForLatin America, modernization was associated with the international circulationof people and communications. But not in the direction that is familiar to ustoday. Emigration from Europe to the American continent was, indeed, afoundational element of our modernity. There was a significant period from 1846until 1930 when some 52,000,000 people left Europe. Twenty-one percent of thoseemigrants traveled to Latin America: there were approximately 10,000,000people, 38 percent of whom were Italian, 28 percent Spanish, and 11 percentPortuguese. The majority of these Latin emigrants chose Argentina as theirfavored destination, followed by Brazil, Cuba, the Antilles, Uruguay, andMexico. I f we bear in mind that at the beginning of the twentieth century thetotal population of Europe was some 200,000,000 people, this means one quarterof the population left. The arrival o f these emigrants in America during theperiod from 1840 until 1940 led to an increase in Argentina's population of theorder of 40 percent; the percentages for population growth at this time are 30percent for the United States and approximately 15 percent for Canada andBrazil (Gonzalez Martinez 1996). I t is well known how much this influx fromEurope contributed to the modernization of industry, the development of theeducational system, the creation of publishing houses, in short, the designingand implementation of modern nation-building projects.

Whathas been happening in the last few decades? Migration patterns are differentnowadays. Migration in the nineteenth century and the first half of thetwentieth century was almost always permanent and led to the cutting of tiesbetween those who left and those who stayed behind, whereas the notion ofpopulation movement nowadays encompasses permanent and temporary relocation, aswell as short journeys for the purposes of tourism or work-related activities. Threetypes of migration can be distinguished nowadays: (1) migration for the purposeof permanent settlement or population; (2) temporary migration for workreasons; and (3) migration that involves a INTER-AMERICANRELATIONS 179 relocation of variable status, andwhich is midway between the two previous types of migration. These latter twoare the types of migration that have increased in recent decades (Garson andThoreau 1999). The ebb and flow of migration is controlled and subject torestricted duration and restricted conditions. Unlike permanent migration,which was linked in the past to the policy of population, in recent times manyresidence permits are temporary and discriminate on the basis of nationality andthe economic needs of the host nation. Authorization to remain in the countrymay be renewed but those countries that are the most attractive and have thegreatest amount of migrants (normally identified as the industrialized Westerncountries) only grant nationality to a small minority and, furthermore, limitthe rights, stability, and integration of foreigners in the host country. Evenwhen the migrants are accepted because their work expertise coincides with theneeds of the economy adopting them, sociocultural short-circuits still occur: segregationwithin certain districts, denial of access to schools and health services, aswell as the negative evaluation of certain beliefs and customs, which can leadto aggression and even deportation. These trends vary between countries—whichhave different policies—and also vary according to the classification ofmigrants: professionals, technicians, intellectuals, and specialized workersare traditionally more welcome. I t is rare for the right to travel of the richand the well educated to be questioned. Those who have a fat checkbook, armssmugglers or drug traffickers, as well as the bankers who launder their moneyfor them, as Hans Magnus Enzensberger suggests, "do not haveprejudices" and "are above nationalism" (Enzensberger 1992: 42).Nevertheless, the instability that is common to all labor markets as a resultof globalized competition highlights the uncertainly underlying the status offoreigners and makes their integration into the host society difficult (Garsonand Thoreau 1999). As a counterweight to these disadvantages for migrantsnowadays the possibility o f keeping a fluid communication with their countryof origin has been enhanced. Daily newspapers from Europe arrive in the capitalcities of Latin America while free-to-air and cable TV allows access tochannels from Europe and the United States. Audiovisual media, email, familynetworks, and friends networks have changed contact between the continents fromwhat used to take weeks or months in the past into a constant activitynowadays. Disembarking is not the same as landing, nor physical travel the sameas electronic navigation. Interculturality is created nowadays more as a resultof communication via email rather than through the physical relocation of themigrant. 180 NÉSTOR GARCÍA CANCLINI In order to see with greater clarity how the phenomenon 0 f migration haschanged it is also important to recall that in the second half of the twentiethcentury the direction taken by the migrant has been reversed. Between 1960 and1965, Argentina, Venezuela, Brazil and Uruguay received 105,783 Spanishemigrants. But in the following two decades more than 1,000,000 Spaniardspreferred to emigrate to other European countries (González Martínez 1996). Atthe same time a new cycle of emigration from Latin America to Spain, Italy, andGermany began, as well as to a lesser extent to other European countries. Theseemigres were made up of millions of individuals who were politicallypersecuted, or unemployed, or people who were tired of the limited horizonsoffered by countries in the Southern Cone or Central America.-The period inwhich Europeans could "make it rich in America" (hacer laAmérica) had effectively come to an end and it ushered in a new era inwhich South Americans (the so-called sudacas) were willing tocontemplate becoming part of Europe's economic growth.

Itis possible to hypothesize that the exchanges which occurred in the nineteenthand twentieth centuries should have modified the polarity created betweenEurope and America during the Conquest and the Colonial period. Neverthelesscertain stereotypes can be observed to have persisted: the discrimination o fEuropeans toward Latin Americans, the admiration and distrust of LatinAmericans toward Europeans. The transformation o f the links, in effect, simplyreproduced a long-lasting asymmetric structure. This is evident in the limitsplaced on entry or, alternatively, the ease with which entry is obtained byothers. Why have laws become so restrictive for Latin Americans in Europeannations as well as the United States? When human rights movements questionthese restrictions the response is that migrants can no longer be accepted inthe same way as occurred when the Americas had immense territories to populateand when they saw the new arrivals as an incentive to develop industry,education, and modern services. Furthermore we are told that in Europe and theUnited States where there are already millions of foreigners, unemployment hasgrown in recent years. Many sectors of society have indeed gone as far as toblame migrants for the increase in delinquency and social conflicts (Dewitte1999). Even though many things have changed from the nineteenth to the twentiethcentury, a decisive change in this process of interaction has been thatcapital, goods, and emails pass from one country to another more easily thanpeople do. It is easier to invest in a foreign INTER-AMERICANRELATIONS 181 country than it is to become acitizen of that country. The free-trade agreements, which are promoted as theengine behind modernization, almost never include the notion of theuniversalization of human rights—which is intrinsic to modernity—including therights of those people who are different as a result of being migrants. We havemoved from an enlightened modernity to a neoliberal modernity. Another radicalchange in recent decades has been the substitution of Europe by the UnitedStates as the referent for modernity. Latin America—which up to a point was aEuropean invention—now finds its otherness mainly in U.S. society and the U.S.empire. The figures are well known: some countries—like Mexico, for example—have90 percent of their trade with the United States. Several Latin Americannations lost 10-15 percent of their total population to the United States, suchthat nowadays Spanish speakers number more than 40,000,000 in the UnitedStates. The money sent home by migrants living in the United States— fromMexico, the Dominican Republic, and El Salvador—became the principal net sourceof hard currency for their respective countries of origin. I n 2004 the moneysent back to Mexico by Mexican emigrants reached $16,613,000. The currency senthome has had more of a significant impact on the rural and urban economies ofMexico, the Dominican Republic, and El Salvador, and their families livingthere— and their experience of modernity—than any of its exports.

Imaginarles and Intercultural Misunderstandings

Howcan we reconceive the process of modernization within the current phase ofglobalization? I t is well known that these changes of perspective are theresult of socioeconomic transformations, as revealed by the facts and figuresto which I have just alluded, and are also the result of the new imaginariesthat guide the social actors. Before showing some documentary and artisticimages that allow us to visualize this process, I should like to propose arereading of a classic image of Latin Americanness: the map of South America,which Joaquin Torres Garcia drew in 1936. "Our north is the south,"Torres Garcia declared in his manifesto. Putting the map upside down encouragedus to conceive of the world from our own nation or city, from Montevideo, forexample. That inverted map could be read nowadays as a metaphor of a Latin Americathat points the needle of its compass toward the north where it imagines lifeto be better; for migrants that better life is not to be found within one's ownnation. Alternatively we could interpret 182 NÉSTORGARCÍA CANCLINI Torres Garcia'smetaphor as representative of the asymmetric bidirectionality of culturalexchange. I want to take up, in this sense, the opposition between two recent artisticworks which I analyzed in my recent book, La globalization imaginada (1999).The first is a work entitled America, by Yukinori Yanagi,consisting of 36 flags from different countries, made out of small plasticboxes full o f colored sand. The flags are joined together by tubes along whichants travel, thereby wearing away and mixing up the flags. Yukinori Yanagicreated the first version of this work in 1993 for the Biennial Exhibition inVenice. In 1994 he made a replica in San Diego, in the context of amultinational art exhibition called inSITE, made up of flags from the 3Americas. After a few weeks the emblems became unrecognizable. Yanagi's workcan be interpreted as a metaphor of those migrant workers who are graduallydeconstructing nationalisms and imperialisms all over the world. But noteveryone who saw the exhibit noticed this. When Yanagi presented this work at theBiennial Exhibition in Venice, the Animal Protection Society managed to closeit down for a few days, stopping the artist from conducting his"exploitation of ants." Other reactions were the consequence o f thefact that the public did not like seeing the differences between nationsdestabilized. Yanagi, for his part, was attempting to express his experience ofthe point at which the marks of identity dissolve. The species of ant, whichwas obtained from Brazil for the Biennial in Sao Paolo in 1996, seemed too slowfor him and, when the exhibition opened, he expressed his fear that the flagswould not be sufficiently transformed as a result. This metaphor suggests thatmigration on a massive scale along with globalization should change today'sworld into a systems o f flows and interactivities in which the differencesbetween nations would eventually be dissolved. Demographic data, however, donot bear out this image of total fluidity, nor even that of a pervasivetransnational mobility. The total number of people who leave their countries inorder to settle in another country for more than a year varies between 130,000,000and 150,000,000, which is on average 2.3 percent of the world's population."Our 'nomadic planet,' in which people move around more and more rapidly—asGilda Simon points out—while it costs less and less to do so, is in point o ffact full of sedentary people; the image of a world covered by uncontrollablewaves of migration belongs rather to the grand shop of cliches" (Simon1999: 43). There is another way of understanding the exchanges between the UnitedStates and Latin America in that emblematic city of Tijuana, the mostfrequently crossed border in the world. More than 90,000,000 people crossbetween Tijuana and San Diego every year to enter or leave the United States.Many are migrants and others are workers who live in one city and work in theother. Furthermore, more than 40,000 tourists visit Tijuana every day and 45percent of them remain for less than 3 hours in the city; in the last 14 yearsthe population of the city has doubled. How does an artist from Tijuana representthis bidirectional exchange? We see it in the Trojan horse erected by MarcosRamirez Erre in the latest edition of the inSITE urban art program created in1997, between Tijuana and San Diego. The artist erected, a few meters from thestalls of the border, a wooden horse that was 25 meters high, with two heads,one looking toward the United States, the other looking toward Mexico. In this wayit avoids the stereotype of one-directional penetration going from north tosouth. It also avoids the opposite illusion of those who state that migrationfrom the south is smuggling something into the United States without theirrealizing what is going on. The artist told me that this fragile and ephemeral"anti-monument" is "transparent because we already know whattheir intentions are with regard to us, and they know what our intentions arewith regard to them." Amid the Mexican vendors who wander between the carsthat are piled up in front of the stalls which used to offer Aztec calendars orMexican handicraft and now are simply an addition to "Spider Man and Walt Disneytoys," Ramirez Erre did not present a work with a nationalist ethos, butrather a modified, universal symbol. The alteration o f the Trojan horse as acommonplace of historical iconography led to its transformation into a symbolindicating the multidirectionality of messages as well as the ambiguities whichtheir use in various media can lead to. The artist reproduced the image of thehorse on T-shirts and post cards so that it could be sold alongside the Azteccalendars and the "Walt Disney toys." He also had four Trojancostumes so that anyone who wanted to have himself photographed next to the "monument"could do so, thus creating an ironic allusion to the photographic images thattourists routinely create next to symbols of Mexicanhood and the American way of life. Yanagi's ants that deconstruct the flags suggest a pervasiveinteraction whereby the very marks of identity would eventually disappear. As faras the two-headed horse is concerned, it represents the bidirectionality andreciprocity o f interactivity; the transparent character of the animal suggeststhat "what they want from us and what we want from them" can nolonger be hidden; the conflict has become explicit, but it is not depicted vianationalist imagery but rather with a multinational symbol, which, when reread,invites us to reflect about a specific border. While Yanagi's work celebratedthe dissolution of national barriers, Ramirez's two-headed horse and itsensemble of performance installation (T-shirts and Trojan costumes to put onand take a picture of yourself in, souvenirs that parody the neo-handicraft designedfor tourist consumption), situated as it is on the actual border between theUnited States and Mexico, demonstrated how intercultural misunderstandings arecreated.

Contradictions in Multiculturality in the North and theSouth

FinallyI want to focus on what the cultural industries tell us about inter-Americanrelations. In general terms the mass media manage to circulate their messageswith greater ease than is permitted to individuals. While migration, and thesending of money and narratives back home allow us to interact with one anotheras well as to receive more information from other countries than was possiblein any previous era, their communicational power cannot be compared to thatoffered by radio, television, cinema, and the Internet. Intercommunication in thesefields demonstrates the asymmetry between north and south, as well as theunequal nature of the opportunities available to participate in that globalizedmodernity. How do we see North Americans in Latin America and how do they seeus? I shall take cinema as a test case. In the 1960s, 10 percent of the filmscirculating in the U.S. market were imported. Nowadays the figures have droppedto 0.75 percent. The meager diversity of what is offered on screen is due tovarious factors: the corporate organizations behind screening in theaters; theincrease in real estate costs and promotion costs for distributors andexhibitors; the pervasive self-satisfaction of North Americans with regard totheir society, language, and lifestyle, as well as the resistance by the massesto the idea of relating to other cultures or their goods. The contradictionsunderlying this almost monolingual policy in the media are plain to see, evenwhen discounting a few exceptions made for other languages—as a result of themultilingual and multicultural character of U.S. society. The last censuslisted the United States as having 35,000,000 Spanish speakers, namely 12percent of its total population—and 63 percent of these are of Mexican origin. Thepercentage of Spanish speakers is even higher in cities such as Los Angeles(6,900,000) and New York (3,800,000). Miami, Chicago, Houston, and the SanFrancisco Bay area all have around 1,500,000 Spanish speakers each. For thisreason it does not take much imagination to see how receptive these populationgroups would be to Spanish language films or films made in Latin America(Miller 2002). The predominance of U.S. films within the United States—which almostcompletely excludes other filmic traditions—is echoed, in a startling way, inLatin American countries. Even in countries that have a long tradition ofnational filmmaking, such as Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico, Hollywood moviestake up around 90 percent of screen time. In many European countries and onother continents, as we already know, the situation is a similar one.

Theglobal hegemony of U.S. cinema "came about historically as a result ofclearly political factors," although these factors in principle and—judgingby appearances—were fortuitous; factors such as the two world wars, whichdestroyed the filmmakers who were in competition with them, along "withthe active support of the U.S. government." "The global predominanceof the United States in the cultural and audiovisual industries does not haveone cause, just as it was not of course the result of'spontaneous combustion.'I t was an historical result caused by a number of factors" (Sánchez Ruiz2002: 23). At the same time it is important to add that the new benefitsprovided to foreign investment as a result of the deregulation policies adoptedby Latin American governments from the 1980s onward also played their role;they led, for example, to sustained U.S., Canadian and Australian investment inthe construction of multiscreen theater complexes in large and medium-sizecities throughout Latin America. Transnational capital in this way controlledscreening, making it uniform and favoring internationally successful films,which thereby reducing screen time for other filmic traditions. Comparativestudies of films screened in Latin American capitals demonstrate that in thelast 40 years screen space has increased but the variety o f films offered has diminished.In Mexico in 1990, 50 percent of the films screened were U.S. and 45.6 percentwere Mexican. By 2000, the ratio had changed to 84.2 percent U.S. as against8.3 percent Mexican. I n 1995, the year when the expansion of multiscreentheaters began, 16.8 percent of the film screened were neither American norMexican; by 2000 this figure had dropped down to 7.5 percent (Rosas Mantecón2002). Other factors have contributed to this predominance of U.S. cinema:(a)the early development of the film industry in the United States (which wasparallel to developments in the fields of culture and communications), whichgenerated an accumulation of professional experience, sophisticated technicalknowledge, and an advanced knowledge of the markets; (b) rapid urbanization andindustrial development, in the United States and Latin America, which led to strongmigratory patterns; (c) tax exemptions as well as other protectionistincentives used by the U.S. government to aid its national film industry,combined with a semi-monopolizing control over distribution and screening,which itself became more effective as a barrier against the film industries ofother countries and o t h e r languages than the screen quotas that were established inother countries via the regulation of public organizations (McAnany andWilkinson 1996). We see once more in cinema this divergence between, on the onehand, ways of conceiving social multiculturalism within the United States and,on the other, a policy of rejection of diversity i nthe cultural industries, which operatesas much within the space of the nation as in the control of internationalmarkets. The United States is the country that- has most forcefully backed"Affirmative Action," that is, the granting of privileged conditionsfor minorities who are excluded or marginalized within the nation. At the sametime, however, the United States pursues an aggressive policy ofmarginalization of the diversity of goods and cultural messages that come from outsideits territory, via transnational circuits such as cinema, television, and music—whichare, indeed, managed by U.S. companies. This marginalization also occurs in thecontext o f international organizations (WTO, UNESCO, etc.), where the UnitedStates opposes any action that protects the cultural industries o f othernations. This one-dimensional approach is also evident in the undervaluing of expressionby the minorities—whether in art or in the media within the United States.

Manyartists have expressed in their work—whether their art is visual, plastic, orliterary—this sense of the unequal interaction between the United States andLatin America, as well as the sociocultural consequences of this inequality forinhabitants on each side of the fence. I wish to pick up here on the photographand text by Allan Sekula about the filming of the film, Titanic, inthe Mexican sea, near Rosarito, which Sekula presented in his exhibition forinSITE in 1997. The sinking of the Titanic was filmed by Universal Studies in Popotla,a beach to the south of Tijuana, in order to take advantage of low wages inMexico (they are ten times less than in the United States). Sekula sees this"intervention" as part of a continuous process of actions going backto 1840 by "white adventurers" who came to Baja California, "aninferior space, a Utopia of child-like freedoms where the lobsters can be eaten upgreedily and where cars can be driven with careless abandon. And now, Hollywooditself is fleeing, it is crossing the triple-layered fence in order to exposeits own and very dearvision of the history of a modernity which stumbles upon the primordialabyss." He continues: "The extras float and shiver among the deadbody dummies, gesticulating and choking according to orders, a real army ofpeople drowning . . . the industrial border to the north of Mexico is theprototype o f a dark Taylorist future." The Titanic, Sekulasuggests, "is the old precursor of an unknown machine-operator (maquiladora).An army of cheap labourers is contained within and directed by thehydraulic action o f the machinery of apartheid. The machine is becoming moreand more indifferent to democracy, on both sides of the line, but it is notindifferent to culture, an oil sprinkled on murky waters."

Combinable Options

Theanalysis of migratory patterns, as well as the asymmetry between north andsouth in cultural exchanges and communication exchanges, demonstrates that theredefinition of the modern is operating in a globalized and unequal way. Theaxes o f the question are not so much being articulated around themodernization and traditions within each nation; rather they are taking shapein the ways in which this and that region—with their distinct ways o f being modern—arerepositioning themselves in the context of global exchanges. Three years ago,when I published a more detailed exposé of these matters in my book, Latinoamericanosbuscando lugar en este siglo (Paidós), the cover designer, MarioEskenazi, created a map of Latin America which was decentered and multicolored.He did not invert the south and the north, as in Torres Garcia's concept; heinterpreted the mobility that is occurring in our continent nowadays as ablurring of the borders and a superimposition of planes. Our map is now black, red,yellow, green, blue, and mauve; it multiplies itself and spreads itself throughspace. The identities within Latin America are multichromatic and are not fixedin one place. Latin America is not contained simply within the territory whichwe are accustomed to designate with that name. There are millions of LatinAmericans in California, New York, Madrid, London, or Paris, and our cultural products—novels,soap operas, scientific studies, and music—are searching for their place inevery continent. I t is a modernity that is decentered or eccentric. Perhapsthe discrepancy between these various images, these various ways o f imaginingLatin America, corresponds to the various 188 NÉSTORGARCIA CANCLINI alternatives thatsuggest how we should face the future. Person II I believe that it is not aquestion of a dilemma understood in absol terms, but rather a question of howwe should combine two necess tasks: Torres Garcia's proposal to place the northwhere the south is via a map that explores this eccentric and multicoloredplace. There are many ways of being Latin American in our world. Neverthelessit also must be said that i f we place ourselves within the simple legitimacyoffered by differences, i f we only recognize the many ways in which one can beLatin American (as an Indian, an Afro- American, a white, etc.), then we arenot facing up to the growing inequality created by asymmetry. Multiculturalism—whethercanonized in the menu offered by many museums, publishing houses, music companies,or TV companies—is administered via a funnel system whose seat of power islocated in a few centers in the north. The new strategies for dividing upartistic and intellectual work, the accumulation of symbolic and economiccapital via culture and communication, lead to a situation whereby the wealth of almost the whole planet— along with the ability to capture and redistributediversity—is concentrated in the United States, some European countries, andJapan. The global expansion of economic and cultural exchanges, migration thathas spread in all directions, and informational links across the globe, workagainst the respectful relativism that occurs in the context of specific,isolated cultures. When the borders between groups, ethnicities, and nationsbecome so blurred and unstable, and when competitiveness leads to anger, atthat point, a humanist tolerance—as a simple ethical term—is inadequate. We arebeginning to find out what a globalized citizenry would be like. At this levelof effective participation by citizens, the issue arises of the decisiveimportance of politics as action carried out by society, not simply in terms ofagreements between high-ranking officials or participation simulated via themedia. Neither should it be the mere resistance of actors or disparatemovements. In a world that is designed at once to interconnect as well as toexclude, the two most tried and tested policies to date for interculturality—tolerancetoward people who are different and solidarity with the subalterns—are both necessaryin order to allow us to carry on living together with one another. But if theystop there they run the risk of becoming resources allowing us to live withwhat we are not allowed to do. In Latin America, as elsewhere, communicatingwith people who are different, fighting inequality, and making sure that accessto intercultural heritage is available to all, have become indispensable tasksso that we can finally escape this era of paltry abundance. INTER-AMERICAN RELATIONS 189


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