‘We’re Competing Against Everybody Just Like You’: Voices on Manufacturing in Mexico

At a time of uncertainty over the fate of the North American Free Trade Agreement, what does it feel like to work in a manufacturing plant in Mexico, where a surge of American companies have taken advantage of low labor costs?

This year, we followed a group of steelworkers in Indianapolis whose jobs were moving to Monterrey, Mexico, as discontent simmered in the American Rust Belt over the loss of blue-collar jobs.

In the wake of the article’s publication, and as tensions rose over attempts to renegotiate Nafta, we sought out perspectives on globalization from readers who had worked in the manufacturing industry in Mexico. We asked them what they would tell American workers if they could.

When Nafta was passed nearly 24 years ago, the trade deal marked a major milestone for globalization. It greatly expanded the number of assembly plants in Mexico known as maquiladoras, which import parts duty-free and send finished products back across the border. Today, Mexico’s maquiladora industry is far more sophisticated and global than when Nafta began.

In response to our queries, we received over 200 responses from readers. They ranged from expressions of solidarity — “We are not your enemy, but your brother in arms,” one wrote — to anger at being demonized for merely trying to make a living.

Many of the respondents echoed a common theme: Fear of the looming threat of automation, and of losing jobs to China. In follow-up interviews, respondents shared more about their experiences and their views on globalization.

These interviews have been lightly edited and condensed, and one was translated from Spanish.

Luis Arturo Torres Romero, 37, has worked for 19 years in factories in Tlajomulco de Zúñiga, a city in the Mexican state of Jalisco.

The son of an artist and a nurse who has struggled to make ends meet, Mr. Torres Romero put himself through college by working the night shift as an assembly operator at a factory that made consumer electronics. Now, he’s a development engineer for automotive electronics.

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Raquel Gerardo, 22, grew up in Tijuana in a family that depended on the maquiladora industry for its livelihood.

Ms. Gerardo’s parents met while working together in a factory. Her father started off sweeping floors as a teenager. He rose through the ranks, becoming a technician, an engineer and finally a plant manager at an electronics factory in Tijuana.

Ms. Gerardo attended high school in Tijuana, where students were taught quality control, marketing and other skills necessary for the maquiladora industry. She went to college in Idaho, but returned to Tijuana for an internship at a factory. Today, she lives in Tijuana and works for an American software company that markets to Latin American customers.

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Douglas Naudin, 75, of Laredo, Texas, worked as a human resources manager in the maquiladora industry from 1983 to 2007.

Mr. Naudin was born in Mexico, but grew up in El Paso after his father earned an engineering degree from the University of Missouri. A dual citizen of the United States and Mexico, Mr. Naudin always felt drawn to the Mexican side of the border.

He was thrilled when an American company based in Carrollton, Tex., hired him in the 1980s to work in a newly built electronics factory in Juárez, Mexico. Mr. Naudin became head of human resources at that plant, which made LED bulbs for automobile dashboards.

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David Treviño, 56, worked for 12 years as a production manager at a plant in Mexico City that made electrical bundles.

Mr. Treviño has traveled to China more than 100 times in the last 27 years, first as the representative of an international wire assemblies company that was establishing factories in China in the 1990s, and with an electronics distributor in Mexico City he founded that imports products from China to Mexico and the United States.

Content originally published on https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/27/us/mexico-manufacturing.html by FARAH STOCKMAN and MICHEL VEGA