Obama draws hopeful crowds in Mexico

It was difficult to find Mexico’s traditional anti-Americanism Thursday in the crowds straining to glimpse President Obama -- or even in the small protests staged to attract his attention.

“I love Obama!” gushed Arleth Cardenas, a 20-year-old student who joined scores of Mexicans in Chapultepec Park, near where the American president would be dining later. “He really does care about people’s problems and is against the rich and in favor of the poor. I hope when he passes by he will stop and say hi.”

Crowds pressed against the miles of metal fencing that authorities set up to keep the streets clear. More than 5,000 agents, including federal police and army soldiers dressed as civilians, fanned out through the tony Polanco neighborhood where Obama was staying.

“To meet Obama would be a dream come true,” said Jose Antonio Torres Aldama, 20. “He is a real leader, and in Mexico at this time we do not have a real leader, someone like Obama who can inspire the masses.”

Ricardo Santana, a computer engineer, said his boss was letting employees keep the television on all day so they could watch Obama’s visit.


“In the office, no one has been talking about anything else,” Santana, 33, said. “Obamamania has arrived.”

When a helicopter passed overhead, the crowds craned their necks wondering if it might be Obama arriving.

Retiree Rafael Gutierrez had not taken complete loss of his sense of skepticism.

“This Mr. Obama has good intentions toward Mexico, but in his country the politicians and businessmen will never let him really support Mexico,” Gutierrez, 63, said. “It’s useless for him to be here and say Mexico is his friend when in his country there are many Mexicans suffering.”

At a demonstration outside the U.S. Embassy, the rancor was directed at policy, not at the man. Families who say they have been divided by immigration rules delivered a letter for Obama.

Some said they had been deported from the U.S., or left out of fear of deportation because they didn’t have visas, but had children who were born in the U.S. and were U.S. citizens.

Signs read: “Obama! Immigration reform! Now!”

Adriana Mondragon, 39, left behind her husband and son in Texas when she was deported. Three other children are living with her in the Mexican state of Michoacan, including 9-year-old Aylen, who was born in Texas.

“I want to go back to the house I bought in the U.S. and my son and husband,” she said. “We want to be together.”

Elvira Arellano, a Mexican deported from the United States in 2007 after taking sanctuary for a year in a Chicago church, organized the demonstration. She said she met Obama when he was a senator.

“I know he is a person with a big heart,” she said. “He promised immigration reform in the first 100 days of his presidency. Time is coming to an end.”


Times staff writer Tracy Wilkinson contributed to this report.