This interview originally appeared in México Solidarity Bulletin, the weekly newsletter of the México Solidarity Project.

Jorge Mújica Murias has been a visible and vocal leader in Chicago’s Mexican community for decades. He is one of the three conveners of the historic immigrant rights marches in Chicago in 2006. His electoral activism includes running for US Congress in 2009, for Chicago Alderman in 2015, and he currently serves as an alternate Morena diputado in México’s Chamber of Deputies.

I understand there’s a big Mexican population in Chicago; why is that?

Chicago has the fifth largest Mexican population in the world. Why? It started with trains. Beginning around 1900, Mexicans were recruited to build the trains going up the middle of the US, and they rode the trains to jobs in the steel industry and slaughterhouses. As early as 1912, a Mexican workers federation held a Mayday demonstration to remember Sacco and Vanzetti, the martyred union organizers unjustly hanged after the Chicago Haymarket Square massacre.

I went first to Los Angeles from México in 1987, but in 1988 the Sin Fronteras newspaper in Chicago offered me a job as the editor, and I’ve been here ever since. Chicago is home to people from every Latin American country — 1.5 million of us. At one point, the La Raza newspaper had 190,000 subscribers.

Are Chicago Mexicans active in Mexican politics? Do they vote?

When I got to Chicago in 1988, I found a lot of activity in favor of progressive presidential candidate Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas — even though we didn’t have the right to vote. That’s a story! We didn’t get the right to vote until 1995. And then it was almost impossible to do so: you had to travel to México to register, and then you had to pick up the voting card in person, still in México, three weeks after that. 

Later, Mexicans were allowed to petition for voting cards at the nearest consulate — which might not be very near! — and had to send the ballot by mail to the National Electoral Institute of México. We still have to re-register for every election. I’m an example of how the process doesn’t work. I know the ropes, and I really wanted to vote in 2022. But I failed — just too many hurdles. 

In spite of the difficulties, we keep going. Chicago is México’s US political capital. While Los Angeles has a larger population, they’re not active the way we are. In 2000, we held our own symbolic election. Even though our votes didn’t count, we set up 42 polling places, and 10,000 people voted. We kept doing it after that, and we’ll do it again in 2024.

Mexican law prohibits Mexicans from engaging in political activity abroad, for fear that the US could influence Mexican elections. But in practice, we are active, and it is all in the open, aboveground. México knows we have Morena chapters, and somehow we’ve even been able to send delegates to the Morena convention. We’re recognized, we participate — even if it’s supposedly illegal! 

No one has any idea how many Morena chapters there are, they keep cropping up. 80? 100? 150? We have eight chapters in Chicago alone. Political activism is alive and well.

The Magón brothers at the time of the 1910 Mexican revolution provided radical leadership to Mexicans in the US, and they haven’t been the only ones. Is there radical leadership today?

I was in a communist youth organization in México, and I was influenced by the leftist-led student uprising at Tlatelolco in 1968. When the progressive party, the PRD (Partido de la Revolución Democrática), was founded in México in 1988, we also founded our own PRD organization in Chicago. To do that, we pulled together eight leftist organizations, eight “tribes.” We succeeded in unifying all into the PRD. 

Most Chicago Mexicans identify with the left. In 2018, AMLO got 69% of the vote in México; he got 78% here. The PRI polled at less than 5%. Why? Because for most Mexicans, neoliberal PRI government policies are the reason they had to emigrate.

What reforms do US Mexicans want? First, voting from abroad must be simplified and enhanced. Second, the consulates need to function better and provide more services. Third, we want migrants into México to be treated the same way we want Mexican migrants to be treated in the US

Do you think many Mexicans in the US will vote in the 2024 Mexican election? What reforms are they looking for?

The voting process is still too difficult. Mexicans must register in person at a Mexican consulate by February 2024. About 1.6 million Mexicans obtained their voting cards via the consulates, and of those, 450,000 registered. We’re pushing to get more registered, and voting. Our goal is to have 600,00 to 700,000 votes from the US. In early October, we won a change in procedure making it easier to register. You will no longer need an appointment at the consulate to register to vote, you can just walk in.

We can only vote for the president and senators; we can’t vote for representatives in the Chamber of Deputies, which is like the US House of Representatives. So it seems contradictory that there are Congressional representatives who, like me, are migrants to the US.

How can this be?! In 2021, a suit was filed in México federal court, which asserted that migrants constituted a disadvantaged group, and therefore had a right to affirmative action. The court agreed. So citizens living abroad were included as candidates on the ballots of the different Mexican states. Voters in México elected 11 people living abroad, 10 from the US. I’m an alternative Morena diputado myself. Representatives do not explicitly represent migrants, since we didn’t elect them directly, but there is a relationship between the diputados and the Mexicans who all live in the US.

What reforms do US Mexicans want? First, voting from abroad must be simplified and enhanced. Second, the consulates need to function better and provide more services. Third, we want migrants into México to be treated the same way we want Mexican migrants to be treated in the US. They should be granted temporary status for six months and given the right to work during that time, such as Biden did for Venezuelans.

It looks like Claudia Sheinbaum will be México’s next president. Do you think she’ll be as good as AMLO? 

Claudia is a leftist, AMLO is not. I’ve trusted Claudia since she was 20! Morenistas in Chicago did a poll on the people running to become Morena’s presidential candidate, and Claudia polled at 80%. I believe that she will be able to lead México down the path AMLO charted to a fourth revolutionary transformation.