Consul General of Mexico in San Francisco Remedios Gómez Arnau addresses an audience at the "Building Bridges" forum organized by the American Jewish Committee on Oct. 7. (Photo/Gabe Stutman)
Consul General of Mexico in San Francisco Remedios Gómez Arnau addresses an audience at the "Building Bridges" forum organized by the American Jewish Committee on Oct. 7. (Photo/Gabe Stutman)

Mexico’s top diplomat in S.F. speaks to Jewish community

Remedios Gómez Arnau, Mexico’s S.F.-based consul general since May, told a group of local Jewish leaders that she hopes to “change the narrative” regarding Mexico and Mexicans.

Americans’ perception of Mexicans “usually is focused on negative things,” she said to about a dozen attendees at an Oct. 7 lunch forum hosted by the San Francisco branch of the American Jewish Committee. “But if you only focus on the negative side, you don’t have the whole picture.”

Gómez Arnau touted Mexicans’ contribution to the U.S. tax base, their indefatigable work ethic and international trade deals that boost the economies of both nations. She said she hopes to harness business innovation in the Bay Area and match U.S. companies with Mexican talent.

Diplomatically, she declined to speculate on why Latinos are often portrayed in what she perceives to be a negative light.

“I don’t want to blame a specific person or specific remarks,” she said. “I think this is historical, and I think it’s time to start changing what has been happening for so many years.”

Gómez Arnau said she serves almost 1 million Mexican-born constituents in Northern California and Hawaii. She’s been a Mexican diplomat to the United States since 2001, with previous posts in Atlanta, San Diego and Raleigh, North Carolina.

With some 40,000 to 50,000 Jews in Mexico, according to demographic estimates, Gómez Arnau lauded her country’s welcoming attitude toward the Jewish community. Last year, Mexico City elected its first Jewish mayor (and first female mayor), Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo.

While anti-Semitic incidents are few, a 2017 report from the Anti-Defamation League showed that “anti-Semitic attitudes” in Mexico had experienced a “sharp rise” in conjunction with “a faltering economy.” The most commonly held stereotype was that “Jews have too much power in the business world,” held by 56 percent of respondents, an increase from 40 percent three years earlier.

Gómez Arnau was joined at the forum by Sara Velten, a Mexican Jew based in the Bay Area as senior director of philanthropy at the Opportunity Fund. She spoke about her experience as a Jew in Mexico and joined Gómez Arnau in her aim to “change the narrative” surrounding Latinos. She also said she hopes Latino interest groups might take a page out of the playbook of Jewish Americans.

“We’re not very well organized,” Velten admitted. “That’s something that we don’t have in common with the Jewish community.”

She said, for example, that in the event of a public anti-Semitic attack, or an anti-LGBT incident, there is a corresponding public outcry. But how about “when the Latino community was attacked,” as it was during the 2016 presidential election? “Crickets,” she said.

“We need to change that,” said Velten, who co-founded a nonprofit in Texas to expand educational opportunities for Latinos. “And the only way to do that is by starting on the local level, and then [creating] networks.”

During the Q&A portion of the event, held at the Google Community Space on the Embarcadero, Gómez Arnau was asked to weigh in on Israel, though she mostly dodged the question. Last year, after populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador was elected president of Mexico, the Jerusalem Post wondered if the “golden age” of Mexico-Israel relations that existed under Enrique Peña Nieto, president from 2012 to 2018, would come to an end. AMLO, as he is known, has never been to Israel and is said to be focused on domestic issues.

“I’m not an expert on those relations,” Gómez Arnau said of the Mexico-Israel dynamic. “I know that we have a good relationship.”

Gómez Arnau said she always has cultivated relationships with Jewish groups in her various posts in the United States. “I think it’s mutually beneficial,” she said. “We can work on behalf of our communities.”

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is a J. staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.