President Vicente Fox on Saturday issued a written statement expressing his "enormous respect for minorities" after a comment on the work ethic of Mexicans in the US prompted critical headlines.
In a public appearance on Friday, Fox said, "There's no doubt that the Mexican men and women -- full of dignity, willpower and a capacity for work -- are doing the work that not even blacks want to do in the US."
The Mexican newspaper Milenio cited "Vicente Fox's racist comment" in a small front-page headline on Saturday, while the newspaper Reforma called the president's words "controversial."
Fox's remarks on Friday in the western city of Puerto Vallarta came a day after Mexico announced it will formally protest recent US immigration reforms, including the decision to extend walls along the border and make it harder for illegal migrants to get driver's licenses.
The president's office issued a statement on Saturday night expressing Fox's respect for minorities "whatever their racial, ethnic and religious origin."
"He laments and demonstrates his disagreement with interpretations that accuse his comments of being racist," the statement read. "The purpose of the remarks was nothing else but to make clear the importance that the Mexican workers have today in the development and progress of US society."
Pedestrians walking along a central Mexico City thoroughfare on Saturday said Fox simply had been getting at the truth about who often does America's dirtiest jobs.
"There is no discrimination because if the people of color, the blacks, do not like the rough work, let someone else do it," said electrician Alonzo Gomez, of Mexico City. "Here, there are a lot of people who want to go there."
While racial epithets related to Indian heritage are taboo in Mexico, friends and stranger alike can be heard addressing each other by nicknames based on physical appearance, including skin color.
"I don't know what to tell you," said Marco Antonio Ruiz, a laborer from Mexico City, when asked whether Fox's comment was appropriate.
"Many people cross the border to do work as laborers, work in restaurants, work in the fields," he said. "The gringos don't do it."
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