CASAS GRANDES, CHIHUAHUA, Mexico — Mitt Romney’s father was born in Mexico, but the Republican candidate seldom speaks of his family’s time there.
It turns out that some of his extended clan still live south of the border.
The Romneys of Mexico reside in the hills of Casas Grandes (meaning “big houses”) in Chihuahua, about 190 miles from Texas.
They are members of Mexico's Mormon community, whose roots can be traced to pioneers who ventured from Arizona and Utah in the late 1800s.
And they are by no means humble “campesinos.”
They worship at a temple made of marble, whose lavish gold-trim interior nobody but Mormons is allowed to enter.
Their homes are mansions by Mexican standards — featuring three floors, many rooms and manicured yards with French-style fountains.
Romney's Mexican clan are powerful farmers. They grow vast fields of peppers, peaches, pears and apples. Through a farm cooperative called Paquime, they export the high-quality produce to the United States.
Mitt Romney, who stood a chance at becoming the first Mormon president, has sparked criticism for joking that he wished he were really Mexican.
While trying to woo a room full of wealthy Republican campaign donors, he suggested that had his father been born of Mexican parents, “I’d have a better shot of winning this.”
That moment, captured clandestinely on video, was one of the clumsier of very few references to the Romneys’ Mexico years.
He refers to the Mexico chapter of his father’s life in his 2010 book “No Apology: The Case for American Greatness.” Yet he only dedicates a short paragraph to that period. In reality he has said and written very little about his family’s Mexican origins.
Furthermore, Mexico — and for that matter Latin America overall — has been but a footnote in the 2012 campaign, even as foreign policy stole center stage.
The Romneys of Mexico say Mitt has never set foot on the land in Mexico that once belonged to his father — one more sign, some say, of his disconnect with the country.
Although he does not know him personally, Anthony says he believes his cousin is a good person, principled and successful.
But not all Mexican Romneys are convinced. The candidate’s stance on immigration — which includes creating conditions to encourage the “self-deportation” of illegal immigrants and building “an impermeable border fence” between Mexico and the US — is a major sticking point.
Leighton Romney, leader of the Colonia Juarez Mormons, explains that when his grandparents came to Mexico fleeing persecution in the United States for being polygamists, Mexico opened its doors to them.
He says that kicking all undocumented migrants out of the United States is inhumane and impossible.
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