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An Influencer for Mexico’s First Lady?
April 6, 2023

An Influencer for Mexico’s First Lady?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Elon Musk Went to Mexico and Was Surprised They Have Bed Bath & Beyond, She helped lock down a multibillion-dollar Tesla plant. But Mariana Rodríguez Cantú, first lady of Nuevo León and Mexican Instagram, is just getting started., Why Elon Musk chose Monte

In her telling, it was the sight of a Bed Bath & Beyond that might have sealed the multibillion-dollar deal. When Elon Musk was touring around Monterrey in February with Nuevo León Gov. Samuel García and his wife, Mariana Rodríguez Cantú, it wasn’t the largest Lego plant in the world, the Amazon warehouse, the Kia car factory, the iconic Rayados and Tigres football stadiums, or the astonishing backdrop of the Huasteca mountain range that most caught his eye, at least as Rodríguez remembered it. He really perked up when driving past the multilevel ‘Fashion Drive’ mall, exclaiming, according to Rodríguez’s retelling on Instagram, ‘Oh, you have a Bed Bath & Beyond.’ To which she purportedly replied, ‘Yes, but we are missing Target and Tesla.’

Soon, the booming Monterrey region—the industrial city recently surpassed Guadalajara to become Mexico’s second-largest metro area—will be missing only Target, as on Feb. 28, a few days after the tour, Musk announced that Tesla will be building a gigafactory in Santa Catarina, Nuevo León, a Monterrey suburb. According to the Mexican government, this $5 billion initial investment (and much more over time) will create the largest Tesla plant in the world.

Rodríguez’s account of Musk’s visit was a classic of her oeuvre as one of Mexico’s most gifted political communicators and social influencers. Her 2.7 million followers on Instagram got an intimate, candid, behind-the-scenes take on the visit, as if from a friend gossiping about her in-laws’ recent stay.

The governor’s subsequent account of the visit (to his smaller audience of 1.4 million followers) was also a classic of the couple’s proven dynamic. He boasted about how Musk seemed most interested in talking to his wife, and about how she showed her true colors when he asked if she was on Twitter, too, as an influencer—she replied she wasn’t, because ‘it is too toxic.’

The 27-year-old Rodríguez received a great deal of attention for helping to propel her husband into office in 2021, as an influencer who alternatively sold beauty products and her young husband’s campaign. The couple has come a long way since those campaigning days, when they captured voters’ imagination but also suffered some self-imposed setbacks, such as when García chastised his wife in one of their videos for showing what he thought was too much skin. ‘I didn’t marry you so that you could show your leg,’ he added, undercutting the image of his marriage as a partnership with a strong, independent woman.

These days, Rodríguez’s only product is her husband’s administration of Nuevo León, the border state whose long-established attractiveness to foreign investors has only been enhanced by the current ‘re-shoring’ or ‘near-shoring’ push to move away from an overreliance on trans-Pacific supply chains. But don’t call Rodríguez the state’s ‘first lady.’ She wants to go beyond other first ladies, rejecting the position traditionally granted to them in the family-development and welfare institution Desarrollo Integral de la Familia. Instead, she created a tailor-made institution for her ambitions called Amar a Nuevo León, or Love Nuevo León.

According to a profile of Rodríguez by the Mexican site Nexos, there was a point in their relationship after the election when the couple decided to be a true partnership. ‘Samuel himself, who since the campaign had acquired the habit of speaking in the first person plural, assured his wife in a victory speech that they would rule together,’ wrote Ana Sofía Rodríguez Everaert.

Since then, Rodríguez has become a crucial part of the government. But also of scandals, as she has taken advantage of her position as a government official to satisfy personal desires—and her need for content. In particular, the couple took Emilio, a vulnerable child, out of a foster care institution to spend a weekend with them. The Nuevo León State Human Rights Commission, after the incident, concluded that the couple had violated protocols in removing the child from the institution. Rodríguez felt she had been acting in the best interest of the child, and to bring attention to other vulnerable kids, but critics saw the governing couple as exploiting a child as a prop. When Rodríguez’s followers asked her if she would adopt Emilio, she clarified that adoption wasn’t currently in her plans because she wanted to dedicate her time to helping her husband and her state.

García and Rodríguez had lots to say about their securing the Tesla investment, a triumph achieved despite Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s efforts to divert Tesla’s attention to an alternative state governed by his own Morena party. (García is 1 of only 2 governors nationwide from the Movimiento Ciudadano party.) But the couple soon shifted topics to even more consequential news: the birth of their baby Mariel. Given the baby’s arrival, just 10 days after the announcement of Tesla’s new gigafactory, people in Nuevo León joked that Mariel should be named ‘Marielon,’ in tribute to Elon Musk.

Fans of the couple applauded them for sharing every moment of Mariel’s arrival, while critics rolled their eyes at what they perceived as the exploitation of private moments for political influence. The early hospital moments, contractions, and actual birth were shared on both their social media accounts, along with the first embrace between baby and shirtless father, the baby’s first bottle, and so on. The couple has also been extremely open about how much they’ve struggled to get to this moment: Rodríguez had previously suffered four miscarriages, according to an interview she gave the actress Aislinn Derbez.

Halfway through his second year as governor, García remains popular with his Nuevo León constituents. A ranking of Mexican governors prepared by CE Research shows him to be the nation’s third-most-popular governor, with a 62 percent approval rating. Given the state’s economic importance (with a per capita GDP that is 73 percent higher than the national average), the governor of Nuevo León tends to be a consequential figure on the national stage. Nowadays, because of the general disarray of Mexico’s opposition parties (including García’s own), and aided by the Rodríguez effect, Monterrey’s ruling couple, despite their youth, might be the closest thing the country has to a viable opposition to AMLO and his Morena party’s electoral steamroller.

In the next year, García, who is 35, will undoubtedly try to leverage the Tesla win to woo other impactful investments and upgrade Monterrey’s status from industrial center to high-tech hub.  To do so successfully, he will have to navigate and address difficult drought-induced questions about the region’s water resources and determined opposition in the state legislature.

Rodríguez, for her part, will continue refining her role as governing partner and mother. Judging by her visibility on social media, magazine covers, and general cultural discourse, people’s fascination with her shows no sign of abating. Mexico’s machista culture has little precedent of a charming, politically active spouse. But Rodríguez has been adept at making Mexicans see her husband as she does, and the couple’s missteps have until now helped establish an air of earnest authenticity around their online persona. They stumble and learn from mistakes, as we all do. And the complexity of Rodríguez’s situation is one Mexican women of different generations will appreciate in different ways: How do you establish your own identity and exert your own power as a 21st-century influencer, even if it’s mostly to support and advance your husband?

Rodríguez is charting a path no one has taken before, and if she and García succeed in their shared project, she will invariably face increased pressure, scrutiny, and questions about whether she is trying out for that title she finds so objectionable.

First lady, but of all Mexico.


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