"Many people come across the border not because they don't love Mexico but because they hope to find a better life for their families," said Marin, who arrived in California with her family from Mexico City 26 years ago.
Zedillo's visit has caused a stir at Breed Street Elementary School in Boyle Heights, where he is scheduled to appear Thursday. Students have painted a banner welcoming him and Gov. Gray Davis, and plan to perform songs and dances.
Erik Lopez, one of the fifth-grade students who will introduce Zedillo during the ceremonies, said he has done library research on the president.
"I think that it's a great thing that he's coming because my grandfather is Mexican, and the president is Mexican, so maybe I can learn a lot more about my grandfather from meeting the president," said Erik, 10.
Leticia Quezada, president of the Mexican Cultural Institute and a former Los Angeles school board member, said the president's visit represents "a recognition that we continue to be Mexican, that the Mexican community in Los Angeles is important to the highest authority in Mexico."
The last time a Mexican president visited Los Angeles was in 1991, before the wrenching debates surrounding Proposition 187, affirmative action and bilingual education.
The visit--and Zedillo's grand reception in Sacramento on Tuesday by Gov. Davis and the Legislature--is seen as a significant victory in the culture wars that many felt divided California between Latinos and everyone else.
The shift shows that the mobilization of Latino voters after Proposition 187 has paid off, "not only by bringing people into the political process, but by turning around the political view of someplace as important as the state of California," said Raul Hinojosa, Mexican-born director of the North American Integration and Development Center at UCLA.
Critics see Zedillo's visit as the latest attempt by Mexico to extend its influence north of the border. Members of the Voice of Citizens Together, a San Fernando Valley-based group seeking to stem immigration, plan to stage a protest today outside the Hotel Bonaventure to condemn "Mexican expansionism," said Glenn Spencer, the group's leader.
Such sentiments serve as a reminder that bitter divisions remain regarding Mexican immigration. Many Mexican Americans fear that lingering ill will could resurface should the economy falter, and politicians look for someone to blame.
Others plan to demonstrate against Zedillo for his support of free trade and foreign investment.
"This president continues to give away Mexico to the United States, Japan and everyone else," said Pedro Arias, a retired welder and 40-year U.S. resident. He plans to join other protesters outside the Bonaventure to present the president with a mock "foot of Santa Anna" award, named after the 19th century Mexican leader who was blamed for ceding about half of the nation's territory--including California--to the United States.
Gonzalo Molina takes a more tempered view. The 73-year-old World War II veteran and naturalized U.S. citizen said he believes in drawing from the strengths of both countries.
The United States can learn from Mexico's educational system, he said, especially when it comes to teaching young people respect for their teachers and elders.
Mexico, he said, can learn some lessons in government from the United States.
"It is not incompatible to admire the principles of a representative democracy of America's founding fathers, and also be able to appreciate Mexico's Benito Juarez," he said.
As a citizenship instructor, he helped more than 1,000 people become U.S. citizens. During those classes, Molina said, he taught his mostly immigrant Latino students both U.S. and Mexican history.
"You cannot go toward a place if you do know where you come from," said Molina. "Mexico and California's cultural and economic ties are so interwoven that you cannot separate them."
Times staff writer Antonio Olivo and special correspondent Joseph Trevino contributed to this story.