Aug 232016
 

This PostandFly video explores the islands of San Jose, San Francisco and Espiritu Santo. The Sea of Cortés (Gulf of California) is the body of water that separates the Baja California Peninsula from the Mexican mainland. The Sea of Cortés is thought to be one of the most diverse seas on the planet, and is home to more than 5,000 species of micro-invertebrates. A large part of the Sea of Cortés is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Several rivers feed the Sea of Cortés, including the Colorado, Fuerte and Yaqui. The Sea of Cortés has more than 300 estuaries and other wetlands on its shores, of which the delta of the Colorado River is especially important. The vast reduction in the Colorado’s flow has negatively impacted wetlands and fisheries.

Previous Geo-Mexico posts on this area of Mexico include:

Jul 212016
 

Mexican photographer Diego Huerta has spent the past four years on a quest to photograph all of the indigenous groups in the country. He publishes select images on his website and on his instagram account and the collection of images makes for compelling viewing, hence articles about him in the press, including one entitled “Photographer Captures The Breathtaking Beauty Of Mexico’s Indigenous Communities” in the Huffington Post.

Related posts

For an introduction to Mexico’s indigenous peoples see An overview of Mexico’s indigenous peoples. Recent research has shown that the indigenous groups are more genetically diverse than was previously thought. They add a very significant diversity to the languages spoken in Mexico. See, for example, The geography of languages in Mexico: Spanish and 62 indigenous languages, and Is the number of speakers of indigenous languages in Mexico increasing? The many indigenous languages have resulted in some very distinctive place names.

At least one of the indigenous languages in Mexico is very unusual – Whistling your way from A to B: the whistled language of the Chinantec people in Oaxaca – and some have no words for “left” or “right”, while others are now spoken by only a very small number of people. The extreme example of this is Only two native speakers remain of Ayapaneco, an indigenous language in Tabasco.

Geo-Mexico has dozens of posts about specific indigenous groups in Mexico. The tag system and the site search engine will locate short articles related to the Huichol, Tarahumara, Aztecs, Maya and several other groups.

May 162016
 

Stacy B. Schaefer is professor emeritus of anthropology at California State University, Chico, and has worked in research and education at a number of California museums. Schaefer has a long-standing interest in Mexico, with particular interest in the Huichol Indians. She is the author of To Think With a Good Heart: Wixarika Women, Weavers, and Shamans (University of Utah Press, 2002) and the co-editor, with Peter Furst, of People of the Peyote: Huichol Indian History, Religion, and Survival (University of New Mexico, 1997).

In 2015, the University of New Mexico issued a revised reprint of To Think With a Good Heart with the new title, Huichol Women, Weavers, and Shamans. (We are pleased to say that Geo-Mexico produced a map for this new version, though a production glitch makes the numbers on the scale look like meaningless boxes!)

schafer-coverThe unique aspect of this book is that the author not only lived among the Huichol for extended periods of time over two decades, but committed herself to a long apprenticeship to become a weaver.

Schaefer’s account is a masterful interweaving of personal experiences and  ethnographic research. Her interest in weaving enabled her to become a trusted member of the community, affording her valuable insights into their lives, beliefs and customs.

The book considers the significance of weaving in relation to every aspect of Huichol life, from food gathering and farming to pregnancy, birth, shrines and goddesses. Schaeffer’s eventual success in becoming a master weaver opened yet more doors into the community, with fresh insights into local shamanism.

Schaeffer lived experiences that most of us can only hope to read about. Fortunately, her descriptions are captivating and detailed, as, for example, when she writes about her trip accompanying Huichol “family” on their pilgrimage to collect sacred peyote cactus.

As the back cover blurb states, “For centuries the Huichol (Wixárika) Indian women of Jalisco, Mexico, have been weaving textiles on backstrap looms. This West Mexican tradition has been passed down from mothers to daughters since pre-Columbian times. Weaving is a part of each woman’s identity – allowing them to express their ancient religious beliefs as well as to reflect the personal transformations they have undergone throughout their lives.”

While this is an academic work, Stacy Schaefer does an outstanding job in explaining all this in a way which is easily accessible to the general reader.

Schaefer also wrote Amada’s Blessings from the Peyote Gardens of South Texas (University of New Mexico, 2015), which tells the story (based on 13 years of fieldwork) of Amada Cardenas, a Mexican-American woman, and her pivotal role in the little-known history of the peyote trade, which began in the 1930s.

Related posts:

May 022016
 

This little 77-page gem only recently came to my attention, but is sufficiently interesting, for lots of different reasons, to make it well worth reading if you have the chance.

Written in straightforward, non-academic language, Stanislawski sets about unpacking the factors explaining the land use patterns for eleven towns in the western Mexico state of Michoacán. Stanislawski knows the land use patterns of these town, because he painstakingly compiled them, with the help of multiple informants in each town, in the 1940s.

Aria de Rosales. (Stanislawski, 1950)

Aria de Rosales. (Stanislawski, 1950)

Stanislawski explains that his purpose was to find a method that would reliably identify the “personality differences” that he had intuitively recognized, during earlier fieldwork, for towns in Michoacán. He set out to map the four distinct categories of land use – stores, crafts, administrative offices and services – that he thought would likely reveal the “distributional aspects that might indicate differences between towns.”

Pichátaro. (Stanislawski, 1950)

Pichátaro. (Stanislawski, 1950)

He assumed that each town would be influenced by its geographic area, and therefore chose eleven towns that he thought would be a systematic sample: one in the coastal lowlands, three in the low Balsas valley, two in the upper Balsas valley (close to the temperate slopes), four within the mountain ranges of the volcanic area of Michoacán, and one at an elevation of 2400 m (8000 ft).

The maps he produced revealed that “the geographical region could not explain the differences between the towns except in part.” At least as important, Stanislawski decided, was which of the two basic cultural groups – Hispanic or Indian – was predominant in the town. He proposed a threefold classification: Hispanic, Indian or dual-character.

On this basis, Aria de Rosales (upper map), with its imposing plaza the focus of most commercial activity, is an Hispanic town. On the other hand, Pichátaro (lower map), where the plaza is unimportant, is Indian. Of course, these differences, identified by Stanislawski in the 1940s, do not necessarily apply today. Since the 1940s, transport systems have changed, there have been waves of migration out of many Michoacán towns, and the range of economic activities in towns has increased significantly, with a trend away from primary activities and a sharp rise in tertiary 9service) activities.

In the 1980s (sadly ignorant at the time of Stanislawski’s work), I employed a small army of geography students to undertake a somewhat similar mapping exercise in various Michoacán settlements, ranging in size from the small village of Jungapeo to the mining town of Angangueo and the large city of Zitácuaro. For an example of this kind of work, see The distribution of retail activities in the city of Zitácuaro, Michoácan, Mexico. Sadly, those 1980s maps were later discarded during a clean-out of the department map cabinet by a well-intentioned, if ill-informed, successor.

Source:

  • The Anatomy of Eleven Towns in Michoacán (review) by Dan Stanislawski (University of Texas, Institute of Latin American Studies, Latin American Studies X, 1950); reprinted by Greenwood Press, New York, 1969.

Mar 242016
 

A recent National Geographic piece about the U.S.-Mexico border wall has some stunning photos of exactly what the wall looks like in various different places.

U.S. business magnate, and would-be politician Donald Trump has repeatedly promised to completely seal the U.S.-Mexico border with a wall if he is elected President, and has vowed that he would make Mexico pay for the expense. At present, the parts of the border not already walled or fenced off have security via border guards, drones and scanners.

Border fence near Campo, California. Credit: Fred Greaves/Reuters

Border fence near Campo, California. Credit: Fred Greaves/Reuters

The National Geographic article has photographs taken by James Whitlow Delano, who has visited the border several times in the past decades as the walls have gone up.

One photo shows the border wall separating Jacumba, California, from Jacume, Mexico, in the high desert. Until September 2001, several years after the first border barricade was built here in the mid-1990s, “residents of Jacume could cross freely into Jacumba to buy groceries or to work, and children would be brought across to go to school or to the health clinic.” Now, what was formerly a 10-minute walk has become a 2-hour drive through the official border crossing at Tecate.

Another photo shows the infamous Smuggler’s Gulch fence, part of a 60-million-dollar project to ensure security between San Diego and Tijuana by completing a triple line of fencing.

The photos are thought-provoking images of one of the world’s most significant land borders. The situation along the border has changed dramatically in recent years. When the first fences were built, Mexican migration to the U.S. was on the rise. Now, however, the net flow of people between the two countries each year is close to zero:

For more about the U.S.-Mexico border zone, see these related Geo-Mexico posts:

Feb 292016
 

The English language press has lavished dollops of praise on The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science, the biography of Humboldt written by Andrea Wulf, a design historian at the Royal College of Art in London.

wulf-humboldt

Cover of U.S. edition

According to a review in the New Scientist, “Historian Andrea Wulf calls Humboldt the lost hero of science. It is extraordinary that a man once so revered is now largely forgotten.” This claim is gross exaggeration. It has limited validity in the English-speaking world and even less validity in the German-, French- and Spanish-speaking worlds.

There have been several previous English-language biographies of Humboldt, some better than others. The earliest that immediately comes to mind, and one of the best illustrated, is Douglas Botting’s Humboldt and the Cosmos (1973). More recent works include Humboldt’s Cosmos by Gerard Helferich (2004); The Humboldt Current (2006), by Aaron Sachs (2006); and The Passage to Cosmos, by Laura Dassow Walls (2011). Generations of geographers have grown up learning about Humboldt’s explorations and his revolutionary ideas.

There is no question that Humboldt’s life and work are worthy of numerous biographies. There is no question, either, that Wulf’s biography is an interesting read, and contains lots of valuable ideas. The author clearly went to great lengths to visit many of the important locales in Humboldt’s writing, and to read dozens of his books in their original German, and much of his voluminous correspondence, as well as examining Darwin’s copies of Humboldt’s works, etc., etc.

However, Wulf misses the mark in this biography in two main regards. First, too much of the book is taken up with accounts of the sometimes tenuous links between Humboldt and later thinkers about environmental and other matters.

The second concern, and the one that most concerns Geo-Mexico, is that Wulf completely ignores Humboldt’s time in Mexico, despite providing detailed accounts of his explorations elsewhere. It is arguably his year-long visit to Mexico that gave Humboldt not only the opportunity to collect yet more data and information, but also to reflect on the significance of his discoveries in South America.

Surely, Humboldt’s views about volcanoes, for example, were shaped by the opportunity he had in Mexico to study Jorullo, the volcano (in present-day Michoacán) that had erupted a few years previously? Equally, Humboldt’s observations in the “Mexican Andes” (Sierra Madre Occidental and Volcanic Axis) undoubtedly helped Humboldt arrive at the conclusion that vegetation zonation with altitude had general applicability and was not confined to South America. Furthermore, it was Humboldt who first remarked on the fact that Mexican volcanoes lie in an East-west belt (Volcanic Axis) and were not arranged parallel to the main mountain ranges, as in South America. (The alignment of the Volcanic Axis is still something of a geological puzzle, since it does not appear to fit the general model of plate tectonics).

The omission of Mexico and the large number of pages devoted to later thinkers detract from the quality of Wulf’s biography, making it an interesting and readable, but unbalanced, and ultimately unsatisfying, portrait of one of the world’s greatest ever thinkers.

For a definitive account of Humboldt’s time in Mexico, see, La Obra de Alexander Von Humboldt en Mexico, Fundamento de la Geografía Moderna. by Rayfred Lionel Stevens-Middleton (Instituto Panamericano de Geografía y Historia, 1956).

Related posts:

Feb 252016
 

Dr Carl Wilhelm Schiess (1869-1929) is the unexpected link between Mexico and a Swiss castle. Schiess wrote a travel account, first published in 1902, of a two-month trip in Mexico in the winter of 1899-1900. The account, only ever published in German, is Quer durch Mexiko vom Atlantischen zum Stillen Ocean (“Across Mexico from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean”), published in Berlin by Dietrich Reimer.

Early travel accounts of Mexico are a valuable source of information for historical geographers, as well as for armchair travelers. Schiess’s account is no exception.

Who was Carl Wilhelm Schiess?

Carl Wilhelm Schiess of Basel and Herisau was born on 12 July 1869. His father was Prof. Dr. Heinrich Schiess, a well-known ophthalmologist in Basel, and his mother Rosalie Gemuseus. After completing his medical studies, the young doctor traveled abroad. These travels included  a trip with his brother to Mexico over the winter of 1899-1900.

Where he travel in Mexico?

They entered Mexico (and returned) via New Orleans. The brothers traveled by rail to Torreón, and then to Durango, before crossing the Western Sierra Madre to Mazatlán. From Mazatlán, they took a steamer to San Blas, and then proceeded to cross the country from west to east, via Tepic, Tequila, Guadalajara, Chapala, Zamora, Uruapan, Pátzcuaro, Morelia, Mexico City, Amecameca, to Veracruz, before returning north via Orizaba, Cordoba, Guanajuato, Aguascalientes and Zacatecas. Quite the itinerary to complete in just two months!

They were very impressed by the grandeur of the Juanacatlan Falls and the book includes several photographs of that area, including the falls themselves, women washing clothes below the falls, and this photo of an unpolluted River Santiago (aka Rio Grande) immediately before the falls.

Wilhelm Schiess: Rio Grande, Juanacatlan (December 1899)

Wilhelm Schiess: Rio Grande, Juanacatlan (December 1899)

Schiess and his brother had plenty of adventures along the way. Like most other early travelers in Mexico, they made a point of climbing Popocatepetl Volcano, but the brothers went one better than most and photographed the interior of its crater. The two men made several trips to places, such as mines, that were well off the beaten track. In central Mexico, they took the time to explore the ruins of Xochicalco, an archaeological site that even today is often ignored by passing tourists. The main pyramid at that time (photo) had not been restored.

Wilhelm Schiess: Xochicalco (December 1899)

Wilhelm Schiess: Xochicalco (December 1899)

Schiess’ account of their travels in Mexico is essentially a factual, straightforward account of their impressions and what they did, with few digressions, more of a journal than a modern-day travel book. It was well received at the time as an accurate, first-hand account of several little-known parts of Mexico.

A review in the Bulletin of the American Geographical Society claimed that, “His route from Durango across the Sierra Madre to Mazatlan has perhaps never been described before, and the interesting regions he crossed between San Blas and Lake Chapala are not well-known.” It probably is unlikely that the Durango-Mazatlan route had been described in detail prior to Schiess, though (by coincidence) Carl Lumholtz’s Unknown Mexico, which covers some of the same ground, and was based on travels between 1890 and 1900, was also first published, like Schiess’s book, in 1902.

However, the reviewer’s claim that the “regions” between San Blas and Lake Chapala were not well known is a clear exaggeration, since there had been several earlier, detailed, first-hand descriptions of the route from San Blas via Tepic to Guadalajara (and Lake Chapala) on account of this being a major trading and smuggling route during the nineteenth century.

Wilhelm Schiess: Street in Patzcuaro (December 1899)

Wilhelm Schiess: Street in Pátzcuaro (December 1899)

While one reviewer of Schiess’ book lamented the lack of reference to any earlier writers, all agreed that the inclusion of 71 photographs, many of high quality, made the book a valuable addition to the existing literature about Mexico.

Sadly, and presumably because the book was never translated into any other language, Schiess’s work has never received very wide attention. [If any German-speaking reader has time on their hands, and wants to undertake a worthwhile project,… then get in touch!]

Schiess’s account of Mexico is interesting in its own right, but his personal story after the trip to Mexico is just as interesting.

Scheiss’s connection to a Swiss castle

In 1900, shortly after his return to Switzerland, Schiess’s aunt, Mrs. Rosina Magdalena Gemuseus, bought Spiez Castle, on Lake Thun in the Swiss canton of Bern. Parts of the castle date back to the tenth century.

On 28 July 1900, Schiess opened his medical practice – in the castle. Announcing in a local newspaper that his practice was now open at Spiez Castle, with office hours daily in the morning to 11 clock, and with a clinic for eye diseases on Tuesday and Friday mornings, Schiess practiced and lived in the castle for many years, though it is not known which living spaces were used by either his aunt, or the doctor and his wife.

The village of Spiez grew rapidly after 1900. Roads were improved and villagers added a new stone church and many new homes. In about 1906, Dr. Schiess commissioned a firm of Basel architects to build him a large home in the village, to house both his family and his medical office. In other respects, Schiess lived quite modestly, continuing to make his rounds to visit patients by bicycle. Contemporaries described Schiess as a friendly, helpful and keen doctor, who, during the terrible 1918 flu epidemic, worked tirelessly, with no breaks, for several months.

In 1907, Schiess’s aunt sold him some of the outlying castle properties, including the old church, rectory, manager’s house, cherry orchard, vineyards and an area of forest. After his aunt’s death on 3 February 1919, the castle itself passed to Schiess. However, the upkeep was costly, and Schiess soon found himself having to sell valuable objects from the castle to pay for its ongoing maintenance.

By 1922, Schiess was actively looking for potential purchasers. A group of villagers established a foundation with the idea of preserving the castle for future generations. On 1 August 1929, the Spiez Castle Foundation and Schiess agreed terms for the sale of the castle. Barely two weeks later, on 14 August 1929, Schiess died unexpectedly of heart failure.

The castle and gardens first opened to the public in June 1930. The castle rooms are now used for conferences, concerts, exhibitions and other events.

Source:

  • Alfred Stettler. 2004. “75 Jahre Stiftung Schloss Spiez: Die Anfänge” (“75 years of the Spiez Castle Foundation: The beginnings”) in Jahrbuch: vom Thuner und Brienzersee, 2004 (“Yearbook of the lakes Thun and Brienz, 2004). Uferschutzverband Thuner- und Brienzersee.
Feb 182016
 

What better way to describe Mexico’s territorial evolution as a nation than via an animated graphic? Fortunately, we didn’t have to do the work ourselves, but found this one, showing all of North America, over at giphy.com:

The graphic covers the period 1750-2000. Mexico appeared in 1821, when it became formally independent from Spain. The Mexico of 1821 was much larger than today’s Mexico. Its northern border in the 1820s and 1830s reached deep into the modern-day U.S. states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Utah and Colorado. These areas remained part of Mexico until after the disastrous 1846-48 Mexico-U.S. war.

At the end of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceded over half of Mexico’s territory to the USA. A few years later, under the 1853 Gadsden Purchase (Treaty of La Mesilla), northern portions of Sonora and Chihuahua were transferred to the USA. With minor exceptions since, to take account of changes in the meanders of the Río Bravo/Río Grande, this established the current border between the two countries.

Related posts:

Video of Mexico in the 1930s

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Feb 082016
 

Early video of Mexico is rare, but always interesting to watch. This post features early examples of home movie footage, some of which was taken more than eighty years ago. The Stefan Hirsch and Elsa Rogo papers, in the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution, include nine short reels of film shot in Mexico between 1935 and 1941.

Stefan Hirsch and Elsa Rogo, ca. 1930 / unidentified photographer. Stefan Hirsch and Elsa Rogo papers, 1926-1985. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Stefan Hirsch and Elsa Rogo, ca. 1930 / unidentified photographer. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Stefan Hirsch (1899-1964) and his wife Elsa Rogo (1901-1996) were artists then living in Taxco, Guerrero. The movies (no sound, and most in black and white) were clearly shot by amateur photographers, rather than professionals, but still offer a revealing glimpse into some aspects of life in Mexico in the 1930s.

The nine short reels of film show scenes from Taxco, the mid-sized former silver mining town where Hirsch and Rogo lived, and from Tehuantepec, the large market town in Oaxaca, on the southern side of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Rogo developed close connections with Taxco; she started an art school there for local children in 1931. In 1937, she published a book entitled Walls and Volcanos: The Creative Impulse of the Mexican People.

The films show festival procession, dancing, markets, and people going about their daily lives. The last two of the nine films (beginning at 26:18) are very early examples of color home movies. The artistic vocation of both filmmakers is evident in the composition and subject matter.

Source:

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Dec 172015
 

Is mass tourism a form of colonialism or imperialism? This, essentially, is the question thoughtfully considered by Denise Fay Brown of the University of Calgary in her article, “Tourists as colonizers in Quintana Roo, Mexico”, published in the Summer 2014 issue of The Canadian Geographer.

Map of Quintana Roo. Copyright 2010 Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

Map of Quintana Roo. Copyright 2010 Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

Brown draws on decades of personal ethnographic fieldwork related to Maya spatiality and sociospatial organization in the Yucatec Maya zone, Quintana Roo. She argues that tourists, albeit unwittingly, are increasingly able (financially and in terms of ready access) to engage with “exotic landscapes”, but that their presence in such landscapes “results in the reterritorialization of the destinations that mimics the colonial enterprise.” In particular, in Quintana Roo, she claims that “an important segment of the landscape of the Yucatec Maya people has been appropriated and reterritorialized.” (How many tourists visiting Cancún and the so-called Riviera Maya region realize that this coast was largely terra incognita fifty years ago?)

One of the classic indicators of colonialism is spatial appropriation. Maya infighting aside, the earliest attempts at spatial appropriation in Quintana Roo were by Spain during early colonial times in the early sixteenth century. Even after independence in 1821, the Yucatán Peninsula resisted integration with the rest of the (new) nation. This resistance was not only due to cultural differences, but also to the Yucatán Peninsula’s location in the periphery, a long way from the seat of power in Mexico City. Indeed, despite the massive program of railway building that helped consolidate other parts of Mexico during the late nineteenth century, a rail link from central Mexico to the Yucatán Peninsula was only finally put in place in the 1950s.

Brown makes the case that the assault on Maya territory has continued into recent times, even if, “Today, it is not the conventional notion of nation state colonialism but a much more subtle invasion brought about by the ability of tourists from richer nations to travel south.”

She makes a strong argument that the growth of tourism in the Yucatán Peninsula has been “predatory” and that foreign tourists, especially those engaging in mass tourism, are, in fact, unwitting colonizers.

Brown concludes that, “The case of Quintana Roo, Mexico illustrates how the tourist can be seen as a pawn in a larger political project. Exposure of this predatory nature of tourism reveals processes that have implications for other Native regions of the Americas and beyond that are suffering similar “invasions.””

Thinking about the extent to which tourism is just one more manifestation of colonialism adds a whole new dimension to traditional tourism studies looking at economic, social and environmental advantages and disadvantages. Brown’s argument is persuasive, and, clearly, the political and cultural impacts of tourism deserve equal consideration.

Reference:

  • Denise Fay Brown. 2014. “Tourists as colonizers in Quintana Roo, Mexico”, The Canadian Geographer, vol 57, #2, Summer 2014, pp 186-205.

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