Jan 162014
 

“Holiday in Mexico” is a collection of essays relating to the history of tourism in Mexico. The dozen authors involved are primarily academic historians, but also include a journalist. While the writing style is somewhat varied, this in no way detracts from the overall high quality of the contributions.

As Dina Berger and Andrew Grant Wood, the book’s editors, point out in their introduction, Mexico’s dilemma as regards tourism has always been to “reconcile market demand with a desire for national sovereignty” (p. 1). Tourism may stimulate the economy but can also have adverse environmental, social, and cultural consequences. Tourism promoters have always sought to “package” Mexico in a way that will attract tourists. The tourism sector’s portrayals of Mexico are inevitably subjective and seek to influence the perceptions of potential visitors.

The book’s 14 chapters (including the introduction) span 3 time periods:

  • 1840s-1911
  • 1920-50
  • 1960-present

and examine three main themes:

  • how Mexicans promoted and imagined their country and culture
  • the political lenses through which Mexicans and tourists have interacted with each other
  • the advantages and disadvantages of tourism

1840s to 1911

Two chapters look at the early history of tourism in Mexico. Andrea Boardman links the early days of American tourism in Mexico to the US soldiers who entered Mexico during the Mexican-American War. Among other achievements, American soldiers climbed Mexico’s highest peak, El Pico de Orizaba, though they were certainly not the first foreign nationals to do so. The accounts written by soldiers helped the American public appreciate that Mexico was worth exploring. Visiting Mexico became easier once the major railway lines had been completed at the end of the nineteenth century.

Christina Bueno offers a detailed look at the contested reconstruction of Teotihuacan, the earliest major archaeological site to be opened for tourism, its “restoration” timed to coincide with the celebrations for Mexico’s centenary of independence. Cultural and historical tourism have remained important aspects of tourism in Mexico ever since. Such tourism simultaneously stresses the significance of indigenous culture while portraying the nation as “modern” and “forward looking”.

1920-60

Five chapters of “Holiday in Mexico” look at the formative period of tourism development in Mexico that began shortly after the start of the Mexican Revolution in 1910.

cover of holiday in mexicoAndrew Grant Wood shows how business leaders in the port of Veracruz were able to reposition the city, changing its image from an insalubrious and unsafe city into a haven for cultural activities, music and dance, centered on annual Carnival celebrations.

Dina Berger looks at tourism, diplomacy and Mexico-USA relations. Mexico’s active promotion of its national progress (such as modern highways), democracy and friendliness coincided with a period when the USA pursued its Good Neighbor policy and Panamericanism (such as the construction of the Pan American Highway).

Eric Schantz’s essay focuses on postwar tourism in Baja California’s border zone, and considers the impacts of gaming, racing, prostitution and the growing tourism entertainment industry. Many of those crossing the border to partake in these activities were, strictly speaking, “visitors” rather than “tourists”, since they remained less than 24 hours, but they had a massive influence on the economy of some border cities.

In the next chapter, “Fun in Acapulco? The Politics of Development on the Mexican Rivera,” Andrew Sackett weaves a carefully-crafted narrative that encompasses Acapulco cliff divers, Hollywood movie stars, state intervention, poor ejido farmers being dispossessed of their land, and the capriciousness of resort developers. This is possibly the strongest chapter in the book from a geographical perspective, though Sackett overstates the significance of a 1946 map of the city, since all maps are perceptual statements and necessarily simplify the landscape and select the most appropriate points of reference for their intended audience.

Lisa Pinley Covert then looks at how San Miguel de Allende’s tourist industry developed from a combination of local, national and international factors and players. In this case (unlike Acapulco) local efforts were preeminent in establishing the city’s reputation as a center for cultural tourism. Interestingly, no distinction is drawn in this chapter between the impacts of “tourists” and the impacts of the longer-term, non-tourist foreign residents that now comprise a distinctive segment of the city’s population.

1960-present

The final five chapters have greater contemporary relevance. Jeffrey Pilcher gives an engrossing account of how culinary tourism emerged, of how restauranteurs created “authentic” Mexican cuisine, a kind of “gentrification” of Mexican food. This account supports the view that cultural imperialism has not led to the food homogenization of North America, but, on the contrary, has led to varied, glocalized responses including innovatory regional and local cuisine.

M. Bianet Castellanos looks at the lesser-known face of mass tourism in the centrally-planned FONATUR resort of Cancún: the many service workers who migrated from nearby indigenous communities, and their perceptions of the resort and its tourist industry.

Adopting a national viewpoint, Mary K. Coffey examines how federal government policies in the past decade or so have sought to promote Mexico’s artistic and folk art culture as a powerful magnet for tourism. To remain competitive on the world stage, and counteract the impacts of events elsewhere (such as 9/11), Mexico’s tourism sector needs to continually reinvent itself. This is an excellent example of how changing policies and rhetoric can help keep Mexico in the world tourist spotlight.

In looking at Los Cabos, another centrally-planned resort, Alex M. Saragoza emphasizes how it was designed specifically to appeal to wealthy US tourists, hence its emphasis on golf courses, and its grandiose plans (now scaled-back) for the “Escalera Náutica”, a network of marina resorts.

The final essay, by travel writer Barbara Kastelein, looks at some of the forces behind the development of tourism in three contrasting locales: Acapulco, Oaxaca and Amecameca, considering some of the broader aspects including race, gender, and class dynamics.

The geographical coverage of “Holiday in Mexico” is quite broad but certainly not comprehensive. The use of case studies allows the authors to explore the many subtexts in depth, but it may be that some of the insights arrived at fail to hold up when a regional or national scale is considered.

The book certainly provides plenty of ideas worth further discussion, along with thoughtful analysis of different stakeholders, different types of tourism and their relative merits. The authors do not shy away from looking at the impacts of the massive socioeconomic gaps between tourists and their Mexican hosts, or of the corruption that has unfortunately accompanied many tourism developments in Mexico.

If I have one minor reservation about this book, it is that it is overly US-centric. The history of tourism in Mexico deserves a more nuanced approach, one in which the role of European and Latin American tourists is also closely examined. This clearly opens up many possibilities for future research.

Dina Berger and Andrew Grant Wood (eds). 2010 “Holiday in Mexico: Critical reflections on tourism and tourist encounters.” Duke University Press.

Related posts:

Jan 162014
 

Retirees, mainly from the USA and Canada, form a special subgroup of tourists. About 1 million US visitors to Mexico each year are over the age of 60. Their total expenditure is about $500 million a year. Three-quarters arrive by air; half of these stay 4-8 days and almost one in ten stays 30 days or longer. Half stay in hotels, and one-third in time-shares; the remainder either stay with family or friends, or own their own second home. Of the 25% arriving by land, almost one in three stays 30 days or more. For Canadians, the patterns are broadly similar except that a higher percentage arrive by air.

The number of retiree tourists is relatively easy to quantify. However, it is extremely difficult to place accurate figures on the number of non-working, non-Mexicans who have chosen to relocate full-time to Mexico. Technically, these “residential tourists” are not really tourists at all but longer-term migrants holding residency visas. They form a very distinct group in several Mexican towns and cities, with lifestyle needs and spending patterns that are very different from those of tourists. Their additional economic impact is believed to exceed $500 million a year.

Map of Lake Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico

Map of Lake Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico. Credit: Tony Burton; all rights reserved.

The largest single US retirement community outside the USA is the Guadalajara-Chapala region in Jalisco, according to state officials (see map). The metropolitan area of Guadalajara, Mexico’s second city, has a population of about 4 million. The villages of Chapala and Ajijic (combined population about 40,000) sit on the north shore of Lake Chapala some 50 km (30 mi) to the south. Historically, Chapala was the first lakeshore settlement to attract foreign settlers, as early as the start of the 20th century. Today the area is home to a mix of foreign artists, intellectuals, escapees (of various non-judicial kinds), pensioners and ex-servicemen. In the last 40 years, Ajijic has become the focal point of the sizable non-Mexican community living on the lakeshore. Depending on how they are defined, there are probably between 6000 and 10,000 foreign residents in the Chapala-Ajijic area, the higher number reflecting the peak winter season. About 60% of retirees in the area own their own homes or condos, though many still own property in the USA or Canada as well, and many make regular trips north of the border.

The main pull factors for residential tourists are an amenable climate; reasonable property prices; access to stores, restaurants and high quality medical service; an attractive natural environment; a diversity of social activities; proximity to airports; tax advantages, and relatively inexpensive living costs.

David Truly has suggested that conventional tourist typologies do not work well with Ajijic retirees. He identified migrant clusters with similar likes and dislikes. Retirees vary in education, travel experience and how they make decisions about relocation. Early migrants tended to dislike the USA and Canada and adapted to life in Mexico. They were generally content with anonymity unlike many more recent migrants. Traditional migrants appreciate all three countries, but have chosen Mexico as their place of permanent residence. Many new migrants do not especially like the USA or Canada but are not particularly interested in Mexico either. They seek familiar pastimes and social settings and are content to have relatively little interaction with Mexicans.

The large influx of residential tourists into small lakeside communities like Ajijic inevitably generates a range of reactions among the local populace. From empirical studies of regular tourism elsewhere, George Doxey developed an “irritation index” describing how the attitudes of host communities change as tourist numbers increase. His model applies equally well to residential tourists. In the initial stage the host community experiences euphoria (all visitors are welcome, no special planning occurs). As numbers increase, host attitudes change to apathy (visitors are taken for granted) and then annoyance (misgivings about tourism are expressed, carrying capacities are exceeded, additional infrastructure is planned). If numbers continue to grow, hosts may reach the stage of antagonism, where irritations are openly expressed and incomers are perceived as the cause of significant problems.

Residential tourism in the Chapala-Ajijic area has certainly wrought great changes on the landscape. Residential tourists have created a distinct cultural landscape in terms of architectural styles, street architecture and the functions of settlements. (Browse the Chapala Multiple Listing Service New Properties). Gated communities have been tacked on to the original villages. Subdivisions, two around golf courses, have sprawled up the hillsides. Swimming pools are common. Much of the signage is in English. Even the central plazas have been remodeled to reflect foreign tastes. Traditional village homes have been gentrified, some in an alien “New Mexico” style.

On the plus side, many retirees, as a substitute for the family they left behind, engage in philanthropic activities, with a particular focus on children and the elderly. Retiree expenditures also boost the local economy. Areas benefiting from retirees include medical, legal and personal services, real estate, supermarkets, restaurants, gardening and housecleaning. Employment is boosted, both directly and indirectly, which improves average local living standards.

On the minus side, decades of land speculation have had a dramatic impact on local society. Land and property prices have risen dramatically. Many local people have become landless domestic servants, gardeners and shop-keepers with a sense that the area is no longer theirs. Crime levels have risen and some local traditions have suffered. The abuse of water supplies has resulted in declining well levels. Over zealous applications of fertilizers and pesticides have contaminated local water sources.

Other locations besides Chapala-Ajijic where a similar influence of non-Mexican retirees on the landscape can be observed include San Miguel de Allende (Guanajuato), Cuernavaca (Morelos), Mazatlán (Sinaloa), Puerto Peñasco (Sonara), Rosarito (Baja California) and Todos Santos (Baja California Sur). The most preferred locations are all on the Pacific coast side of Mexico.

As more baby-boomers reach retirement age, residential tourism offers many Mexican towns and cities a way of overcoming the seasonality of conventional tourism. Lesser-developed regions have an opportunity to cash in on their cultural and natural heritage and improve their basic infrastructure.

This is a lightly edited excerpt from chapter 19 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico.

References:

  • Boehm S., B. 2001 El Lago de Chapala: su Ribera Norte. Un ensayo de lectura del paisaje cultural. 2001. Relaciones 85, Invierno, 2001. Vol XXII: 58-83.
  • Burton, T. 2008 Lake Chapala Through the Ages, an Anthology of Travellers’ Tales. Canada: Sombrero Books.
  • Doxey G.V. 1975 A causation theory of visitor‑resident irritants: methodology and research inferences. Proceedings of the Travel Research Association, San Diego, California, USA: 195‑8.
  • Stokes, E.M. 1981 La Colonia Extranero: An American retirement Community in Ajijic, Mexico. PhD dissertation, University of New York, Stony Brook, cited in Truly, D. 2002.
  • Truly, D. 2002 International Retirement migration and tourism along the Lake Chapala Riviera: developing a matrix of retirement migration behavior. Tourism Geographies. Vol 4 # 3, 2002: 261-281.
  • Truly, D. 2006 The Lake Chapala Riviera: The evolution of a not so American foreign community, in Bloom, N.D. (ed) 2006 Adventures into Mexico: American Tourism beyond the Border. Rowman & Littlefield: 167-190

Related posts:

Jan 132014
 

In an interesting recent article, Melanie Lombard of the Global Urban Research Centre of the University of Manchester in the UK describes how she used the fieldwork technique of auto-photography to explore the views of people living in two informal settlements in Xalapa, the state capital of Veracruz.

What is auto-photography?

Auto-photography is not the same as selfies! In auto-photography participants take photographs, choosing images and representations for themselves. Auto-photography typically entails a researcher giving cameras to research subjects and then asking them to photograph particular places and/or events.

Why use auto-photography?

Visual images are of great importance in geography. Geographers have utilized photographs and other images in their research and teaching for decades, paying considerable attention since at least the 1950s to the ways in which people respond to particular images, and how they interpret them. Auto-photography follows in this long-standing geographic tradition of recording and analysing visual images.

In particular, auto-photography “allows researchers to capture and articulate the ways identity guides human action and thought. It can generate more authentic data because it enables researchers to look at the participants’ world through the participants’ eyes. Auto-photography does this because participants themselves select and record the static images they feel represent them the best. This is a particularly critical issue for those who conduct research on the experiences of marginalized groups. Because auto-photography provides participants a chance to speak for themselves, it helps researchers to avoid exclusive reliance on potentially culturally biased research instruments.” (Noland, 2006)

In other words, auto-photography is one way to challenge the assumptions and generalizations often made by “outsiders”, even if they are researchers with the best intentions!

Lombard studied two informal settlements (colonias populares) in Xalapa: Loma Bonita and Moctezuma.

Xalapa, Veracruz

Xalapa, Veracruz (Mexico’s highest peak, Pico de Orizaba, in the background)

What method did she use?

Participants were given a camera and asked to take at least three photos to illustrate each of the following:

  • positive aspects of living in the neighborhood
  • negative aspects of living in the neighborhood
  • residents’ achievements in the neighborhood
  • special/typical characteristics of the neighborhood

Cameras were given to six selected individuals who were given a week to take a series of photos. During a follow-up interview, participants were asked about their motivations for having chosen particular locations to illustrate their neighborhood’s positive and negative aspects.

As Lombard points out, unlike the typically “negative framings” of informal settlements in most discussions, the images taken by the residents “convey a sense of everyday life taking place, amid hope and conviviality, as well as struggle and hardship”. Interestingly, photos of the local schools were taken by 5 of the 6 participants, with one 16-year-old teenager explaining how “in such an isolated neighbourhood, school is a service as significant as water or electricity”. There is a valuable lesson to be learned from the stark contrast between a photo of Loma Bonita school taken by the researcher, in which the school’s building and location are emphasized, and an image of the same school taken by one of the participants, who chose to photograph a group of students, accompanied by a teacher, engaged in a cultural activity in the playground.

Photos illustrating positive aspects of the neighborhood including a resident working a small plot of land for corn (maize) and one of a family butchering a pig. Such images underline the importance, as Lombard points out, of “understanding poverty from the point of view of the poor”, suggesting that residents view their neighborhoods not only as sites of hardship and discrimination, but also as “an important base for livelihoods”.

There are several financial and ethical considerations that also need to be considered. For example, should a financial reward be offered to participants? Might the offer of a financial reward change the level of commitment of participants and affect their choice of subject matter? In the context of Lombard’s study, she opted to give a copy of all photos to each participant, as well as giving them the opportunity to keep the camera that had been provided.

Lombard’s article is a valuable addition to the literature about qualitative fieldwork methods, though (as she takes pains to point out) the method does present “a set of specific ethical challenges” and the results of such studies may be difficult to interpret.

References:

Lombard, Melanie. 2013. Using auto-photography to understand place: reflections from research in urban informal settlements in Mexico. Area (RGS/IBG) 45:1, 23-32.

Noland, Carey M. 2006. Auto-Photography as Research Practice: Identity and Self-Esteem Research Journal of Research Practice, Volume 2, Issue 1.

Related posts:

Jan 112014
 

The Lerma-Chapala Basin (see map) is one of Mexico’s major river systems, comprising portions of 127 municipalities in five states: México, Querétaro, Michoacán, Guanajuato and Jalisco.

The basin has considerable economic importance. It occupies only 2.9% of Mexico’s total landmass, but is home to 9.3% of Mexico’s total population, and its economic activities account for 11.5% of national GDP. The basin’s GDP (about 80 billion dollars/year) is higher than the GDP of many countries, including Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, Paraguay, Bolivia, Uruguay, Croatia, Jordan, North Korea and Slovenia.

Lerma-Chapala Basin

The Lerma-Chapala Basin. Click map to enlarge. Credit: Tony Burton / Geo-Mexico

Given this level of economic activity, it is probably not surprising that the pressures on natural resources in the basin, especially water, are enormous. Historically, the downstream consequence of the Lerma Basin’s agricultural and industrial success has been an inadequate supply of (heavily polluted) water to Lake Chapala.

Following decades of political inactivity or ineffectiveness in managing the basin’s water resources, solid progress finally appears to have been made. Part of the problem previously was a distinct lack of hard information about this region at the river basin scale. The statistics for such key elements as water usage, number of wells, replenishment rates, etc. were all (to put it politely) contested.

Fortunately, several scientific publications in recent years have redressed the balance, and the Lerma-Chapala Basin is now probably the best documented river basin in Mexico. This has allowed state and federal governments to negotiate a series of management agreements that are showing some positive signs of success.

The first of these key publications was “The Lerma-Chapala Watershed: Evaluation and Management“, edited by Anne M. Hansen and Manfred van Afferden (Klewer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2001). This collection of articles featured contributions from researchers in several universities and research centers, including the University of Guadalajara, Mexican Institute of Water Technology, Autonomous University of Guadalajara, Baylor University, the Harvard School of Public Health and Environment Canada. Click here for my comprehensive description and review of this volume on MexConnect.com.

Perhaps the single most important publication was the Atlas de la cuenca Lerma-Chapala, construyendo una visión conjunta in 2006. Cotler Ávalos, Helena; Marisa Mazari Hiriart y José de Anda Sánchez (eds.), SEMARNATINE-UNAM-IE, México, 2006, 196 pages. (The link is to a low-resolution pdf of the entire atlas). The atlas’s 196 pages showcase specially-commissioned maps of climate, soils, vegetation, land use, urban growth, water quality,  and a myriad of other topics.

More recently, a Case Study of the Lerma-Chapala river basin: : A fruitful sustainable water management experience was prepared in 2012 for the 4th UN World Water Development Report “Managing water under uncertainty and risk”. This detailed case study should prove to be especially useful in high school and university classes.

The Case Study provides a solid background to the Lerma-Chapala basin, including development indicators, followed by a history of attempts to provide a structural framework for its management.

In the words of its authors, “The Lerma Chapala Case Study is a story of how the rapid economic and demographic growth of post-Second World War Mexico, a period known as the “Mexican Miracle”, turned into a shambles when water resources and sustainable balances were lost, leading to pressure on water resources and their management, including water allocation conflicts and social turbulence.”

On a positive note, the study describes how meticulous study of the main interactions between water and other key development elements such as economic activity and social structures, enabled a thorough assessment on how to drive change in a manner largely accepted by the key stakeholders.

The early results are “stimulating”. “Drawbacks and obstacles are formidable. The main yields are water treatment and allocation, finances, public awareness, participation and involvement. The main obstacles are centralization, turbid interests, weak capacity building, fragile water knowledge; continuity; financial constraints; and weak planning.”

Sustainable water usage is still a long way off. As the Case Study cautions, “There is still much to do, considering the system Lerma-Chapala responds directly to a hydrologic system where joint action and especially abundant involvement of informed users is required, to achieve sustainable use of water resource.”

One minor caveat is that the Case Study does not offer full bibliographic reference for all of the maps it uses, which include several from the previously-described Atlas de la cuenca Lerma-Chapala, construyendo una visión conjunta.

Related posts:

Jan 092014
 

The North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA) came into effect on 1 January 1994. Twenty years on, opinions remain sharply divided over the extent to which NAFTA has benefited Mexico and Mexicans.

NAFTA has led to progress

The Economist magazine is among those arguing that NAFTA has transformed the Mexican economy for the better, but that much remains to be done if Mexico is to make the most of its partnership with the USA and Canada. Two recent articles from The Economist summarize the arguments for NAFTA having been a success story for Mexico:

NAFTA has hindered progress

Other analysts are equally convinced that NAFTA has hindered Mexico’s economic progress and has brought problems for many Mexicans. For example, Timothy A. Wise, the policy research director at Tufts University’s Global Development and Environment Institute, argues that NAFTA has had adverse impacts on agriculture and on Mexico’s food security.

In Wise’s view, NAFTA had a sequence of impacts. First, it led to a flood of US imports of corn, wheat, meat and other staples which drove Mexican producer prices down below the costs of production. (Some US corn exports to Mexico were “dumped” at prices 19% below even US farmers’ costs of production). While Mexico’s own agricultural exports to the USA increased due to NAFTA, the overall agricultural trade deficit between the two countries widened considerably, with Mexico needing to import almost half of its total food requirements by the mid-2000s.

The international prices for many of these imported crops have doubled or tripled over the past decade, and Mexico’s agricultural trade deficit with the USA jumped to more than $4 billion. Why does Wise choose to highlight the beer industry? He argues that even the success of Mexico’s beer industry has brought more benefits to US farmers than Mexican farmers because the two major raw materials for beer (barley and malt) are not produced in Mexico, but imported from the USA.

Similarly, in a Guardian article entitled NAFTA: 20 years of regret for Mexico, Mark Weisbrot, the co-director of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research in Washington DC, concludes that, “It’s tough to imagine Mexico doing worse without NAFTA.”

Conclusion

Both sides of this argument hold some merit. While some sectors of Mexico’s economy, and some people, have undoubtedly gained from NAFTA, others have lost.

Related posts:

Jan 072014
 

In a previous post – 2013 Mexico Peace Index: Mexico becoming more peaceful –we reported the work of the Institute for Economics and Peace in devising its inaugural 2013 Mexico Peace Index (MPI).

The interactive online maps that form part of this report repay some exploring. In addition to allowing you to view the pattern for MPI on a state-by-state basis, they also allow you to see the pattern for each of the 7 main indicators:

  • Homicide (includes murder, infanticide and non-negligent manslaughter)
  • Violent crime (includes rape, robbery and aggravated assault)
  • Weapons crime (the proportion of crimes that involve a firearm)
  • Incarceration (the annual number of people per 100,000 people over the age of 18 sentenced to prison)
  • Police funding (proportion of the Federal District Public Security Contribution Fund)
  • Organized crime (includes extortion, kidnapping, and drug related crimes)
  • Justice efficiency (the ratio of sentenced homicides to total number of homicides)

Looking at these maps recently, one curiosity that struck me was that the map for incarceration rates shows a clear distance-decay pattern (the kind of pattern we older geographers love to find, even if we can’t explain it!).

The map is a screenshot of incarceration rates in 2012. The incarceration rate is defined as the number of people /100,000 people over the age of 18 sentenced to prison in that year.

Incarceration rate in Mexico, 2012

Incarceration rate in Mexico, 2012. Credit: Mexican Peace Index. Institute for Economics & Peace

In this case (see map), it appears that the rate of incarceration varies with distance from the US state of California. The closer to California, the higher the incarceration rate. Looking more closely, it becomes apparent that the states along the northwest coast of Mexico, west of the Western Sierra Madre, have higher incarceration rates than those inland or further south. This means that a better description of the pattern might be that states that are closer in travel time, or ease of travel, to California have higher incarceration rates. This has the added attraction of bringing the eastern state of Quintana Roo into the picture given the large number of flights from Los Angeles to Cancún!

Even if a pattern exists, this kind of conjectural analysis is not the same as a causal explanation. In this case, surely it is just a coincidence that incarceration rates happened to arrange themselves like this? Perhaps the analysis of incarceration rates in future years will shed more light on this spatial curiosity!

For other examples of distance decay, see

The full 96-page 2013 Mexico Peace Index report – available here - is well worth reading and offers many more insights into the changes taking place in Mexico.

Related posts:
Jan 042014
 

Many Mexicans use January’s weather to forecast what the weather will be like for the rest of the year.

Many Mexicans, especially campesinos (peasant farmers), who are closer to the land than most, believe that the weather during the month of January serves as a long-range forecast for the entire year. The precise prediction system, known as las cabañuelas, is thought to be based on long cycles of observations carried out in an age when people depended far more on the weather than they do today. The system is quite complicated.

The first twelve days of January are known as las cabañuelas “a derechas”. The weather on January 1 foretells the likely weather for the rest of the month. The weather on January 2 predicts the weather for February and so on, with the weather of January 12 suggesting likely conditions for December. The next twelve days (January 13 to 24 inclusive) are known as las cabañuelas “a rataculas”. This time, the weather of January 13 foretells December, that of January 14 November, and so on.

Jan 18: Pondering a miserable July

Next, each of the six days from January 25 to January 30 inclusive is divided at noon. The morning of January 25 represents January, the afternoon February. The morning of January 26 hints at March’s weather, while the afternoon applies to April’s, and so on.

Finally, even the 24 hours of January 31 are used. Each hour in the morning will be reflected in the weather from January to December. (Presumably the weather from midnight to 1.00am is a true reflection of what has already happened in January!) Then, each hour in the afternoon can be used to forecast future weather in the reverse direction. Hence, noon to 1.00pm gives us clues for December, 1.00 to 2.00pm for November and so on. Apparently, an alternative version, used in some parts of northern Mexico, divides January 31 into 12 periods of 2 hours each, with each division corresponding to the months in reverse order.

Whatever the details, the system is said to be at least as reliable as scientific forecasts over the same time period. (Though, thinking about it, perhaps that is not that hard!)

The same cabañuelas system is used in various parts of Spain, but the annual forecast does not always begin on the same day. For instance, in Alcozar, las cabañuelas “a derechas” begin on December 13. Elsewhere in Spain, they start on August 2 or August 13. According to Divina Aparicio de Andrés, predictions in Alcozar based on las cabañuelas lasted until well into the 1940s, but their use has declined since.

See also: The origins of the cabañuelas system of weather forecasting

This is an edited version of an article originally published on MexConnect.com

The climate of Mexico is discussed, with several maps,  in chapter 4 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Climatic hazards, such as hurricanes, droughts and floods, are looked at in detail in chapters 4 and 7. Mexico’s cultural geography and cultural landscapes are discussed in chapter 13.

Jan 022014
 

The total number of people living in poverty in Mexico continues to rise, though the poverty rate (as a percentage) remains roughly the same. According to Mexico’s National Political and Social Development Commission (Spanish language acronym: Coneval), the number of people in poverty has risen steadily for several years, much in line with Mexico’s rising total population. Coneval’s figures are based on a simple multidimensional poverty index, which considers the following criteria:

  • household income
  • access to education
  • access to food
  • access to health care
  • access to social services
  • housing quality
  • access to basic household services (electricity, water, drainage)

According to Coneval, 53.3 million Mexicans (45.5% of the total population) were living in poverty in 2012, compared to 52.8 million (46.1% of the then population) in 2010 and 48.8 million Mexicans (44.5%of the population) in 2008.

Note that poverty statistics prior to 2008 in Mexico were generally based purely on income levels. From 2008, this method was replaced by a multidimensional index. The precise details of the index have been modified slightly since that time, making exact comparisons between 2012 and 2008 more problematic.

While the precise numbers are subject to debate, mainly due to differing definitions of what constitutes “poverty” and how it can be measured, the trend revealed by the Coneval numbers is supported by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in its “Social Panorama of Latin America 2013“, published in December 2013. The ECLAC report found that Mexico is one of a very few countries where poverty levels rose between 2011 and 2012, from 36.3% of the population to 37.1%, according to its definition.

The dire situation in Mexico compares to a slight decrease in poverty in most larger Latin American countries, including Venezuela, Ecuador, Brazil, Peru, Argentina and Colombia.

In absolute terms, according to ECLAC, 164 million people were found to be living in poverty in Latin America, about 57.4 million (35%) of them in Mexico.

Change in poverty rates in Mexico, 2010-2012.

Change in poverty rates in Mexico, 2010-2012. Credit: Geo-Mexico; all rights reserved. Data: Coneval

The map shows the Coneval data for changes in the poverty rate between 2010 and 2012 by state. It appears that poverty levels increased in many of Mexico’s more prosperous areas and in the longer established industrial areas, as well as in almost all areas where tourism is important. Poverty decreased in some of Mexico’s more rural, and generally poorer, states.

Related posts:

Dec 302013
 

More than 190 countries signed up to the 2015 UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), agreed in 2000. There are 8 major goals:

  1. eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. achieve universal primary education
  3. promote gender equality and empower women
  4. reduce child mortality
  5. improve maternal health
  6. combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  7. ensure environmental sustainability
  8. develop a global partnership for development

millenium-development-goalsMexico is well on its way to meeting most of the eight goals, according to the technical committee established to monitor the country’s progress. The technical committee includes representatives from various government departments, as well as INEGI (the National Geography and Statistics Institute) and CONAPO (the National Population Council).

The committee reports that Mexico has already met the targets for 38 (74.5%) of the 51 quantitative indicators used to assess progress towards the 8 goals, and is continuing work towards meeting the remaining targets by 2015 (the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals).

Satisfactory or good progress is being made on 5 of the remaining 13 indicators; all five are expected to be met sometime in 2015.  Progress on the other 8 indicators has been slower than needed, and it now seems highly unlikely that goal 7 (environmental sustainability) can possibly be met.

Specific targets that Mexico has not yet reached and where progress has either stagnated, or deterioration has occurred, include:

  • Decrease in mortality rate per 100,000 inhabitants due to HIV/AIDS  (part of goal 6)
  • Total carbon dioxide emissions (part of goal 7)
  • Proportion of total water resources already in use (part of goal 7)
  • Percentage of inhabitants with private dwellings using charcoal or wood for cooking (part of goal 7)

Further reading

Related posts:

Dec 272013
 

Among the many interesting facets of Mexico’s cultural geography are the subtle differences between beliefs in Mexico and similar beliefs in the USA and Canada. For example, 28 December, Day of the Holy Innocents ( Día de los Santos Inocentes) is the Mexican equivalent of north-of-the-border April Fools’ Day (1 April).

This is when Mexican children will borrow, but not repay, small loans from unsuspecting friends and relatives that they consider a soft touch. Once they’ve received the loan, they say either the following verse (quoted in Frances Toor, A Treasury of Mexican Folkways, 1947) or something similar:

Inocente Palomita
Que te dejaste engañar
Sabiendo que en este día
Nada se debe prestar.

Innocent little dove
You have let yourself be fooled
Knowing that on this day
You should lend nothing

So, be careful on 28 December if anyone admires one of your prized possessions… especially if it is your only copy of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico!

Related post: