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Oct 182012

More than half (51.3%) of Mexico’s total population of is female. (There are 94.8 men for every 100 women.) However, with isolated exceptions, Mexico has been a male-dominated society for a long time and the spirit of machismo is still very strong in many parts of the country. There is ample evidence for this. For example, Mexico has never had a female head of state and very few female cabinet members have ever been appointed. There have been very few female candidates for president; they include Cecilia Soto González (1994), Dora Patricia Mercado (2006) and Josefina Vázquez Mora (2012). [Thanks go to Manuel and other alert readers for correcting an earlier version]. In business, male executives earn more than their female counterparts, though the wage differential is much smaller for lower-paid positions.

There are also vast differences across the country in the economic and social well-being of women. Some women, such as billionaire María Asunción Aramburuzabala, have proved that Mexican women can be incredibly successful in business, yet tens of thousands of women face a daily struggle against starvation and violence in the home.

The precise roles of women in Mexican society vary greatly from one region to another. The indigenous Zapotec community of Juchitán in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region of Oaxaca is at one extreme. It functions as a matriarchal society where women play a much more important role than men in trading and decision-making.

Juchitán is also possibly the most tolerant place in Mexico in terms of attitudes to the gay and transgender community, especially to transvestite men, locally called muxes (pronounced moo-shays). The 5-minute video below, The Third Gender, produced by Deborah Bonello for GlobalPost, explores the extent to which the residents of Juchitán accept cross-dressing muxes as an integral part of society.

Want to read more?

  • Nicola Ókin Frioli. Princesses in a land of Machos (short essay and outstanding photographs by a highly accomplished photographer)
  • Bennholdt-Thomsen, V. 2005 A matriarchal society in the age of globalization: Juchitán/Southern Mexico.  Paper presented at 2nd World Congress on Matriarchal Studies, San Marcos and Austin, Texas. 2005
  • Isabella Tree. The women of Juchitán (Inside Mexico)
  • Marc Lacey. A Lifestyle Distinct: The Muxe of Mexico (New York Times)

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Oct 152012

In an earlier post, we looked at the benefits brought by Mexico’s street markets (tianguis) to both vendors and consumers, and mentioned their long history.

But where, when and why did the first street markets emerge in Mexico?

While there is ample evidence of long-distance trade at least as far back as the Olmec (1500 BC to 200 BC), and we know that there was regular long-distance trade during Aztec times, this trade did not necessarily involve market places and market activity.

Richard Blanton and his co-authors in Ancient Mesoamerica: a comparison of change in three regions offer some insights into how markets may have developed in the Oaxaca region of Mexico.

They point out that relatively little archaeological work has been done on finding the origins of market systems. The major reason for this is because of the paucity of direct archaeological evidence of market activities. Finding “exotic” items (those originating from outside the area) is a clear indication of barter or trade, but does not prove that there was a regular market.There is little or no evidence of the former market stalls and activities for archaeologists to work with.

Ceramic items in a Oaxaca street market. Photo: Tony Burton

Ceramic items in a Oaxaca street market. Photo: Tony Burton

However, several million ceramic pieces found in the Oaxaca area have been collected, and systematically cataloged by complexity of form, and hence, difficulty of manufacture and likely “value”. Blanton and his colleagues explore the idea that the distribution of these ceramics can be used to map ceramic production sites and provide a “faint image of the structure of the region’s marketing system”.

In their words, “Presumably, producers would have  distributed themselves in such a way as to maximize their access to potential customers, and to minimize costs. As the clays needed for ceramic making were available virtually everywhere, potters should have therefore tended to locate themselves close to the marketplace or marketplaces where their goods would be sold, to minimize their costs of moving the pottery.” [p 37]

Echoing central place theory, they write that, “A market system and its specialized producers can’t be supported if the producers can’t make a living. They have to be able to supply a sufficiently large number of households that are willing and able to consume a sufficiently large quantity of their goods.” The “demand threshold” is the minimum demand sufficient for a particular product to be worth producing. People will travel further to purchase a higher cost or rarer item (which has a higher demand threshold), which will be produced in only a single or very small number of locations.

According to Blanton and his colleagues, the data for ceramic types in the Valley of Oaxaca confirm that as early as 500 B.C., only one site contained evidence for the most costly (intricate; many steps involved in production) form of ceramics. This site was located in the center of the valley. On the other hand, a larger number of production sites for less costly ceramics were found, scattered around the valley, each site apparently supplying a small local area. While this is not conclusive proof of regular markets, it is certainly strongly suggestive that this is how markets originated in this region.

More than two thousand years later, the Oaxaca Valley still has some of the most colorful and vibrant markets in Mexico. The map shows the market day for major markets in the area around the city of Oaxaca. For more details, see Markets in and near the city of Oaxaca.


Blanton, Richard E., Stephen A. Kowalewski, Gary Feinmann and Jill Appel. Ancient Mesoamerica: a comparison of change in three regions. Cambridge University Press, 1981.

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Oct 132012

Several of the 62 indigenous languages currently spoken in Mexico are considered “endangered”, spoken by so few people that they will die out in the next few years. The most extreme example is Ayapaneco, a language believed to be spoken today by only two individuals.

Ayapaneco (also known as Ayapa Zoque, Tabasco Zoque and Zoque-Ayapaneco) is one of several Zoque languages and dialects. The only remaining native speakers live in Ayapa, a village 10 kilometers (6 miles) east of Comalcalco, in the state of Tabasco. The native name for the language is Nuumte Oote (True Voice).

The language fell into disuse in the middle of the 20th century. Among the factors involved were the introduction of compulsory schooling in Spanish and the migration of many native speakers to towns and cities where the language was not spoken.

Manuel Segovia (77), one of the last native speakers of Ayapaneco (Credit: Cuartoscuro).

Manuel Segovia (77), one of the last native speakers of Ayapaneco (Credit: Cuartoscuro).

The last two known native speakers of the language are Isidro Velazquez (aged 70) and Manuel Segovia (77). The bad news is that they are apparently reluctant to talk to each other! They also disagree about some of the language’s details. The only one of their relatives attempting to learn the language is Manuel’s son (also named Manuel) who, for the past five years, has studied several hours a day in an attempt to become sufficiently fluent to teach it and keep it alive.

There is some good news. Daniel Suslak, a linguistic anthropologist at Indiana University, is trying to complete the first ever dictionary of the language, and two young Mexican film-makers plan to shoot a documentary entitled “Lengua Muerta” (Dead Language) starring the last two native speakers. The film’s director, Denisse Quintero (28), hopes to create an audiovisual memory that will serve future generations, while at the same time increasing awareness among the present generation of the need to preserve the remaining indigenous languages, together with the cultures that they represent. For more about their project (in Spanish), see the documentary-makers’ plea for funding and this Youtube video.

Some estimates put the number of different Indian languages in the 16th century in what became “New Spain” as high as 170. This number had dwindled to about 100 by 1900, and has continued to decline to the present day. The latest estimates are that at least 62 distinct languages (and 100 dialects) are still spoken somewhere in the country. The precise numbers are often debated by linguists, given that the distinction between a dialect and a language is not universally agreed.

Language is an essential part of culture, and every time a native language is lost, Mexico’s rich cultural tapestry loses a few more strands.

Want to learn more?

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Oct 112012

An interesting historical example of central place theory is described in Ancient Mesoamerica: a comparison of change in three regions. Central place theory suggests that places of similar size (or occupying a similar level in a region’s urban hierarchy) should form a distinctive spatial pattern. They will be roughly equidistant from one another.The pattern is conceptualized as a series of hexagons, with a settlement at each apex. Such a pattern permits an equidistant spacing in all directions, and has no “gaps” where any territory falls outside (beyond) the “sphere of influence” of one or other of the settlements.

Several archaeologists interested in the Maya have suggested that central place theory offers a way to help explain the pattern of Maya sites in the Yucatán Peninsula and further south into Guatemala. They have postulated that Maya settlements may indeed form a hierarchy in terms of size and importance, with a relatively small number of major regional centers overseeing a larger number of smaller centers. Furthermore, where such a pattern exists, it suggests a high degree of political organization.

This particular example comes from the south-east corner of Campeche, near the Guatemala border.


The major regional center in this case is Calakmul (a World Heritage site since 2002). Calakmul is surrounded by six smaller centers, which are close to equidistant from each other, as well as from Calakmul. In turn, Uxul has several smaller subordinate settlements around it.

Settlement order around Calakmul in Classic Period (Blanton et al, 1981)

Settlement order around Calakmul in Classic Period (from Blanton et al, 1981; figure 4.11)

In this example, the average distance between settlements is about 33 kilometers (20.5 miles), which is approximately one day’s walk and/or canoe trip in this region. So, an individual could leave somewhere like Altamira in the morning and reach Calakmul before nightfall, and vice versa.

Not all Maya archaeologists believe that central place theory is helpful in explaining the distribution of settlements in the region. Some argue that the daily travel distance is the key, and that patterns such as that found around Calakmul are as much due to coincidence as any kind of overriding pattern.

The original theory, as proposed by German geographer Walter Christaller in 1933, was based on various assumptions. In particular, the region was assumed to be an unbounded isotropic (flat) plain, homogeneous in all significant physical aspects (soil, access to water, vegetation, etc), and population was assumed to be evenly distributed. The Yucatán Peninsula is certainly an area of low relief, but access to water and vegetation vary significantly from one area to another, so Christaller’s basic assumptions are not met in the region. On the other hand, there is no denying that a highly structured society might decide (even without having studied  AP Human Geography or A-level Geography) that regularly-spaced settlements are an ideal solution to issues of transportation, administration and control.

For a more academic discussion of the merits of central place theory in Maya research, see Brown and Witschey’s The Geographic Analysis of Ancient Maya Settlement and Polity [pdf file], a paper presented in 2001 at the Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative, City University, Hong Kong.


Blanton, Richard E., Stephen A. Kowalewski, Gary Feinmann and Jill Appel. Ancient Mesoamerica: a comparison of change in three regions. Cambridge University Press, 1981.

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Oct 082012

Mexico has some of the finest markets in the world. The variety of produce and other items sold in markets is staggering. But not all Mexican markets are the same. The two major groups are the permanent markets (mercados), usually housed in a purpose-built structure and open for business every day, and the street market or tianguis, usually held once a week.

Street market in Oaxaca. Photo: Tony Burton

Street market in Oaxaca. Photo: Tony Burton

Most tianguis temporarily occupy one or more streets or a public square, though some also use privately-owned land. The origins of the tianguis lie in pre-Columbian times, whereas mercados are a much more recent innovation. In this post, we focus on the tianguis.

The geography of a street market or tianguis

The merchants selling goods in a street market generally visit several markets each week, on a regular rotation (see map for an example of a weekly cycle of markets around the city of Oaxaca). In terms of economic geography, weekly markets allow merchants to maximize their “sphere of influence” and exceed the sales “threshold”, the minimum sales required for them to make a profit, even if they are selling items that may not cost very much, and for which individual consumers are not prepared to travel very far. By visiting, say, four markets a week, these merchants effectively quadruple their potential customers. In terms of social and human geography, these weekly markets are a valuable means of communication, and news from one community quickly travels, via the merchants, to another.

At the same time, these markets give consumers access to a much wider range of goods than would otherwise be possible.

The map shows the market day for major markets, and the major weekly marketing cycles, in the area around the city of Oaxaca. With the exception of Oaxaca city (population 480,000) and Miahuatlán (33,000), all the other towns have populations between 13,000 and 20,000. The merchants at such markets generally carry their wares from village to village on the days of their respective markets. Some local farmers also sell their produce at such markets. For more details, see Markets in and near the city of Oaxaca.

The weekly cycle of markets in and around the city of Oaxaca, Mexico. Map: Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

Mexico has a very long history of street markets, certainly dating back more than two thousand years. The Spanish conquistadors saw, first hand, the very large market of Tlatelolco, in what is now Mexico City, which attracted between 40,000 and 45,000 people on “market day”, which was held every five days.

Markets enabled people living in one region to trade goods produced in another region. In the case of food items this allowed residents of the “hot lands” (tierra caliente) to gain access to food items coming from the “temperate lands” (tierra templada). Some ancient settlements in Mexico are located close to the division between either tierra caliente and tierra templada [usual elevation about 750 meters above sea level] or tierra templada and “cold lands” (tierra fria), at an elevation of about 1800 meters a.s.l. These locations clearly favored the trading and exchanging of items from one major climate zone to another.

Food was by no means the only item traded in markets. Many plants with medicinal value were traded, as were others used for construction materials. It was also common to trade textiles, minerals and household items such as baskets, ceramics and grinding stones, as well as salt, prized feathers and animals.

Even today, most Mexican markets have a distinctive spatial pattern of stalls, with vendors of similar items setting up side-by-side, allowing for comparison shopping. It is a relatively easy and revealing fieldwork exercise to map a Mexican market and then analyze the distribution of different kinds of goods.

We looked in a previous post at how the same basic principle applies to the distribution of shops in many towns and cities.

While most markets traded a variety of items, a handful of specialist markets emerged, especially in the Mexico City area. For example, there were specialist markets for salt in Atenantitlan, dogs (as a source of food) in Acolman, and for slaves in Azcapotzalco and Iztocan.

In a future post, we will look at the origins of the tianguis in the Oaxaca region, a region that is still one of the most fascinating areas in Mexico for markets of all kinds.

Further reading:

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Oct 062012

Considerable attention has been focused on Mexico’s obesity problem (see “Soft drinks, obesity, diabetes and public health in Mexico”). Obesity in adults is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a Body Mass Index (BMI) greater than or equal to 30, where BMI is defined as a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of his height in meters (kg/m2).

Mexico’s very high adult obesity rate of 30% is increasing every year. It is related to many factors, including increased consumption of processed fat and sugary foods. The average daily calories consumed by Mexican adults increased from 3102 in 1988 to 3266 in 2007.

Rates of "overweight" and "obese" adults in Mexico

Rates of “overweight” and “obese” adults in Mexico

Addressing Mexico’s serious obesity problem will require significant effort and dramatic behavioral change, first and foremost by families, but also by schools, government, industry and civic organizations. Most agree that long term solutions for limiting or reducing obesity should focus primary on children and youth. Obviously physical exercise and diet are crucial parts of a solution. Fortunately Mexico is already making efforts to address its child obesity problem (see “Mexico takes on childhood obesity”).

Obesity is quite complicated and may involve numerous heretofore unknown factors. The data are sometimes confusing. For example, Italian adults, with an obesity rate of only 10%, consumed on average a whooping 3646 calories per day in 2007, 380 more than Mexicans, whose obesity rate is three times that of Italy. (The data in this and the next paragraph come from Table 1 of the Milken Institute’s “Waistlines of the World”, August 2012). French adults consume far more calories than Mexican adults, and more fat the US adults, but their obesity rate is much lower, at only 11%. Furthermore, the French consume 50% more alcohol than Americans and almost three times more than Mexicans and yet they are much thinner. Though adults in Norway consume more calories than Mexicans (3169 versus 3102) their obesity rate is only a third that of Mexico (10% versus 30%). Obviously calorie intake is not the only factor and may not be the most important factor.

Mexican Manuel Uribe, one of the world's most obese individuals, enjoys a snack

Mexican Manuel Uribe (1965-2014), one of the world’s most obese individuals, succeeded in lowering his weight from 560 kg (1233 lbs) to 394 kg (867 lbs).

Obesity is also related to amount of physical activity, but here again the data are confusing. New Zealand adults have a high obesity rate of 27% though they live in one of the physically most active countries, with 49% engaging in “moderate physical activity” defined as light-to moderate activity for at least 30 minutes five times per week. On the other hand, only 27% of the relatively thin Italian adults engage in “moderate physical activity”. Why are obesity rates for the more active New Zealanders so much higher than those for the less active Italians, especially since the latter consume 544 more calories per day (3646 versus 3129)? By way of comparison, only 21% of Mexican and 23% of US adults engage in “moderate physical activity”.

How does Mexico’s growing obesity problem compare that of other countries? Data compiled by the World Health Organization (used by to compile “US and Global Obesity Levels: The Fat Chart)”) and the OECD in “Waistlines of the World provide a basis for comparing obesity rates in numerous countries (though see note [1] for reservations about using data from different years).

Country % obese Year of data
Saudi Arabia 35.6 2000
USA 33.8 2008
Egypt 30.3 2006
MEXICO 30.0 2006
Australia 26.4 2007
Canada 24.2 2008
U.K. 23.0 2009
Chile 21.9 2003
South Africa 21.6 1998
Germany 14.7 2009
Colombia 13.7 2007
France 11.2 2008
Brazil 11.1 2003
Italy 10.3 2009
China 5.7 2008
Japan 3.9 2009
South Korea 3.8 2009
Eritrea 3.3 2004
Indonesia 2.4 2001
India 1.9 2008

The data indicate that Mexico ranks 12th of 88 countries with an adult obesity rate of 30%, defined as body mass index (BMI) of over 30. While 12th of 88 does not sound so bad, the top six on the list are small island countries with obesity rates from 41% to 79% (Nauru, American Samoa, Tokelau, Tonga, Kiribati and French Polynesia). Also higher than Mexico are the relatively small countries of Panama and the United Arab Emirates. If these small countries are excluded then Mexico ranks 4th among major countries behind only Saudi Arabia, the USA and Egypt (see table).

Mexico trails several notable countries with high obesity rates between 20% and 30% such as Australia, Canada, UK, Chile and South Africa. (Given that obesity rates are increasing almost everywhere and South Africa’s data are from 1998, its current obesity rate is probably closer to 25% or more.)

The global data suggest that the obesity problem is most serious in Pacific Island nations, North America and the Middle East (including North Africa). It is also becoming a problem in several European and Latin American countries. It is less of a problem in Asia and Sub-Sahara Africa.

In conclusion, obesity is a very serious problem for Mexico today, and arguably one of the biggest problems facing humanity in the 21st century along with climate change and poverty.

Note [1]:

There are some significant differences between the WHO and OECD data sets. For example the WHO data for Mexico are from 2000 while the OECD data are from 2006. For our comparisons we use the most recent data available from the two data sets. Though obesity is an extremely important international problem, reliable data is not collected frequently in many countries. Obesity rates are based on measured height and weight, and are invariably higher than rates based on self reported height and weight. In our table, measured values are used for: the USA, Mexico, Australia, Canada, UK, Japan and South Korea; we are not sure about the rates for other countries.


For an updated post on this topic, with more data, please see: Mexico the 4th most obese country in the world

Oct 042012

Today marks the 13th anniversary of a major disaster that struck Teziutlán (current population about 65,000), a small city in the Eastern Sierra Madre, in the northeast corner of the state of Puebla, close to the border with Veracruz. The city is noteworthy as the birthplace of two prominent twentieth-century politicians: Manuel Ávila Camacho (served as President, 1940–1946) and Vicente Lombardo Toledano, who founded the Confederación de Trabajadores de México (CTM), Mexico’s largest confederation of labor unions.

The town’s name means “place of the hailstones”. But in 1999, it was not hailstones but torrential rain that triggered the major disaster of 4/5 October, with parts of the city destroyed by a series of landslides and mudflows. More than 80 municipalities were affected to some degree by this tremendous storm. Hundreds of landslides occurred in Hidalgo, Veracruz and Puebla states, causing an estimated US$457 million worth of damage, and at least 260 deaths.

This post focuses only on the consequences for Teziutlán where several hundred homes were completely destroyed and almost a thousand homes suffered partial damage. More than 100 Teziutlán residents lost their life. The local infrastructure, roads, housing, schools and farming were all severely impacted.

The worst damage was in the La Aurrora district on the eastern side of the city, where a landslide on a 23-degree slope buried more than 130 people. In another district, La Gloria, in the western part of the city, several more slips, flows and slides damaged homes, but without any fatalities.

With the benefit of hindsight, this disaster offers a good case study of the factors which made the inhabitants of Teziutlán particularly vulnerable to such an event. The diagram suggests one general classification of the multitude of factors that can affect vulnerability. In the case of Teziutlán, the discussion that follows suggests that the physical factors were probably the most significant.

factors affecting vulnerability

Factors affecting vulnerability (Geo-Mexico, Figure 7.2) All rights reserved.

Physical factors

1. Relief and geology. The area ranges in elevation from 300-2,280 meters above sea level and is drained by the El Calvario, Xóloatl and Xoloco rivers. The city is located at the southern limit of the Eastern Sierra Madre (Sierra Madre Oriental), very close to where it is truncated by the geologically more recent Volcanic Axis. The local geology includes a series of loosely compacted, pumice-rich pyroclastic flows, most of which are thought to be associated with the Los Humeros caldera. These deposits are interlaced with palaeosoils rich in clay which are impermeable and restrict the infiltration of rainwater, and overlie older folded rocks. The combination of steep slopes and impermeable, unconsolidated layers increases the risk of landslides and other forms of mass movement.

2. Climate.  This mountainous region is one of the most humid and foggiest in Mexico, averaging 280 days of mist or fog each year. Teziutlán has an average precipitation of 1600 mm/yr, though totals of over 2000mm are not that uncommon. Most rain falls between July and October.On 4 October 1999, a moist tropical depression off the coast of Veracruz was prevented from moving by a cold front. This led to an increase in humidity followed  by torrential downpours (over 300 mm of rain) over Teziutlán and the surrounding area. The storm continued the next day when a further 360 mm of rain fell.  The rain that fell on just those two days was equivalent to about 40% of Teziutlán’s usual total for an entire year.

3. Earthquake A few days prior to the storm, on 30 September 1999, a 7.4-magnitude earthquake occurred off the coast of Puerto Escondido (Oaxaca). This earthquake did cause  minor cracks in some homes in Teziutlán, and it possibly played a (minor) contributory role in the severity of the storm’s impacts.


Deforestation, as a consequence of unplanned urban growth, was also important. Natural and secondary woodlands were steadily being cleared for construction and agriculture. This had an adverse effect on infiltration rates and the capacity of the land to absorb rainwater. However, given the extreme magnitude of the rainfall event, it is unlikely that the area would have escaped unscathed, even if the natural forest had remained.

In the La Aurrora district, where a landslide/mudflow buried more than 130 people, the construction of  a cemetery on a hill above La Aurrora may have played a part, since it appears that a cemetery wall held rainwater back, allowing more of it to seep into the underlying slope, increasing its susceptibility to a serious slide.

La Aurrora, October 1999. Credit: Periódico Sierra Norte

La Aurrora, October 1999. Credit: Periódico Sierra Norte


The town had suffered severe mass movements during prior storms. For example, in 1955, the rains that accompanied Hurricane Janet provoked numerous mass movements resulting in the disruption of transport systems, including the main highway, but with no loss of life. However, in general, it is clear that these prior events did not increase Teziutlán’s preparedness for a similar event in the future. In particular, prior events did not lead to building regulations being enforced or prevent buildings from being erected in high-risk areas.


In the period following the last major event (in 1955), the population of Teziutlán had increased rapidly, leading to the equally rapid expansion of the urban area. This was uncontrolled and included construction on steep slopes with insufficient attention to stability or possible mass movement mitigation measures being taken. It is worth noting that the population has continued to increase rapidly since the disaster, too.


Home owners in Mexico do not generally carry insurance on their properties, and even when they do, it often specifically excludes major meteorological events. It is unlikely that any of the residents of Teziutlán were able to make insurance claims. Many of the those affected would not have had savings and would have been forced to rely on family, friends and emergency hand-outs to survive. As a 1999 BBC News article emphasizes, government help was slow to arrive.

Want to see more?

There are several Youtube videos with images of the disaster. Perhaps the most interesting is TEZIUTLAN 1999 – 10 años Después del desastre  because it includes some clips from an investigative 1995 TV program aired in 1995 (four years prior to the landslide) that highlighted the extreme risk of constructing unauthorized buildings on the steep slopes of the town along the main highway. This video includes many excellent photos [warning: some graphic images] of the landslide and its aftermath, with a commentary [in Spanish].

Other valuable Youtube resources include Teziutlan Desastre 1999 which has additional photos, plus some eyewitness memories of the event [in Spanish], and TEZIUTLAN historia y tragedia which has many photos of the disaster, accompanied by music only (no commentary) making it a good choice for English-speaking classes.


Alcántara-Ayala, I.  Flowing Mountains in Mexico. Mountain Research and Development, Vol 24, No. 1, Feb. 2004: 10-13.

Flores Lorenzo, Pablo & Irasema Alcántara Ayala. Cartografía morfogenética e identificación de procesos de ladera en Teziutlán, Puebla. Boletín del Instituto de Geografía, UNAM. #49, 2002, pp. 7-26. [pdf file]


Oct 012012

Mexico currently has 65 Magic Towns (Pueblos Mágicos), some of which we have described in previous posts. Regular readers will know we have some reservations about the program, especially about the inclusion on the list of some places that have relatively little to attract the average tourist.

Are Magic Towns distributed evenly across the country?

The map shows the distribution of the 57 Magic Towns, by state, as of 1 October 2012. Magic Towns are clearly not evenly distributed across Mexico. Two states – the State of México and Michoacán– each have five Magic Towns, while Jalisco has four. It is no surprise that the Federal District (México D.F.) is not designated a Magic Town, but it is a surprise that there are no Magic Towns in Baja California, Durango or Nayarit. Mexcaltitán, an island town in Nayarit, was one of the first towns in Mexico to be designated a Magic Town, but had this status revoked in 2009.

Mexico's Magic Towns, by state (September 2012)

Mexico’s Magic Towns, by state (September 2012)

Southern Mexican states appear to be drastically underrepresented, especially when area of state, population and indigenous groups are taken into account.

Population density map

Mexico’s population density in 2010

Larger states (in area and/or population) would surely  be more likely to have more Magic Town candidates. However, it is clear from comparing the maps of Magic Towns and population density (above) that the number of Magic Towns does not appear to be related to either the area of states, or to their population density.

The major indigenous groups in Mexico

The major indigenous groups in Mexico

Indigenous groups are relevant because they tend to live in relatively remote areas of great natural beauty, such as the Copper Canyon region or the Huasteca, and they also exhibit many distinctive cultural traits, giving them a head-start in the race to demonstrate their attractiveness for tourism. Again, though, there is little common ground between the map of indigenous groups and the map of Magic Towns. In particular, the states of Guerrero, Oaxaca and Campeche all seem to have fewer Magic Towns than might be expected.

Voting patterns in presidential elections, 2006 and 2012

Voting patterns in presidential elections, 2006 and 2012. All rights reserved.

Even politics does not appear to help explain the distribution of Magic Towns, though it must be pointed out that the pattern of voting for presidential elections (maps) may not match the pattern of municipal voting which would be more relevant to applications for Magic Town status.

If and when more towns are added to the Magic Towns list, perhaps the reasons for their distribution will become more obvious.

This post examined the distribution of Mexico’s Magic Towns, as of 1 October 2012, at which point there were only 57 in total. Since this post was written, additional Magic Towns include:

There is no doubt that Mexico has many other places that would be very worthy additions to the list. Which places would you add?

Related posts:

Sep 292012

Industrial exports from Mexico are growing rapidly and diversifying. Some of this growth is coming at the expense of China and other Asian countries. For example, as Adam Thompson reported in the Financial Times, Siemens of Germany recently moved its facilities for assembling high voltage electrical equipment for power substations from China and India to Querétero, Mexico. By next year, most of the 160 parts for this equipment will also be produced in Mexico. Siemens has eight other factories in Mexico and over 6,000 employees. As a result of investments like this, Mexico now exports more manufactured products than the rest of Latin America combined.

It is well known that the USA imports a great deal of manufactured goods from China including toys, electronics, clothing, shoes, etc. But China’s market share of US imports has declined recently, from 29.3% in 2009 to 26.4% to day. On the other hand, Mexico’s market share has increased from 11.0% in 2005 to 14.2%. According to The Economist, “HSBC reckons that by 2018 Mexico will overtake Canada and China to become America’s main source of imports”.

Mexico’s location next to the giant US consumer market is a big factor (see “US firms are near-shoring jobs from China to Mexico”.

It is much faster and cheaper to ship goods from Mexico to the USA rather than from Asia. For example, it usually takes two to seven days from Mexico versus 20 to 60 days from China. Mexico’s locational advantage is particularly important for trendy time-sensitive goods and bulky items. For example, in 2009 Mexico became the world’s leading exporter of flat-screen TVs, surpassing South Korea and China. Mexico is also the leading supplier of smartphones for the US market. Furthermore, as Itizar Gomez Jimenez reports in “Beyond the Refrigerator Door: Success of the Electric Home Appliance industry in Mexico”, most of the large household appliances sold in the USA come from Mexico, including refrigerators, kitchen ranges, dishwashers, microwave ovens, washers and dryers.

Attractive wage rates in Mexico are also a consideration. A decade ago wages in Mexico were roughly four times those in China, but now they are only about 30% higher and the gap is closing (see, “Rising Chinese labor costs: good news for Mexico”). Less red tape under NAFTA also gives Mexico an advantage (see, “Can Mexico’s industry compete with China?”). Mexico is fully committed to globalization. It has free trade agreements with 44 other countries, twice as many as China and four times as many as Brazil. To date, drug war violence has not been a serious constraint to Mexico’s growing manufactured exports.

logo-made-in-mexicoMexico’s maquiladora export industries used to assemble mostly imported parts into finished products for export to the USA. Now, most of the parts are manufactured in Mexico for such industries as electronics, automobiles, appliances and airplanes. (see: “Mexico’s vibrant autoparts sector” and “The reasons why Mexico is fast becoming a key player in aerospace manufacturing). Mexico is also broadening its export market. In 2000, about 90% of Mexico’s exports went to the USA, but now it is down to 80%. Mexico is even exporting manufactured items to China such as the new Chrysler Fiat-500 micro automobile.

While Mexico manufactures products under the names of many foreign brands, it also has its own brands and OEM (original equipment manufacturer) companies that design and build products that are incorporated into foreign branded products. For example, Mexico’s Mabe designs and builds two-thirds of the gas ranges and refrigerators imported into the USA. Furthermore, most of the appliances sold under the General Electric brand in North and South America are manufactured by Mabe. LANIX, Mexico’s largest domestic electronics company, makes desktops, laptops, netbooks, tablets, LCD and LED TV and monitors and smartphones for a range of brand names.

A careful look around a typical household in the USA would reveal that many, perhaps a majority, of the durable manufactured goods would carry a “Made in Mexico” label, including automobiles, flat panel TVs, smartphones, all types of appliances, garden and small power tools, etc. etc.


  • Adam Thomson, “Mexico: China’s unlikely challenger.The Financial Times, September 19, 2012 (registration required).
  • Itizar Gomez Jimenez, “Beyond the Refrigerator Door: Success of the Electric Home Appliance industry in Mexico” (pdf file). Cover Feature: Domestic Consume.

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Sep 272012

It is getting just as hard to keep up with Mexico’s Magic Towns program as it is to understand why some of the places deserve to be included on the list. Since our last post about Magic Towns, three more places have been added:

#55 Loreto (Baja California Sur)

The attractive town of Loreto [ed: deservedly on the list], is built on the coast around a centuries-old mission. The town has a full range of tourist services, from expensive and ultra-luxurious to budget.

The first colonial Jesuit mission in this region was at San Bruno, 25 kilometers north of Loreto; it was founded in 1683, but lasted only two years. In February 1697, the Spanish Viceroy granted Jesuit priests Juan María de Salvatierra and Eusebio Francisco Kino permission to go to the “California Province“. This is apparently the earliest recorded mention of California as a geographic entity.

The Loreto mission, founded later that year, became extremely successful. Jesuit priests set out from Loreto to found missions throughout the Baja California Peninsula, most of them established by about 1720. Loreto was sufficiently important to function as the capital of the Californias (including the present-day U.S. state) until 1777.

#56 Valladolid (Yucatán)

Valladolid, located about half-way between Mérida and Cancún, is well worthy of Magic Town status. Founded in 1543, it is an attractive colonial city, with wide streets and considerable historical importance. The city has become increasingly popular among discerning tourists in recent years.

There are many attractions, including the numerous superb colonial buildings, such as the Cathedral in the center, and the Franciscan mission of San Bernardino de Siena, in the Sisal district of the city. The local Maya people, in traditional attire, bustle about the central square as they carry out their daily tasks. Valladolid is small enough to explore on foot, by strolling through the different districts of the city.

Coupled with excellent traditional Yucatecan cuisine, natural wonders like Cenote Zaci (a landscaped limestone sinkhole or cenote), pastel-colored walls, friendly handicraft stores, and historical murals in the government palace, what more could a visitor want?

#57 Metepec (State of México)

Metepec is a somewhat nondescript city of 160,000, located near the state capital of Toluca. The earliest Spanish settlers arrived in 1526. Metepec has numerous historic religious buildings, including the Ex-convento de San Juan and the Parish Church of San Mateo. The city’s major claim to fame in terms of handicrafts are ceramic “trees of life” and similar objects. Since 1990, the city has celebrated an annual international arts and culture festival, Quimera, every October.

This map from the Tourism Secretariat (Sectur) shows Mexico’s 57 Magic Towns (as of September 2012):

Map of Mexico's 57 Magic Towns (September 2012). Credit: Sectur

Map of Mexico’s 57 Magic Towns (September 2012). Credit: Sectur

How many more Magic Towns will there be? Will the program continue after the new President takes office later this year? Watch this space!

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