Review of “Mexican National Identity, Memory, Innuendo and Popular Culture”, by William H. Beezley

 Books and resources  Comments Off on Review of “Mexican National Identity, Memory, Innuendo and Popular Culture”, by William H. Beezley
Sep 152011
 

William H. Beezley, a professor of history at the University of Arizona, has written widely about Mexican history. He was co-editor, alongside Michael C. Meyer, of the Oxford History of Mexico, an illustrated “narrative chronicle” through the centuries, and a landmark modern history of Mexico. In this book, first published in 2008, Beezley explores the development of Mexican National Identity through a history of some facets of its popular culture.

As in the case of his earlier work (Judas at the Jockey Club and Other Episodes of Porfirian Mexico), Beezley’s Mexican National Identity. Memory, innuendo and popular culture (University of Arizona Press), is wide-ranging and engaging. The book consists of five essays on different themes which Beezley considers central to the development of Mexican National Identity.

In the first chapter, Beezley looks at how the character known as El Negrito came to be “one of the most famous marionettes of nineteenth-century puppet theater”. El Negrito, an Afro-American usually portrayed as a Veracruz cowboy, personified the attitudes of nationalistic Mexicans in the nineteenth century, with his mocking of the French and Maximilian, his temper tantrums, his infidelity, his wit and his resistance to the American invaders.

beezley - coverFrom a geographic perspective, chapter two is the book’s most interesting. The chapter opens by looking at the development of maps which “like symbolic physical features and regional individuals, portrayed Mexico with diversity as the salient attitude”. He describes two 18th century maps, drawn specifically for clerical travelers, highlighting altitude (and therefore climate) and language (ethnicity), but lacking scales, physical features or other landmarks. The modern era of Mexican map-making began with Alexander von Humboldt, and was extended later in the 19th century by others including Antonio García Cubas.

The production of maps necessarily included decisions as to which landmarks, places and features were most important. It also prompted clearer definitions of national boundaries, in both the north and south. In Beezley’s words, “This question of borders had political significance, and both cultural and social dimensions as Mexicans believed the boundaries divided their civilized society from the barbarians beyond.”

Chapter 2 then examines the role of almanacs and lotería (lottery cards), the quintessential Mexican parlor game, in helping to foment national attitudes. Almanacs were “a source of popular or local history and collective memory”. They gave potted summaries of the lives of the saints and martyrs, lists of holy days, images and biographies of political leaders and so on.

Lottery cards shared stereotypical views of objects and characters, often related to local stories. Beezley says that the version played in Campeche eventually gained the greatest popularity. The images used in Campeche formed the basis for the earliest commercially produced sets of cards when Clemente Jacques (a French immigrant and founder of the eponymous food processing brand)  first launched his range of culinary products, from chiles, olive oil and mole sauce to beans, jams and honey, and founded his own printing business to print his own labels. Jacques promoted his brand at the world’s fairs in Chicago (1893) and St. Louis (1904), using printed decks of lotería cards as a form of advertising. His cards became the basis for the modern packs of lotería cards sold throughout Mexico. Many of the most common images have multiple associations, some even including an overtly sexual double meaning. Some figures such as El Borracho (The Drunk) and El Valiente (The Brave One) and La Sirena (The Siren/adultery) are not associated with a particular region or place. Others such as The Scorpion and The Toad are readily associated with specific geographic regions or states: Durango and Guanajuato respectively. Almanacs and lotería cards helped reinforce a sense of national identity while recognizing regional and ethnic differences.

In Chapter 3, Beezley focuses on how celebrations of Mexican Independence gradually came to assume a massive significance for national identity. Independence came in 1821, but it was not until 1869 that annual celebrations of Independence Day really took off. On September 16, 1869, the Mexico City-Puebla railway line was inaugurated, beginning an exciting new era for transportation, which was to have far-reaching effects. During the presidency of Porfirio Díaz, Mexico celebrated its centenary of Independence, an event marked with banquets, parades and the opening to the public of a hastily-restored section of “The Pyramids” at the archaeological site of Teotihuacan. Beezley outlines how the popular perception of Mexico’s patron saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe, changed in less than a century from “the terrifying emblem of Padre Miguel Hidalgo’s insurrection, and the patron of downtrodden, rebellious Mexicans, to the patron saint of the dictatorship’s elite.”

Chapter 4 looks at the role of itinerant puppet theater in molding Mexico’s national identity. The largest and most famous single troupe was the Rosete Aranda troupe, formed by two Italian immigrants in 1850. The troupes went from strength to strength in the next half-century. By 1880, the Rosete Aranda company had 1,300 marionettes and by 1900 a staggering 5,104. Their creativity knew few bounds, and by undertaking annual tours around the country, they helped influence opinions and attitudes. Incidentally, their need to undertake annual tours was in keeping with the established principles of central place theory. As described in Geo-Mexico, the same principles apply in the case of traveling circuses.

In the hierarchy of central places, each step up sees a smaller number of places, each providing a wider range of goods and services, and serving a larger market area. This occurs because for a service to be provided efficiently there must be sufficient threshold demand in the central place and its surrounding hinterland to support it. For this reason we do not find new car dealers, heart surgeons or ballet schools in every small village. These activities can only survive in much larger centers where there is sufficient demand. Individual residents are not prepared to travel far in order to access a service of relatively low value. This poses a challenge for services such as puppet shows which are unable to command a high ticket price, but which need large numbers of potential viewers (a large threshold population) if they are to succeed. This quandary can be resolved by moving from one mid-sized center to another throughout the year, gaining access to a new audience in every location.

Needless to say, the invention of modern communications systems such as television means that this is no longer entirely true, except for live performances.

Beezley’s entertaining romp through Mexican popular culture and its links to national identity is well worth reading. It may not discuss all aspects of how Mexico’s national identity developed during the 19th century, but it provides numerous valuable insights into how a country of such diversity gradually acquired a clearer sense of national identity and purpose.

Where to buy:

Mexican National Identity. Memory, innuendo and popular culture, by William H. Beezley (link is to Sombrero Books’ amazon.com page).

Chiles, one of Mexico’s heritage crops

 Other  Comments Off on Chiles, one of Mexico’s heritage crops
Apr 092011
 

Chiles (Capsicum spp.) have been cultivated in Mexico for centuries and are a vital ingredient in Mexico’s traditional cuisine, recently recognized by UNESCO as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” Spicy chiles also have numerous medicinal uses. Graphical representations of chiles have even been used as a national symbol.

Chiles are native to Mexico and central America. Evidence for chiles in the diet of indigenous groups in Puebla’s Tehuacán Valley dates back at least as far as 6500BC; by 4100BC, the plant was already domesticated.

Chiles

Chiles. Photo: zoonabar (flickr); creative commons license

There are more than 100 varieties of chiles, grouped into 22 groups of green chiles and 12 of dried chiles. Green chiles by far the most important in volume and value of production and trade. Mexico remains the world’s leading exporter of green chiles and is the sixth largest exporter of dried chiles. The world’s leading producer of green chiles, almost entirely for domestic consumption, is China.

The ideal conditions for cultivating chiles are:

  • growing season temperatures of 18-27̊C daytime and 15-18̊C during the night.
  • rainfall of 600-1250 mm/yr, with no marked dry season.
  • light, humus-rich soils with adequate moisture retention and drainage
  • soils with a pH between 5.5 (slighty acidic) and 7.0 (neutral)
  • growing season of at least 120 days

Crop yields can be adversely affected by:

  • plagues,
  • plant diseases,
  • climatic hazards, such as hailstorms, rainstorms (fields need efficient drainage systems) and frost, the risk of which is countered by burning waste to create smoke to maintain temperatures above freezing

Time frame for cultivation

  • on commercial chile farms, seeds are usually sown in enclosed, heated, nursery beds, since temperatures of 20-24̊C are considered ideal for germination
  • seedlings are transplanted after 25-35 days when they are about 10-20cm in height – optimum yields require 20,000-25,000 plants per hectare
  • the first flowers appear 1-2 months later, by which time the plant is 30-80 cm tall
  • the first green chiles ripen about a month after that; chiles can then be picked every week or so for up to 3 months in rain-fed fields, or sometimes over an even longer period in irrigated fields.

In ideal circumstances, harvesting is possible all year. There are two major, overlapping harvest periods each year, with a fall-winter crop from December-August, and a spring-summer crop from June to March.

Yields vary greatly, reflecting different qualities of soil, water supply and technification employed. The average yield across Mexico is 14-15 metric tons/hectare. Yields in Zacatecas (which has a larger cultivated area of chiles than any other state in Mexico) are only 7 tons/ha, while yields in Sinaloa reach as high as 40 tons/ha.

Types of chile grown in Mexico

The most commonly grown chiles in Mexico are jalapeño, serrano, habanero, poblano and morrón (bell pepper). Seven varieties of green chiles represented 90% of Mexico’s total production of chiles in 2008, and 60% of its total revenue from chiles. Chiles vary in color, heat, size and texture:

Even for a single species, the “heat” of its chiles varies from one plant to the next, as well as from one soil or location to another. The heat of chiles is measured in Scoville units. The hottest chile is generally thought to be the habanero (100,000-445,000 Scoville units). By comparison, the jalapeño is 2,500-5,000 units and the morrón chile (bell pepper) registers 0 Scoville units.

Main source for statistics (pdf file): Un panorama del cultivo del chile, SAGARPA: Servicio de Información Agroalimentaria y Pesquera, June 2010. [accessed January 28, 2011]

Agriculture in Mexico is analyzed in chapter 15 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Ask your library to buy a copy of this handy reference guide to all aspects of Mexico’s geography today! Better yet, order your own copy…

The geography of Thanksgiving: no Thanksgiving feast is complete without pumpkin pie

 Other  Comments Off on The geography of Thanksgiving: no Thanksgiving feast is complete without pumpkin pie
Nov 252010
 

In earlier posts in this Thanksgiving mini-series, we examined how several of the essential ingredients of a Thanksgiving feast—turkey, corn and potatoes—originated in Mexico. We round off this Thanksgiving series with a  look at pumpkin pie.

All varieties of pumpkin, whatever their size and shape, belong to the Cucurbita genus. While there are some doubts about the precise origin of the wild forms of pumpkin, they were certainly being cultivated in Mexico as long ago as 5500 BC and were an integral part of the daily diet of many Indian groups. The use of “pumpkin” in English can apparently be traced back to the year 1547. For many people, pumpkins are eternally associated with both Thanksgiving and with Halloween.

Pumpkin pi

Pumpkin pi

Given that the first Thanksgiving was held in New Spain (Mexico) and that many of the essential ingredients of modern-day celebrations of Thanksgiving are Mexican in origin, when the residents of the USA sit down for their Thanksgiving meal, they really are taking part in an “All-American” celebration.

Many traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners would simply not be the same were it not for a few key ingredients from Mexico!

So, wherever you are this festive season, keep your eyes open for Mexican influences…

¡Happy Thanksgiving, and seasonal greetings to all!

Previous posts in the Thanksgiving mini-series:

Cultural and eco-tourism in the Copper Canyon region of Mexico

 Other, Teaching ideas  Comments Off on Cultural and eco-tourism in the Copper Canyon region of Mexico
Sep 102010
 

The Copper Canyon area is one of Mexico’s most popular destinations for eco-tourism activities. The canyons offer plenty of opportunities for canyoneering (like mountaineering, but starting from the top!), wilderness hikes and adventure trips. Mexico’s two highest waterfalls—Piedra Volada and Baseaseachi— are also in this area. The Basaseachic Falls are about 250 meters (820 ft) in height, beaten only by the virtually inaccessible 453-meter-high Piedra Volada falls, also in the state of Chihuahua. The Basaseachic National Park is easily accessible via paved roads from Chihuahua City.

Magnificent scenery attracts hikers from all over the world.

Magnificent scenery attracts hikers from all over the world. Photo: Tony Burton; all rights reserved.

Adding to the allure of the Copper Canyon region is the fact that it is the home of some 50,000 indigenous Tarahumara Indians with their distinctive language, customs and lifestyle. The Tarahumara are one of the most culturally distinct groups in all of Mexico, famous especially for their long distance running ability and communal spirit.

Relatively easy access to this region is possible because of the railway line which runs from Chihuahua City to the lumber town of Creel, close to the canyons, and then skirts the canyon rim before descending to El Fuerte (once the capital of Arizona) and Los Mochis in Sinaloa. This railway is an incredible feat of engineering brilliance, matched by few railway lines anywhere on the planet. The railway is the lifeline of this remote region.

Travel articles:

Tourism in this area is not without its discussion points. Tourists place more pressure on scarce resources such as potable water. As noted in an earlier post, tourism has led to changes in the items made by indigenous Tarahumara women. Some hotel developers have viewed the Tarahumara as a human resource to be exploited as a quaint experience for their clients, though others have quite rightly viewed the Tarahumara as the area’s most important assets, one to admire and appreciate for what they are and how they have adapted to the harsh environment in which they live.

Points to ponder (discussion topics in class):

  • Should tourists encourage a monetary economy by buying Tarahumara souvenirs?
  • Is there a risk of tourists introducing a disease to which the Tarahumara have no resistance?
  • Should tourists be allowed to pick flowers and collect souvenir rock samples in the Copper Canyon area?
  • What are the pros and cons of tourists giving small items such as T-shirts to the Tarahumara?
  • What items, if any, are appropriate for tourists to offer the Tarahumara if they wish to give them something for sharing their ancestral homeland?
  • Is it right to take photos of Tarahumara homes, such as their cave dwellings?

Previous Geo-Mexico posts related to the Copper Canyon:

Chapter 10 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico is devoted to Mexico’s indigenous peoples, including the Tarahumara Indians. If you have enjoyed this post, please suggest to your local library that they purchase a copy to enhance their collection.

Sep 032010
 

The “China galleons” greatly stimulated spatial interactions between Acapulco and Manila, 15,000 km away. Many Mexicans settled in Manila and scores of Nahuatl words entered Tagalog, the main Filipino language. These included atole, avocado, balsa, cacao, calabaza, camote, chico, chocolate, coyote, nana(y), tata(y), tocayo and zapote.

The Nao de China galleon

The China Galleon

As well as vocabulary, some aspects of Mexican cuisine, customs and dress were also introduced to the Philippines, along with a variety of plants and flowers. In addition, the Filipino currency has the same name as Mexico’s: the peso.

Mexico’s long connection with the Philippines – exploration, seafaring and geopolitics

A large number of Filipinos migrated in the other direction, escaping from their life of servitude aboard a galleon by jumping ashore on the coasts of Colima and Guerrero. One sizable Filipino community settled in Coyuca, on the Costa Grande, 50 km north of Acapulco. Coyuca was apparently known as Filipino Town at one point in its early history.

The Filipinos settling in Mexico introduced mangoes and a game called “cara y cruz” (heads and tails). The settlers were known locally as “Chinese Indians” and brought their expertise in the cultivation and use of palm trees with them. In Tagalog, palm fronds are known as “palapa” and by the end of the 18th century, this name was in use, too, for the palm-roofed shelters which remain a distinctive style of architecture along Mexico’s coasts.The coconut palm’s sap is known locally as tuba. Filipino newcomers fermented the resulting coconut wine into a potent drink. Henry Bruman, a University of California geographer, documented how Filipino seamen on the Manila Galleon also introduced simple stills, for making coconut brandy, to western Mexico during the late 16th century. These techniques were quickly adopted by Mexicans who were then able to turn the hearts of their native agave plants into tequila.

This is an excellent example of how developments in transportation can encourage cultural exchanges, and diminish the social, economic and cultural distance between places.

According to some historians, Mexico’s “China Poblana,” the woman who supposedly arrived from the East as a slave during the early 1600s and subsequently captured the hearts and minds of the people of Puebla, was actually a Filipino noblewoman who had arrived in Mexico aboard one of the Spanish galleons.

Mexico’s independence from Spain (1821) brought an end to the Manila–Acapulco galleons, though the network of shipping links then expanded from Veracruz to New Orleans and New York.

Mexico-Phillipines friendship has continued down the years.

For instance, in the second world war, several Mexican air force pilots, in the elite Escuadrón 201, were sent by the US government to lend their support in the Philippines. The pilots were decorated by the Philippine’s government for their heroism.

Highlights from the Mexican-Philippine Historical Relations Seminar New York City- June 21, 1997

The development of Mexico’s transportation system is discussed in chapter 17 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Its cultural geography is the subject of chapters 10, 11 and 13. Ask your library to buy a copy of this handy reference guide to all aspects of Mexico’s geography today! Better yet, order your own copy…

The cultural geography of Mennonite enclaves in Mexico

 Excerpts from Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on The cultural geography of Mennonite enclaves in Mexico
Jun 082010
 

Among the first Mennonite settlers were a group of more than 1300 families (about 9300 individuals) of German-Russian descent who arrived from Canada in 1922. They had been guaranteed tax concessions, freedom of worship and exemption from military service by President Obregón. At the time the Mexican government wanted to encourage more settlement in northern Mexico which had unrealized agricultural potential. After the Mexican Revolution, the large landowners in northern Mexico wanted to sell part or all of their vast holdings before the federal government forced the break up of their estates.

Mennonites bought 100,000 hectares for 600,000 pesos (8.25 dollars per acre) and started a colony near Ciudad Cuauhtemoc, west of Chihuahua city.  The group’s spartan lifestyle is reflected in their conservative dress habits and the fact that their villages (campos) are numbered, rather than named.  The people are taller than the average Mexican, speak German, and have northern European physical features. Today, about 50,000 Mennonites live in the Ciudad Cuauhtemoc area. They also founded colonies at Patos, in northern Durango state, and near Saltillo in Coahuila. Today, there are also several Mennonite villages far to the south, in Campeche.

Mennonite cheese

Mennonite cheese (queso menonita)

The landscapes of Mennonite areas in northern Mexico are very distinctive. They transformed desolate areas of semi-arid scrubland into prosperous farms.

Houses built of adobe on wood frames line the main street of each campo. These elongated street villages (about sixty in number) are totally different to the compact, nucleated villages found elsewhere in Mexico.  Surrounding the villages are large relatively flat fields divided into blocks by wide roads.

The Mennonite farming areas look more like parts of the US Midwest than Mexico. The farms are neatly kept and dotted with wind pumps used to raise water for irrigation. Tractors are common though horse-drawn buggies are also used. The main crops are wheat, oats, beans, corn and in some areas apples. The Mennonites are experienced dairy farmers and their most famous contribution to Mexican cuisine is the production and marketing of Chihuahuan cheese (queso menonita). It is a common sight to see Mennonite men selling their delicious cheese at major intersections in several of Mexico’s major cities.

See also:

The geography of Mexico’s religions is discussed in chapter 11 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico.

May 242010
 

The growth of Protestantism in Mexico has been rapid among low income groups, particularly in poor states and indigenous areas. Many of these gains are considered less a conversion from true Catholicism than a first time acceptance of a modern religion by people who previously adhered to Indian Folk Catholicism. Protestantism, and especially Pentecostalism, is thought to be compatible with indigenous values and spiritual practices. Some Protestant groups have specifically focused their proselytizing efforts in indigenous areas.

La Luz del Mundo, Guadalajara

The Mexican census divides non-Catholic churches into two groups. The first, “Protestant and Evangelical,” includes about 5% of Mexicans. The percentage varies from less than 2% in western Mexico to over 10% in southeastern Mexico. Pentecostal and Evangelical churches now make up 85% of this group. Dozens of Evangelical denominations have engaged in strong recruitment efforts since 1970, with considerable success in southeastern Mexico. In 2000, Protestants and Evangelicals comprised 14% of the population in Chiapas and Tabasco, 13% in Campeche, and 11% in Quintana Roo. The 2010 census is expected to show a significant increase in these percentages.  This group also includes Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Mennonites and Luz del Mundo, a Protestant denomination founded in Mexico.

The second non-Catholic group, “Biblical, not Evangelical,” is still rather small, but has grown very rapidly in the past two decades. It includes the Seventh Day Adventist Church, which is particularly popular in indigenous areas, as well as Jehovah’s Witnesses, which have so far had little influence in indigenous areas. Also in this group is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), which first arrived in Mexico in 1875.  Several English-speaking Mormon colonies were established in Chihuahua (Colonia Juárez is the most prominent today) and Sonora. As a result of impressive proselytizing efforts, Mormon membership surged from 248,000 in 1980 to 617,000 in 1990 and more than 1 million in 2005. Mexicans belonging to the Mormon Church have, on average, much higher incomes, higher rates of literacy and, interestingly, lower fertility rates than members of other churches.

The geography of Mexico’s religions is discussed in chapter 11 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico.

Previous posts in this mini-series on the geography of religion in Mexico:

The decline of Catholicism in southern Mexico

 Excerpts from Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on The decline of Catholicism in southern Mexico
May 172010
 

The geography of religion in Mexico is changing quite rapidly.

Mexico is a predominately Catholic country, but is becoming less so with each passing decade.  In 1980 96% of Mexicans said they were Catholics; this dropped to 88% in 2000 and is estimated at about 80% in 2010. While the proportion non-Catholic is growing in all parts of the country, it is most apparent in southeastern Mexico.

In 2000, only 64% of those in Chiapas identified themselves as Catholics, fully 24% below the national average.  Other southern states were not far behind: Tabasco – 70%, Campeche – 71%, Quintana Roo – 74%; followed by Veracruz – 83%, Yucatán – 84% and Oaxaca – 85%.  Given existing trends, these percentages are expected to be considerably lower in the 2010 census.

About 10% of those in southern Mexico are classified as Protestant or Evangelical. Close to 10% are classified as having “no religion”, 13% in Chiapas. Indigenous language speakers and males were most likely to place themselves in this category.  The smallest, but fastest growing group in southern Mexico is the “Biblical, not Evangelical” group, which includes Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mormons.

The geography of Mexico’s religions is discussed in chapter 11 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico.

Where to find Mexico’s most beautiful señoritas

 Other  Comments Off on Where to find Mexico’s most beautiful señoritas
May 142010
 

The British-born journalist William English Carson (1870-1940) spent four months in Mexico, in 1908-1909, collecting material for his “Mexico, the Wonderland of the South“, never straying far from the railways. Always an enthusiastic traveler, many of his views about Mexicans will strike modern readers as stereotypical. For example, Carson devoted an entire chapter to “The Mexican Woman“. Many of Carson’s pronouncements read today as outrageous over-generalizations. Select quotes from the chapter include:

  • “no foreigner, unless he be associated with diplomacy, is likely to have any chance of studying and judging the Mexican women”
  • “the Mexican girl has but two things in life to occupy her, love and religion”
  • “As a rule, the Mexican women are not beautiful”.

Miss Mexico 2009

After due analysis, the latter claim can be swiftly disposed of! See, for example, this article on MexConnect.

Want to find out which state in Mexico has the most beautiful young señoritas? In chapter 13 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico, we use locational quotients to analyze the geography of beauty pageant winners in Mexico

This is an edited version of an article originally published on MexConnect, partly based on chapter 52–“A place of contrasts”–of Lake Chapala Through the Ages, an anthology of travellers’ tales (Sombrero Books, 2008).

Oaxaca is the most culturally diverse state in Mexico

 Excerpts from Geo-Mexico, Maps  Comments Off on Oaxaca is the most culturally diverse state in Mexico
May 042010
 

The inter-census population count in Mexico in 2005 found that more than one million people in Oaxaca spoke at least one indigenous Indian language. Close behind came the state of Chiapas with about 950,000 indigenous language speakers.

Indigenous Indian groups in the state of Oaxaca

In Oaxaca, according to the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples, more than 1.5 million people live in a home where at least one of the residents either speaks an indigenous language or considers themselves indigenous (even if they do not speak an indigenous language). This is 50% more people than are found in the same category in Chiapas.

Not only does Oaxaca have more indigenous people, it also has a much greater linguistic and cultural diversity than Chiapas or any other state in Mexico.

Oaxaca’s one million indigenous speakers represent 35% of the state’s total population. The largest indigenous linguistic groups in the state include about 350,000 Zapotec, 230,000 Mixtec, 165,000 Mazatec, 100,000 Chinantec, 100,000 Mixe, and 40,000 Chatino.

Almost 90% of Zapotec speakers also speak Spanish, which considerably enhances their education and employment opportunities. On the other hand, 23% of Mixtecs do not speak Spanish, and hence face a tougher challenge in the workplace. Tens of thousands of Mixtecs have migrated away from Oaxaca looking for work. Mixtec speakers tend to migrate to Mixtec-speaking neighborhoods; there are about 16,000 Mixtecs in Mexico City, 14,000 in Baja California, 13,000 in Sinaloa, and perhaps 50,000 in the USA. A sizable number of these migrants are essentially monolingual, with very limited Spanish.

The map shows the regions where the main indigenous groups in Oaxaca reside. One of the reasons for Oaxaca having retained such an extraordinary diversity of Indian groups is the state’s very rugged terrain, which has isolated numerous indigenous groups, cutting them off from mainstream Mexican society. This diversity of cultures helps to make Oaxaca one of Mexico’s most interesting states. The cultures find expression today not only in language, but also in modes of dress, handicrafts, music and dance. The state of Oaxaca celebrates its ethnic diversity in its annual extravaganza, the Guelaguetza festival, normally held in July.

Mexico’s cultural diversity is discussed in chapters 10 and 13 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico.

This is an edited version of an article originally on MexConnect website.