Jan 092017
 

Tapatíos (residents of Guadalajara) and Jaliscienses (residents of Jalisco) often brag that they live in the most “Mexican” area of the country. Are these boasts truthful? This is not an easy question to answer. It involves looking at a broad range of evidence.

Jalisco’s climate and natural ecosystems are very diverse like the country as a whole. It is the only state with all of the country’s five principal natural ecosystems (tropical evergreen forest, tropical deciduous and thorn forest, temperate forest, grassland and mesquite-grassland, and arid and semi-arid scrubland) [Geo-Mexico, page 31]. Furthermore, Jalisco has Lake Chapala, the country’s largest natural lake as well as the Colima Volcano, one of the most active in the country. Certainly from a physical geography perspective Jalisco appears the most representative of Mexico as a whole. (For other natural wonders of Jalisco see John Pint’s website: http://ranchopint.com).

Map of Jalisco state

Map of Jalisco. Copyright 2010 Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

Jalisco’s socio-economic characteristics are also representative of Mexico. Its population has an average growth rate and is distributed among a very large city, secondary and smaller cities, extensive farming communities and isolated indigenous areas. While its adjusted per person income is just below the national average, its human development index (composed of infant mortality rate, adult literacy, school enrollment ratio, and adjusted average personal income) is slightly above. Jalisco is similar to Mexico regarding the main economic sectors of agriculture, industry and services, including tourism.

From a tourism perspective, Jalisco includes everything Mexico has to offer: fantastic beach resorts, urban cultural and artistic attractions, natural wonders, significant indigenous areas and impressive archeological sites. On the other hand, Jalisco is not representative in that it is the leading agricultural state (first in production of corn, beef, pork, poultry, milk and eggs). It is also more predominantly Catholic and politically more conservative than Mexico as a whole. Aside from these two exceptions, Jalisco is quite representative from a socio-economic perspective.

Perhaps cultural aspects are the most important in determining the most “Mexican” of the 32 states. Here Jalisco really stands out. It is the birthplace of such stereotypical Mexican cultural characteristics as charrería (Mexican horsemanship), jarabe tapatío (Mexican hat dance), mariachi music, and tequila, the national drink.

In conclusion, the available evidence appears to support the boasts of some Tapatíos and Jaliscienses that they live in the “most Mexican” area of the country.

Many aspects of Mexico’s culture feature in Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico, a handy reference guide to all aspects of Mexico’s geography. If you have enjoyed this post, consider gifting a copy of Geo-Mexico to someone you know.

 Posted by at 9:31 am  Tagged with:
Jan 022017
 

Unlike in the USA and Canada, where gifts are exchanged on Christmas Day (25 December), the original tradition in Mexico over the Christmas season was to exchange presents on Three Kings Day (Día de los Reyes, 6 January). In the Christian calendar, 6 January marks the Feast of the Epiphany, the day when the magi arrived in Bethlehem with their gifts for the infant Jesus. In homage to this occasion, Mexican children would dutifully stuff the largest shoes (or box) they could find with straw, and leave them outside their bedroom door on the night of January 5, in anticipation of finding new toys the following morning.

In the 20th century the Three Kings Day tradition in some regions of Mexico broke down in the face of the enormous consumer-oriented publicity from north of the border, which stressed Christmas (rather than Epiphany) gifts. Naturally, however, some greedy Mexican middle- and upper-class children expect to receive gifts on both days, claiming that parents and grandparents should not only preserve the old customs but also embrace the new version! Equally, children with parents who are separated or divorced also often receive gifts on both 25 December and 6 January, with each parent taking responsibility for one of the two festive days.

Rosca de Reyes

A typical family-sized Rosca de Reyes

Even where it is no longer a day to exchange gifts, 6 January is still very much a family day throughout Mexico. In the late afternoon or early evening, it is traditional for the whole family to share a rosca. Roscas are ring-shaped loaves of sweet bread, sold to be eaten on special occasions. The roscas for Three Kings Day each contain a small plastic (formerly ceramic) muñeco (doll). These muñecos were originally ceramic, but are now more usually plastic. The recipient of the piece of rosca containing the muñeco has to throw a party on 2 February (Candlemas day, Día de la Candelaria) for all those present at the sharing of the rosca. It is customary to provide tamales to feed everyone gathering on Candlemas day. In some parts of southern Mexico,  guests expect to be served home-made mole, a sauce which contains dozens of ingredients including nuts, chocolate and numerous spices, and which requires many hours of arduous preparation.

In 2011, Mexico City residents were treated to an early Three Kings Day present. On Sunday 2 January, the main central square in Mexico City filled with people pushing through the crowds to receive their free portion of the world’s largest ever rosca – a staggering 720 meters long, 90 cm wide and weighing 9,375 kilograms. More than 300,000 people eventually collected a piece to take home for their families to enjoy sometime on Three Kings’ Day.

And if you think making mole is arduous, then just imagine how much work was required to make this enormous rosca! The finished bread was made from 6,000 kg of flour, 3,000 kg of butter, 38,000 eggs, 1,000 kg of fruit, 1,000 liters of milk, and 220 kg of sugar; its preparation took 16,000 man-hours. Given the rising levels of obesity in Mexico, it is to be hoped that the recipe used was for a “reduced calorie” rosca

Credits: Thanks to Fatimah Araneta for suggesting valuable modifications to the original article, and to Cristina Potters for emphasizing that gift-giving on Three Kings Day is still very much alive and well in much of central and southern Mexico. Cristina Potters’ blog Mexico Cooks! has a comprehensive account of the significance of the cuisine associated with Three Kings Day and Candlemas Day.

Many aspects of Mexico’s culture feature in Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico, a handy reference guide to all aspects of Mexico’s geography. If you have enjoyed this post, please consider gifting a copy of Geo-Mexico to a friend.

 Posted by at 6:41 am  Tagged with:
Dec 222016
 

Some parts of Mexico have been working on Christmas for most of the year… For example, the manufacturing of beautiful handmade Christmas tree decorations is the main industry today in the former gold and silver mining town of Tlalpujahua in the state of Michoacán. The production of Christmas ornaments in Tlapujahua has a great series of photos by Arturo Toraya of Notimex, showing some of the steps involved.

ornaments-2

As the accompanying text explains, “Making baubles for Christmas trees is the main source of jobs in the town, which is now one of the top five producers in the world. Due to their quality, 90 percent of the total production is exported to the U.S. and Canada. There are 200 family workshops in the town with seven-hour shifts, and each worker can make up to 550 baubles per day. Each workshop decorates about 500 per day. Red, blue, green and yellow are the top selling colors in Mexico, while black, brown and grey are more popular in the U.S.”

The village of Tzintzuntzan, on the shores of Lake Pátzcuaro, also in Michoacán, is another settlement where Christmas seems to be a year-round source of inspiration. The village handicraft market is a cornucopia of straw work in every conceivable color, design and size, which make ideal Christmas decorations or gifts.

Happy Christmas from Geo-Mexico! – ¡Feliz Navidad!

Craft market in Tzintzuntzan, Michoacan

Craft market in Tzintzuntzan, Michoacan

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Dec 082016
 

Corn (maize) has been the principal food of the Tarahumara Indians since long before the Spanish arrived in Mexico. There are several precolumbian varieties that are still grown, including the ancient and delicious “blue corn”. Maize is the source of a wide variety of foodstuffs and drinks including flour (pinole), a non‑alcoholic drink called esquiate, tortillas, atole and tamales. Green corn and blue corn tortillas are made when in season, for special occasions. A version of corn beer (Spanish “tesgüino“) is also important, and is described separately below.

The Tarahumara continue to “hunt and gather” locally available foodstuffs, though these activities now supply only about 10% of their diet. Several varieties of cactus fruit are collected, edible agaves are cooked, and small river fish are caught where possible. Small animals are ruthlessly hunted. Squirrels, birds and deer, though rare today, are considered particular delicacies.

Beans, mustard green and squash also play important parts in the Tarahumara diet which is rounded out by wheat, potatoes, peaches and sweet potatoes. Those Tarahumara with access to lower elevations, such as Batopilas Canyon, also include crops typical of warmer regions such as oranges, figs and sugar‑cane. Chiles and tobacco are also cultivated.

Meat is hard to come by, and eaten only on ceremonial occasions when a goat or cow is sacrificed. It probably accounts for less than 5% of the average Tarahumara diet. Most protein comes from beans; these are usually prepared by roasting, grinding and then boiling with water, to produce a hot soup. Pork, chicken and eggs are rarely found, while sheep are kept mainly for their wool.

Squash is only eaten in season though the Indians know how to preserve it by drying. The squash flowers are eaten too, boiled with water and salt. Mustard greens (Tarahumara “maquasori“, Spanish “quelites“) are grown in the rainy season and carefully gathered and dried, for use throughout the year, providing minerals and vitamins. Quelites include the epazote plant (Chenopodium ambrosioides), described by Diana Kennedy, the world’s foremost authority on Mexican cuisine, as “the Mexican herb par excellence”.

Many families have a small number of scrubby fruit trees, usually peaches, near their house. Fruit is often picked and eaten green. Peaches are an important trading item, and may be exchanged for cigarettes or cloth. At higher elevations, apples are grown.

Given the well-documented endurance feats of Tarahumara runners, this diet clearly provides adequate nutrition! In the 1994 Denver, Colorado, “Sky Race”, Tarahumara Indian Juan Herrera (25 years old) smashed 25 minutes off the previous record, completing the 160 kilometers in 17 hours, 30 minutes, 42 seconds. He came in more than half an hour ahead of his nearest rival!

However, in many years (including 2011, 2012), and seemingly with increasing frequency, food is in extremely short supply by the time the summer growing season arrives. Fortunately for the less successful Tarahumara farmers, an age‑old tribal custom, korima is still observed. This custom requires the better‑off to share food with the less fortunate in times of need. The poor person visits successive ranchos, collecting small quantities of food to last him a week or two, then repeats this procedure as necessary. No lasting debt is incurred. The severe drought in northern Mexico over the past 24 months – see Many states in Mexico badly affected by drought – has meant that many Tarahumara have no food reserves left and have had to rely on infrequent emergency aid organized by charitable organizations, and the federal and state government.

Tesgüino (corn beer)

The average Tarahumara family expends 100 kg of corn a year to make tesgüino. This is sufficient corn to last a family of 4‑5 about a month, a significant quantity, given the regular annual food deficiencies in this region.

Tesgüino is a form of corn‑beer. It is a thick, milky, nutritious drink, supplying much needed vitamins, minerals and calories. The corn is first dampened and allowed to sprout in a dark place, then ground and boiled for about 8 hours with a catalyst to promote fermentation. The catalyst may be local grass seed (basiahuari) ground in a metate, or bark, leaves, lichens or roots, depending on the place. The liquid is then strained and left to ferment for about three days. The total preparation time is therefore about seven days. To avoid spoilage, the beverage must be drunk quickly. It’s at its best for only 12‑24 hours. This explains why it would be so wasteful to leave any beer can tesgüino undrunk at a “tesgüinada” (see below); it would be far too wasteful, even if as many as 50 gallons have been made.

Other alcoholic drinks are also made, one based on green corn (pachiki or caña) and another on maguey (meki). In earlier times, there were no alcoholics as we define the term, since tesgüino can’t be stored, but today the greater availability of commercial alcohol poses a serious problem.

Why are tesgüinadas so important?

The tesgüinada system is the social device which ties individual settlements (ranchos) together in a cooperative framework for performing all kinds of agricultural tasks. The person requiring assistance with a particular task will invite his neighbors and friends to a “tesgüinada”. He takes responsibility for providing the tesgüino, other refreshments and food. In return, the persons who attend will help plow. sow, reap or weed..

Lumholtz, recognizing from his time among the Tarahumara at the end of the last century the importance of the tesgüinada, summed up their philosophy writing that, “Rain cannot be obtained without tesgüino. Tesgüino cannot be made without corn and corn cannot grow without rain.”

The tesgüinada is necessary since many families cannot supply the labor required for both herding and cultivation at certain times of the year. In small groups like the ranchos, high mortality inevitably leaves some families unable to manage on their own. The tesgüinada is their response to the economic uncertainties facing them just as collective religious rituals help them face the unpredictability of weather, sickness and plagues. The cooperative effort moves from one rancho to another, from one tesgüinada to the next.

The tesgüinadas, which are like large, boisterous parties, provide a focus for Tarahumara social life, a chance for entertainment and to make extra-familiar friendships. Being held in a succession of different ranchos, they offer some communal resilience against the risks of becoming further isolated and marginalized. The Tarahumara attach no shame to being drunk; indeed, they positively revel in getting as drunk as humanly possible at tesgüinadas. Children are excluded until they are 14 years old or so.

Tesgüinadas do come at a cost. They increase the incidence of accidents, such as adult men falling off precipitous rock ledges that would normally pose little risk, even when running. They increase violence, which may result in serious injury or death. They also limit the amount of corn that can be held over from one year to the next. Assuming an average of 4‑6 tesgüinadas per year per family, with additional visits to tesgüinadas held in perhaps 15 other households, many Tarahumara Indians would be likely to attend more than sixty tesgüinadas a year. Even if the true figure is only 50% of this total, it still means that the Tarahumara spend as many as 100 days a year either preparing for a tesgüinada, attending one, or recovering from one.

Sources /  Bibliography:

  1. Bennett, W. and Zingg, R. (1935) The Tarahumara. Univ. of Chicago Press. Reprinted by Rio Grande Press, 1976.
  2. Kennedy, J.G. (1978) Tarahumara of the Sierra Madre; Beer, Ecology and Social Organization, AHM Publishing Corp, Arlington Heights, Illinois. Republished, as The Tarahumara of the Sierra Madre: Survivors on the Canyon’s Edge in 1996.
  3. Lumholtz, C. (1902) Unknown Mexico. 2 volumes. Scribner’s Sons, New York. Republished in both English and Spanish.
  4. Pennington, C. (1963) The Tarahumar of Mexico, their environment and material culture. Univ. of Utah Press. Reprint by Editorial Agata, Guadalajara, 1996.

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Oct 162016
 

Celebrations for Mexico’s Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos) or, more correctly Night of the Dead (Noche de Muertos), date back to pre-Hispanic times. Indigenous Mexican peoples held many strong beliefs connected with death; for example that the dead needed the same things as the living, hence their bodies should be buried with their personal possessions, sandals and other objects.

With the arrival of the Spanish, the Indians’ pagan ideas and customs were gradually assimilated into the official Catholic calendar. Dead children (angelitos) are remembered on November 1st, All Saints’ Day, while deceased adults are honored on November 2nd, All Souls’ Day. On both days, most of the activity takes place in the local cemetery.

In many locations, festivities (processions, altars, concerts, meals, dancing, etc) now last several days, often beginning several days before the main days of November 1st and 2nd.

Day of the Dead: Top Nine Locations

Day of the Dead: Top Nine Locations

The Day of the Dead was designated an “intangible world heritage” by UNESCO in 2008. The official UNESCO description of Mexico’s “Indigenous Festivity dedicated to the Dead” summarizes its significance:

“As practised by the indigenous communities of Mexico, el Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) commemorates the transitory return to Earth of deceased relatives and loved ones. The festivities take place each year at the end of October to the beginning of November. This period also marks the completion of the annual cycle of cultivation of maize, the country’s predominant food crop.”

“Families facilitate the return of the souls to Earth by laying flower petals, candles and offerings along the path leading from the cemetery to their homes. The deceased’s favorite dishes are prepared and placed around the home shrine and the tomb alongside flowers and typical handicrafts, such as paper cut-outs. Great care is taken with all aspects of the preparations, for it is believed that the dead are capable of bringing prosperity (e.g. an abundant maize harvest) or misfortune (e.g. illness, accidents, financial difficulties) upon their families depending on how satisfactorily the rituals are executed. The dead are divided into several categories according to cause of death, age, sex and, in some cases, profession. A specific day of worship, determined by these categories, is designated for each deceased person. This encounter between the living and the dead affirms the role of the individual within society and contributes to reinforcing the political and social status of Mexico’s indigenous communities.”

The Day of the Dead celebration holds great significance in the life of Mexico’s indigenous communities. The fusion of pre-Hispanic religious rites and Catholic feasts brings together two universes, one marked by indigenous belief systems, the other by worldviews introduced by the Europeans in the sixteenth century.”

In no particular order, here are the 9 best places to visit for Mexico’s Day of the Dead:

1. Michoacán

The single best-known location for Day of the Dead in the entire country is the Island of Janitzio in Lake Pátzcuaro, Michoacán. This is one of Mexico’s most famous major annual spectacles. Thousands of visitors from all over the world watch as the indigenous Purepecha people perform elaborate rituals in the local cemetery late into the night. Yes, it has become commercialized, but it remains a memorable experience, and also offers the opportunity to sample the local cuisine, which itself was declared an “intangible world heritage” by UNESCO in 2010!

Janitzio cemetery

Janitzio cemetery

Several other locations in the Lake Pátzcuaro area, including Ihuatzio, Tzintzuntzan, Arocutín and Jarácuaro, offer their own equally memorable (but less visited) festivities and rituals. Interesting observances of Day of the Dead also occur in many other places in Michoacán, including Angahuan (near Paricutin Volcano) and Cuanajo.

2. Mexico City

Two locations in the southern part of the city are well worth visiting for Day of the Dead.

In San Andrés Mixquic, which has strong indigenous roots, graves are decorated with Mexican marigolds in a cemetery lit by hundreds and hundreds of candles. Street stalls, household altars and processions attract thousands of capitalinos each year.

In Xochimilco, the canals and chinampas are the background for special night-time Day of the Dead excursions by boat (trajinera).

3. Morelos

Ocotepec, on the outskirts of Cuernavaca, is another excellent place to visit for Day of the Dead activities.

4. Veracruz

Xico, one of Mexico’s Magic Towns, has colorful Day of the Dead celebrations, including a flower petal carpet along the road to the graveyard. Don’t miss sampling the numerous kinds of tamales that are a mainstay of the local cuisine.

5. San Luis Potosí and Hidalgo

In the indigenous Huastec settlements of the mountainous area shared by the states of San Luis Potosí and Hidalgo, the celebrations for Day of the Dead are known as Xantolo. Multi-tiered altars are elaborately decorated as part of the festivities.

6. Chiapas

Several indigenous communities in Chiapas celebrate the Day of the Dead in style. For example, in San Juan Chamula, the festival is known as Kin Anima, and is based on the indigenous tzotzil tradition.

San Juan Chamula

San Juan Chamula

7. Yucatán and Quintana Roo

In the Maya region, Day of the Dead celebrations are known as Hanal Pixan, “feast for the souls.” Families prepare elaborate food for the annual return of their dearly departed. The cemeteries in the Yucatán capital Mérida are well worth seeing, as are the graveyards in many smaller communities. See, for example, this account of the festivities in Pac Chen, Quintana Roo: Hanal Pixan, Maya Day of the Dead in Pac Chen, Quintana Roo

Tourist locations offer their own versions of Day of the Dead celebrations. For example, Xcaret theme park, in the Riviera Maya, is the scene of the Festival of Life and Death (Festival de la Vida y la Muerte) featuring parades, rituals, concerts, theater performances and dancing.

8. Oaxaca

There are rich and varied observances of Day of the Dead in the state of Oaxaca. Visitors to Oaxaca City can witness vigils in several of the city’s cemeteries and night-time processions called comparsas. The celebrations are very different on the Oaxacan coast, as evidenced by this account of Day of the Dead in Santiago Pinotepa Nacional.

9. Guanajuato
The city of San Miguel de Allende in Guanajuato holds an annual four-day festival known as “La Calaca” with artistic and cultural events that are “integrated into the vibrant celebration of life and death known as Dia de Muertos”.

In Mexico, the age-old cultural traditions of Day of the Dead are still very much alive!

Note for armchair travelers

Besides the usual travel accounts describing Day of the Dead, there are numerous children’s and adult novels including vivid accounts of typical Day of the Dead activities. There are also various novels entitled Day of the Dead, though not all of them are focused on the Mexican tradition. One of the earliest of the novels entitled Day of the Dead is Bart Spicer’s 1955 spy novel, Day of the Dead, which has several scenes in Chapala, Guadalajara and Mexico City.

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Jul 232016
 

Today, 23 July, is Día del Geógrafo de México or Mexican Geographers’ Day. See this earlier post for a brief history of why 23 July came to be chosen.

The community of geographers in Mexico has always been strong, and geographers are held in higher esteem in Mexico than in most countries. Online, for those speaking Spanish, the Facebook page of 23 de Julio: día del Geógrafo de México regularly has interesting links to publications, cartoons, photos and other resources.

One of my recent favorites is this great scenic landscape image from the Facebook page of Los Gastronautas:

Los Gastronautas: Landscape of ham and parsely

Los Gastronautas: Landscape of ham and parsley

Geography is everywhere! A Happy Mexican Geographers’ Day to all geographers, whether in Mexico or elsewhere.

 Posted by at 9:45 am  Tagged with:
Dec 212015
 

The National Statistics Institute (INEGI) has released the results of its inter-census study carried out in March 2015 which involved visits to more than 7 million households across the country.

Children in Zitácuaro, Michoacán. Photo: Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

Children in Zitácuaro, Michoacán. Photo: Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

As of March 2015, Mexico’s total population was 119,530,753 (48.6% male, 51.4% female), up from 111,954,660 million in 2010, a growth rate averaging 1.4% a year. This is the first time for 45 years that the rate of growth has not fallen. Analysts had expected a 1.2% growth rate over the period, but attribute the 1.4% figure to a slightly higher fertility rate than anticipated, together with an unexpected fall in the number of young people emigrating from Mexico. [Note that the total population figure is slightly lower than the figure released in July from Mexico’s National Population Council (Conapo) of 121,783,280.]

Since 2010 the proportion of seniors (over age 65) has risen from 6.2% to 7.2% of the total, and the proportion of households headed by a female is up from 25% to 29%. The median age in Mexico is now 27 years. The youngest median age is in Chiapas (23), the oldest in the Federal District (33). Overall, Mexico’s dependency ratio is falling, continuing a period of “demographic dividend“.

INEGI found that the number of households in Mexico is rising 2.4% a year and now totals about 32 million, giving an average number of 3.7 occupants/household. 98.7% of homes have electricity, 74.1% have piped water inside the building, a further 20.4% outside the building but on the property; 75.6% connected to drainage.

Mexico’s most populated states remain the State of Mexico, the Federal District (Mexico City) and Veracruz, while the smallest states in terms of population are Baja California, Campeche and Colima. The most populated municipality is Iztapalapa (1.8 million), followed by Ecatepec (1.7 million) and Tijuana (1.6 million). The most rapidly growing municipality in the entire country is Pesquería, in Nuevo León, which has grown a startling 35.2% a year since 2010, mainly because of the new Kia vehicle factory opening there.

The item of inter-census news that attracted most press attention was INEGI’s so-called discovery that there were 1.4 million black Mexicans. This was hardly news to most demographers, but the inter-census survey was the first time INEGI had included a question aimed at identifying Afro-Mexicans, as a pilot question for the full 2020 census: “Based on your culture, history and traditions, do you consider yourself black, meaning Afro-Mexican or Afro-descendant?”

INEGI did indeed find that about 1.4 million citizens (1.2% of the population) self-identified as “Afro-Mexican” or “Afro-descendant”, with significantly more women opting for the category than men (755,000 women; 677,000 men).

It was no surprise to find that most Afro-Mexicans live in the states of Guerrero, Oaxaca and Veracruz. The survey showed that Mexico’s self-identified black population is not currently disadvantaged in terms of access to education and health services or work opportunities, putting it well ahead of Mexico’s indigenous population in that regard.

Afro-Mexican activists welcomed the inter-census question and results, but called for Mexico’s history books to reflect their contribution. Benigno Gallardo, an Afro-Mexican activist in Guerrero, pointed out that, “In school they teach our children about Europeans and indigenous natives, but the history books practically don’t recognize our history.”

Certainly more awareness of the long history of Afro-Mexicans is badly needed. For example, how many people realize that Blacks outnumbered Spaniards in Mexico until after 1810 or that Vasconcelas’ “Cosmic Race” (La “Raza Cósmica”) excluded Mexico’s African heritage?

Want to learn more? A good place to start is Bobby Vaughn’s website Afro-Mexico or his Black Mexico Home Page, Afro-Mexicans of the Costa Chica, on MexConnect, which provide links to several of his articles including Blacks in Mexico. A Brief Overview.

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Dec 142015
 

The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada, continues to showcase Mexican textiles in a major exhibition entitled Viva México! Clothing and Culture.

The exhibition opened in May this year and closes 23 May 3, 2016. It occupies the museum’s Patricia Harris Gallery of Textiles & Costume. Even though the museum’s collection of Mexican textiles is one of the largest and most important collections of its kind in the world, very few items from the collection have ever been publicly displayed previously.

“Vibrant expressions of creativity, the pieces in this exhibition combine remarkable technical skill with exquisite artistry. Over 150 stunning historic and contemporary pieces are on display, including complete costume ensembles, sarapesrebozos, textiles, embroidery, beadwork and more.”

Rebozo (detail), Ikat-patterned silk, Mexico, 1825-1875. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. W.K. Newcomb.

Rebozo (detail), Ikat-patterned silk, Mexico, 1825-1875. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. W.K. Newcomb.

As the promotional material claims, “The evolution of Mexican fashion reflects the history of Mexico, where the textile arts reach back over many centuries. After the Spanish Conquest of 1521, European styles influenced the distinctive clothing of the Maya, the Aztec and other great civilizations. Contemporary Mexican textiles owe their vitality to the fusion of traditions. ¡Viva Mexico! celebrates this rich and enduring cultural legacy.”

The guest curator for this exhibition is Chloë Sayer, a specialist in Mexican popular art and author of numerous works on the subject, including Costumes of Mexico (1985); Arts and Crafts of Mexico (1990); Mexican Patterns: A Design Source Book (1990); Mexico: The Day of the Dead: An Anthology (1993); Mexican Textile Techniques (1999); Textiles from Mexico (2002); and Fiesta: Days of the Dead & Other Mexican Festivals (2009).

Sayer believes, with good reason, that Mexican textile handcrafts should be named a UNESCO cultural heritage, due to their centuries-old history, and because they are still worn by Mexico’s indigenous peoples. She sees the challenge as being how to ensure that “new generations of Mexicans continue to learn how to make these textiles”

The exhibition comprises about 200 pieces, some dating back to the nineteenth century. “The collection tells the story of Mexican textiles through centuries, and that’s why it’s so valuable,” Sayer said. Sessions when visitors to the exhibition can watch Mexican artists hand-crafting traditional textiles are also scheduled on a regular basis.

There are significant regional differences in the “typical” traditional textiles in Mexico. This exhibition delves into the geography of Mexican textiles and brings long-overdue attention to their extraordinary diversity.

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Sep 142015
 

Happy birthday, Mexico! On 16 September 2015, Mexico celebrates the 205th anniversary of its independence from Spain.

Mexican flag

When was Mexico’s War of Independence?

The long struggle for independence began on 16 September 1810; independence was finally “granted” by Spain in 1821.

Want some map-related geographic trivia associated with the War of Independence?

Events in the War of Independence called for an accurate map of Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest natural lake. The cartographer for this map was José María Narváez, whose major contributions to Mexican cartography in succeeding decades have largely been forgotten.

The first truly national map, compiled in 1857-1858 from a meticulous reconciling of the work of numerous local cartographers, was drawn by Antonio García Cubas. García Cubas did not graduate from university until a few years after completing this map!

Nationalism and the start of Mexico-USA migration, but not in the direction you might think…

Following independence, the rush was on to draw an accurate map of all of Mexico’s territory. Mexico’s boundaries following independence were very different to today. Flows of migrants linking the USA to Mexico at that time were from the USA to Mexico, the reverse of the direction of more recent flows, which have seen millions of Mexicans migrate north looking for work:

Some national symbols are not quite what you might think, either!

The story of the national emblem (used on coins, documents and the flag) of an eagle devouring a serpent, while perched on a prickly-pear cactus, is well known. Or is it?

Why is “El Grito” held on the night of 15 September each year?

In 1910, then president Porfirio Díaz decided that the centenary of Mexican independence should be celebrated in style. One of the reasons why the “traditional” Grito (“shout”) is made on 15 September each year, rather than on the morning of 16 September (when Father Miguel Hidalgo apparently gathered his parishioners in revolt) is because 15 September 1910 happened to be Díaz’s 80th birthday. Why not have one big bash and celebrate both president and country at the same time? Even though the Mexican Revolution broke out later that year (and Díaz was later exiled to Paris), Mexico continues to start its annual independence-day celebrations on the evening of 15 September.

Not to be confused with Cinco de Mayo (5 May)

Many people incorrectly assume that Cinco de Mayo (5 May) is Mexico’s independence day. The Cinco de Mayo has nothing to do with Independence, but everything to do with a famous victory over the French. It commemorates the Battle of Puebla, fought on May 5, 1862. The battle marks Mexico’s only major military success since independence:

Independent country, independent book:

Mexico has come a long way in 200 years, but amazingly, to the best of our knowledge, Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico, is the first-ever book in English focused exclusively on the nation’s varied and fascinating geography.

¡Viva Mexico!

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The geography of the Spanish language: how important is Spanish around the world?

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Aug 242015
 

The Index of Human Development ranks Spanish as the second most important language on earth, behind English but ahead of Mandarin.

Spanish is the third most widely used language on the internet (graph), although less than 8% of total internet traffic takes place in Spanish. Spanish is the second most used language on Facebook, a long way behind English but well ahead of Portuguese.

Languages used on the Internet (2015). Source: Internet World Stats

Languages used on the Internet (2015). Source: Internet World Stats

According to El español, una lengua viva – Spanish, a living language, a report from the Instituto Cervantes in Spain (which promotes the Spanish language abroad via language classes and cultural events) there are about 559 million Spanish speakers worldwide. This figure includes 470 million native speakers and an additional 89 million who have some command of the language.

While Mexico remains the world’s largest Spanish-speaking country, with about 121 million Spanish speakers, second place belongs to the USA, followed by Colombia. The USA has an estimated 41 million native speakers of Spanish plus 11 million who are bilingual; Colombia has 48 million Spanish-speakers.

In terms of economic importance, the report’s authors calculate that Spanish speakers contribute 9.2% of the world’s GDP. About two-thirds of Spanish-linked GDP is generated in North America (USA, Canada and Mexico) and the European Union, while Latin America (excluding Mexico) accounts for 22%.

The main concentrations of Spanish speakers in the USA are in the states of New Mexico (47% of the population), California and Texas (both 38%), and Arizona (30%). 18% of New Yorkers speak Spanish and, somewhat surprisingly, more than 6% of Alaskans are also Spanish speakers. Interestingly, the US Census Office estimates that by 2050, the USA will have 138 million Spanish speakers and could then overtake Mexico as the largest Spanish-speaking nation in the world. This assumes that current predictions for Mexico’s population increase over the next 35 years hold true.

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