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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Mexican clothing and culture exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto

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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!

Mexican flag

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.

Want to learn more?

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Christmas in Mexico, according to one news agency

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Jan 252015
 

According to its website, “The QMI Agency is French and English Canada’s leading news reference for daily, intermittent and event-driven needs. Its offering most notably includes texts, images, videos and other interactive content.”

QMI’s Facebook page promotes its graphics department which “creates infographics for use throughout our chain” and boasts that “QMI Agency provides reliable, complete and up-to-the-minute news coverage over a full range of platforms.” And, indeed, many of the infographics shown on its Facebook page are very well designed, interesting, colorful and informative.

QMI-Christmas

Infographic from Niagara Advance newspaper for 25 December 2014

However, this infographic attributed to the QMI Agency, published in the Niagara Advance newspaper for 25 December 2014 (which Geo-Mexico happened to see while admiring Niagara Falls) was far less convincing. Entitled “Christmas around the world”, this particular infographic  took a “look at various traditions and customs”, and opened with a description intended to summarize Christmas in Mexico:

Mexico: Christmas dinner consists of oxtail soup with beans and hot chili, as well as roasted turkey and vegetables. Instead of receiving their gifts on Christmas Day, they get presents on Jan. 5, the eve of Twelfth Night.”

Hmm… really? As we have noted many times on Geo-Mexico, Mexican cuisine varies regionally. Even so, if any reader knows where “oxtail soup with beans and hot chili, as well as roasted turkey and vegetables” is the typical menu for Christmas, please let us know, to add to our list of regional delights.

As for presents being received on “Jan. 5, the eve of Twelfth Night”, err… no. The Mexican tradition of gifts on Three Kings Day involves Mexican children stuffing shoes (or a  box) with straw, and leaving them outside their bedroom door on the night of 5 January, in anticipation of finding gifts (new toys) the following morning, the morning of 6 January, Three Kings Day.

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Seasonal greetings from Geo-Mexico!

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Dec 242014
 

Geo-Mexico wishes all its readers the warmest seasonal greetings.

tenango-de-flores-xmas-tree2

The photo shows Mexico’s only floating Christmas Tree. It can be seen near Tenago de las Flores in the municipality of Huachinango in the northern part of the state of Puebla. The 15-meter-high tree, with Christmas lights, stands on a wooden platform atop a raft of 32 metal drums in the middle of the Tenango reservoir, upstream from the Necaxa Dam, Mexico’s first hydroelectric project, dating back to 1905. The tradition started only three years ago when local residents decided that a floating Christmas tree might prove to be a tourist attraction.

The 10-min video below shows the “light up” of the tree early this month, complete with music and singing.

Tenango de las Flores has been more famous in the past for its large-scale production of flowers (floriculture) and for its annual Flower Festival, as well as for featuring in an award-winning 1957 film called Tizoc: Amor Indio, starring María Félix and Pedro Infante. The film won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 15th Golden Globe Awards (1958).

tenango-de-flores-xmas-tree-day

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The regional geography of music in Mexico

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Nov 062014
 

Here are brief descriptions of some of the most commonly heard forms of regional music within Mexico. What you hear depends on where you travel!

Mariachi

For many decades, mariachi has been widely considered to be the quintessential Mexican folk-music genre, and has become an important symbol of Mexican music and culture.

A mariachi band is a term used to describe an ensemble band of five or more musicians that wear the traditional costume of a charro or Mexican cowboy. The costume consists of a waist-length jacket, tightly fitted pants and boots and a large sombrero. The jacket, pants and sombrero are elaborately decorated with colorful metal ornaments and intricate embroidered designs.

The unique sound of mariachi music is created by combining trumpets, violins, and guitars with two traditional Mexican instruments, the vihuela and the guitarrón. The music is characterized by loud, hard driving rhythms, spirited melodies and humorous lyrics. Shouts and cries (gritos) are periodically given while a song is being sung, giving the music an additional lively character.

Music and dance in Mexico.

Music and dance in Mexico. Fig 13.3 of Geo-Mexico, the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. All rights reserved.

Ranchera

Another very popular Mexican music form is the ranchera (ranch song), which originated during the time of the Mexican Revolution. It is basically cowboy music, and the singers dress in the traditional style of the Mexican horseman with tight breeches, jacket, boots, gun holsters and a large sombrero.

The lyrics of ranchera songs typically deal with rural life, unrequited love, or about the struggles of ordinary people living in the country. The songs are sometimes joyous and sometimes nostalgic or tragic, and are often sung in a very dramatic and passionate manner, with the singer crying out “Ay, ay, ay, ay, ay!” at various points.

Norteña

Another popular music genre, particularly in northern Mexico, is the norteña. This form of music has its origins in the ballads that were traditionally sung by people living along the USA-Mexico border. This music style is typically a hybrid of many other musical forms, including the waltz, polka, and country music.

Norteña is high energy music, driven by the accordion and the booming bass sound of the bajo sexto, a large 12-string guitar. The lyrics of norteña songs typically deal with stories of life along the border, illegal immigrants, outlaws and desperados, drug dealers (narcotraficantes), corrupt public officials, rejected lovers, etc.

Many norteña bands are quite large, with a full horn section and strings. The genre’s most famous group, Los Tigres del Norte has cultivated a large number of fans both in Mexico and in the USA.

Banda

Banda (Band) refers to the form of music played by large brass ensembles that first appeared in the northern Mexican state of Sinaloa several decades ago. A typical banda ensemble features trumpets, trombones, tubas and percussion instruments, and may include keyboards. String instruments are used sparingly, if at all. Banda sounds somewhat similar to American Big Band music, but with a distinctive Hispanic twist.

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Holy Innocents’ Day (28 December)

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Dec 272013
 

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

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

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

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

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

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Foreign runners help preserve an ancient Tarahumara tradition

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Jul 262013
 

While generally referred to in English as the Tarahumara, the people’s own name for themselves is Raramuri“, literally “the light‑footed ones” or “footrunners”. The Tarahumara live in the Copper Canyon region of Mexico and are renowned for their long distance running exploits across some of the world’s most inhospitable terrain. As “modern” life encroaches on the Tarahumara and begins to change their traditional way of life, bringing problems like environmental damage, loss of native lands, and narco-trafficking, will they manage to preserve their ancient traditions such as long distance foot races?

As his contribution towards helping the Tarahumara preserve their foot races, a few years ago, Micah True, an American better known as ultramarathon runner “Caballo Blanco”, who regularly visited the town of Urique in the Copper Canyon, organized a Copper Canyon Ultramarathon. True, who died in 2012, was featured in Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run. As True hoped, the Copper Canyon Ultramarathon has become an annual event, now known as the Ultra Caballo Blanco that helps maintain the running heritage aspect of Tarahumara culture. The event is usually held in March. Completing the race requires running an estimated 50 miles (80 km) of tracks, trails and and dirt roads, which start and finish in the main plaza of the town of Urique. The event has become the focal point for a cultural celebration.

This short 9-minute Youtube video–Super Athletes of the Sierra Madre–describes the 2009 Copper Canyon Ultramarathon.

Ini additional to some great shots of the rugged scenery and the race itself, the video includes brief references to the history of the area, and details some of the current pressures on the Tarahumara way of life. The Copper Canyon ultramarathon is aptly labelled “the greatest race the world has never seen”. The race is not sponsored and there are no huge monetary prizes for the race winners. Donations are accepted to offset the cost of prizes. Anyone who completes the course within the 14-hour time limit is awarded a voucher for 500 lb of corn. Foreign athletes who compete alongside the Tarahumara in this event donate their corn and prizes back to the community. The event attracts more than 200 runners, with about half of them normally completing the course.

Route of Ultra Caballo Blanco

Route of Ultra Caballo Blanco

This image of the course (from Ultra Caballo Blanco) gives some idea of the terrain in which this race is run. The race starts with a 21+ mile loop up-river from Urique, followed by another 18+ mile loop down-river, and then a final loop (up to the Tarahumara village of Guadalupe Coronado and back down to Urique) adding another 10+ miles to the total distance.

The 12th Annual Ultra Caballo Blanco will take place on March, 2, 2014.

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Tultepec: the fireworks capital of Mexico

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May 252013
 

No Mexican festival is complete without a dazzling display of fireworks. Gunpowder was unknown in Mexico prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, but its use in fireworks quickly caught on. Firework production is usually a small-scale family affair, and there are workshops specializing in fireworks throughout the country. The undisputed  capital of fireworks is Tultepec, a settlement with 130,000 inhabitants on the northern edge of Mexico City. Generations of expertise have led to Tultepec becoming the source for about half of all the fireworks manufactured in Mexico.

To celebrate its skilled pyrotechnic craftsmen, Tultepec hosts a 9-day National Pyrotechnic Festival in March each year. The festival, first held in 1989, includes competitions for the best castillos (castles) and toros (bulls) or toritos (little bulls). Castillos can be several stories high, with an intricate interconnected network of sections representing saints, animals, flowers, birds and other designs. Toritos, first recorded in the nineteenth century, are bull-shaped frames placed over the heads of willing volunteers. As the firecrackers explode, the toritos are carried through the streets or dance in imitation of a bull fight as young bystanders pretend to be matadors. About 250 toritos ran the streets of Tultepec in 2013.

The manufacturing of fireworks is tightly controlled by the military, but accidents are all too common and often serious, sometimes fatal. About 2,000 people work directly in the industry, in some 300 small workshops. The creativity of these coheteros (fireworks makers) knows few limits. For example, mid-way through this video, look for the small, firework-propelled vehicle that goes alternately forwards, then backwards, entirely on its own once its fuse has been ignited.

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