Nov 262019
 

Happy Thanksgiving to all our American readers!

Try the following links to learn more about Mexico’s contributions to Thanksgiving. For starters, what about the idea that Thanksgiving originated in Mexico, not in the USA!

thanksgiving-cartoon

That idea may be slightly controversial, but most celebrations of Thanksgiving certainly have some close ties to Mexico since they are likely to include one or more of the following ingredients:

These items, and many other food items that originate in Mexico, have come to play an important role, not only for American Thanksgiving celebrations, but also for many of the world’s finest cuisines.

¡Buen provecho! ~ Happy Thanksgiving!

Looking for a fun way to learn more about Mexican history and culture?

Tony Burton’s book, Mexican Kaleidoscope: myths, mysteries and mystique explores some of the reasons why Mexico is such an extraordinarily diverse and interesting nation. The book’s 30 short chapters range from the mysteries of Mexican food, Aztec farming and Mayan pyramids to mythical cities, aerial warfare, art, music, local sayings and the true origins of Mexico’s national symbols.  – “a suitable gift for the novice flying to Mexico for vacation, while at the same time a cherished companion for the expat already comfortably at home there.” – Dr Michael Hogan, Author of Abraham Lincoln and Mexico.

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Oct 292019
 

In honor of the award of the 2019 Nobel Prize for Economics to Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty, we republish this post from five years ago in which we highlighted the significance of the pioneering work of Banerjee and Duflo:

Every so often a book comes along that shakes up established wisdom and forces us to rethink our viewpoints and beliefs. The latest such book to cross my desk is Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo, published by PublicAffairs in 2011.

poor-economicsThis is a worthy read for anyone interested in development theory, policy, practice and economics. The authors are professors of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and co-founded the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). Their book reports on the effectiveness of solutions to global poverty using an evidence-based randomized control trial approach.

Banerjee and Duflo argue that many anti-poverty policies have failed over the years because of an inadequate understanding of poverty. They conclude that the battle against poverty can be won, but it will take patience, careful thinking and a willingness to learn from evidence.

The authors look at some of the unexpected questions related to poverty that empirical studies have thrown up, such as :

  • Why do the poor (those living on less than 99 cents a day) need to borrow in order to save?
  • Why do the poor miss out on free life-saving immunizations but pay for drugs that they do not need?
  • Why do the poor start many businesses but do not grow any of them?

The book was supported by an outstanding website that included:

  • Introductions to each chapter
  • Maps showing cited studies with links to original sources
  • Data and figures used with interactive data tools
  • A “What Can You Do” page with links to major organizations working in the field or for the problem discussed in the chapter

The website’s links to research papers mentioned in the book included four studies related to Mexico:

1. Do Conditional Cash Transfers Affect Electoral Behavior? Evidence from a Randomized Experiment in Mexico, by Ana L. De La O.

The evidence comes from the pioneering Progresa, the original Mexican conditional cash transfer (CCT) program (since repackaged as Oportunidades).  This CCT program led to a 7% increase in turnout and a 16% increase in the  incumbent vote share, with clear implications for politicians in areas where CCT programs reach a large percentage of voters.

2 School Subsidies for the Poor: Evaluating the Mexican Progresa Poverty Program, by T. Paul Schultz of Yale University (August 2001).

This study considered how a CCT program affected school enrollment. The CCT program increased enrollment in school in grades 3 through 9, with the increase often greater for girls than boys. The cumulative effect was estimated to add 0.66 years to the baseline level of 6.80 years of schooling.

3 Experimental Evidence on Returns to Capital and Access to Finance in Mexico, by David McKenzie and Christopher Woodruff (March 2008)

Microenterprises are often unable to access suitable financing, even though they are responsible for employing a large portion of the total workforce. This experiment, which gave cash and in-kind grants to small retail firms, demonstrated that this additional capital generated large increases in profits, with the effects concentrated on those firms which were more financially constrained. The estimated return to capital was found to be at least 20 to 33 percent per month, three to five times higher than market interest rates.

4 Working for the Future: Female Factory Work and Child Health in Mexico, by David Atkin (April 2009)

Atkins’ paper found that children whose mothers lived in a town where a maquiladora (export factory) opened when the women were sixteen years old were much taller than those children born to mothers who did not have a similar opportunity. The effect was so large that “it can bridge the entire gap in height between a poor Mexican child and the “norm” for a well-fed American child.” (Poor Economics, 229)

The increase in height could not be fully explained by the changes in family income resulting from employment in a maquiladora. As Bannerjee and Duflo suggest, “Perhaps the sense of control over the future that people get from knowing that there will be an income coming in every month -and not just the income itself- is what allows these women to focus on building their own careers and those of their children. Perhaps this idea that there is a future is what makes the difference between the poor and the middle class.” (Poor Economics, 229)

Conclusion

Banerjee and Duflo’s positive message is that poverty can indeed be alleviated, but we need to take one small measurable step at a time with constant evaluation of whether or not particular policies are successful, based on evidence, not just on belief systems.

Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty” deserves its place of honor alongside other such genuine classics as E.F. Schumaker’s “Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered” (1973). It is a must-read for geographers, regardless of your political persuasion.

Note: this is a lightly edited version of a post first published 27 January 2014.

Related posts

Sep 092019
 

Graphic designers often taken liberties with maps. Nowhere is this more apparent than in this otherwise beautiful tourism brochure promoting the Pacific Coast resort of Mazatlán, collected recently in British Colombia, Canada.

Here is the map in question:

Mexico’s relief, as shown on this map, is highly distorted. Accepting that the graphical designer was only interested in relief along the western side of Mexico given that the brochure is about Mazatlán, depicting a single massive range of mountains running from northern Mexico to Oaxaca is completely inaccurate.

By way of comparison, here is a map we used previously to pinpoint the Monarch Butterfly reserves in the Volcanic Axis of Mexico. This map is based on the much more accurate relief map of Mexico from Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico:

Location of Volcanic Axis and Monarch Butterfly reserves

Location of Volcanic Axis and Monarch Butterfly reserves. Basemap: Figure 3.1 of Geo-Mexico; all rights reserved.

The book is still in print. Buy your copy today, especially if you are a graphic designer about to take unwarranted liberties with any map of Mexico!

 Posted by at 10:46 am
Aug 232019
 

A recent edition of the New Scientist has an interesting article about dinosaurs and the rapid shifts in our knowledge of these ancient beasts based on recent fossil discoveries. If the New Scientist is to be believed, these discoveries have not only revolutionized our views of dinosaurs, they have also rearranged the Earth’s geography.

  • The demise of the dinosaurs came about after “An enormous asteroid struck what is now the Yucatan peninsula  in Central America, sparking a mass extinction.”

Hmm… first up, it should be the “Yucatán Peninsula” (with an uppercase “P”) to refer to that region of Mexico. And, more importantly, the Yucatán Peninsula, as part of Mexico, is clearly in North America, not Central America, unless the impact of that danged asteroid is still reverberating around the world and shifting the continents.

For more about dinosaurs and the Chicxulub impact crater –

Source:

  • Riley Black. “The undiscovered dinosaurs”. New Scientist, August 3-9, 2019, page 46
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Apr 232019
 

The BBC has done it again! Not content with its previous entry in Geo-Mexico’s “Hall of Shame” for its TV documentary “Racing Green”, it now qualifies for a second entry for an episode of “Fake or Fortune.”

Fiona Bruce – yes, the Oxford-educated journalist and newsreader and current host of Antiques Roadshow and other noteworthy BBC programmes – apparently believes that Mexico is in South America.

In 2016, episode 3 of series 5 of “Fake or Fortune” investigated the authenticity of an alleged Rodin watercolor of a Cambodian dancer that was given to the owner’s mother in Mexico City in about 1940 by restaurant owner Jimmy Heineman in exchange for some artwork.

The owner’s mother, Suzanne Daco, was a moderately successful artist who held at least one solo exhibit of her work in Mexico City. The exhibition was reviewed at the time for Hoy, the illustrated Mexico City magazine.

Referring to the review, Fiona Bruce commented that it had appeared in Hoy, “one of the top magazines across the whole of the South American continent.” South America? Err… no! Schoolgirl howler from distinguished BBC journalist?  Err… yes!

Congratulations, Ms Bruce! You are the latest entrant to Geo-Mexico’s Hall of Shame. And, congratulations, BBC, you become the first organization to have two entrants in our Hall of Shame.

Program transcript: https://www.tvo.org/transcript/122675X/ep-3-rodin

Related posts:

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Apr 112019
 

This early postcard (cerca 1905) shows smoke billowing from Colima Volcano.

Colima Volcano Erupting. Postcard, La Joyita, ca 1905

Colima Volcano Erupting. Postcard, La Joyita, ca 1905

The postcard was published by a curio store – La Joyita – based in downtown Mexico City at 1ra de San Francisco #13-14. Described by The Mexican Herald in 1898 as one “of the most interesting stores for visitors to be found in the Republic”, it was one of two stores belonging to F. Pardal and Co. and specialized in Mexican opals, drawn work, silver filigree, and other items as well as ancient French and Spanish fans and silk shawls.

For more information about Mexico’s volcanoes:

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Dec 172018
 

Christmas festivities in Mexico are not just a one-day wonder but extend over several weeks, and are already underway!

Nativity scenes such as this one are popular with all ages:

Modern Mexican Nacimiento. Photo: Ariaski (Flickr);

Modern Mexican Nacimiento. Photo: Ariaski (Flickr); creative commons license

Unlike in many other countries, the custom of gift-giving at this time of year was not tied to Christmas Day but to Three Kings Day (6 January), a custom that has changed rapidly with rampant advertising and commercialization of the holiday season:

Still looking for a Mexican-themed Christmas gift? Try any of these books (Kindle or soft cover) by Geo-Mexico co-author Tony Burton, available on all Amazon sites – Books on Mexico or this romance-adventure novel by Jan Dunlap, set in 1970s Mexico – Dilemma.

Mexico has had numerous unusual public Christmas trees in recent years, including:

Mexico is the original home of the poinsettia, the decorative plant of choice for interior decorators during the festive season. This year, a massive (Guinness award-winning) floral carpet of poinsettias covering 17,805 square meters – mainly of white and red varieties – was arranged at the pyramids of Teotihuacan, just outside Mexico City:

Credit: Mexico Daily News / EdomexTurismo

Mexico also gave the world the turkey, corn and pumpkin pie:

Curiously, the idea of having a Christmas Tree at Christmas time in Mexico seems to be a relatively recent custom, an example of a “cultural invasion”:

The custom of having a family or community Christmas Tree has led to an ever-growing demand for Christmas trees, many of which are now grown and harvested in Mexico:

Christmas trees are not complete without Christmas ornaments and Mexican handicraft artisans have been cashing in on the demand for decades, especially in such creative states as Michoacán:

Some parts of Mexico work on Christmas 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.

Craft market in Tzintzuntzan, Michoacan

Craft market in Tzintzuntzan, Michoacan

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

Mexico’s Day of the Dead: nine of the best places to visit

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Oct 162018
 

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.”

Here, in no particular order, are 9 of the 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.

Related links:

Ten new “Magic Towns” have been announced

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Ten new “Magic Towns” have been announced
Oct 122018
 

Ten new “Magic Towns” have been announced, bringing the total number nationwide to 121. The lates additions are:

  • Melchor Múzquiz, Coahuila
  • Nombre de Dios, Durango
  • Comonfort, Guanajuato
  • Zimapán, Hidalgo
  • Tlaquepaque, Jalisco
  • Compostela, Nayarit
  • Amealco de Bonfil, Querétaro
  • Aquismón, San Luis Potosí
  • Bustamante, Nuevo León
  • Guadalupe, Zacatecas

See also:

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Incoming administration has decentralization plans

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Incoming administration has decentralization plans
Oct 022018
 

Several previous administrations have tried to decentralize Mexico, encouraging businesses to set up in the “periphery” away from the “core” of Mexico City and central Mexico. The incoming administration has announced its intention to move several federal government Secretariats away from Mexico City. The plans are discussed in some detail in this interesting article by Simon Schatzberg: