Jan 162021
 

This Guardian article – ‘My neighbourhood is being destroyed to pacify his supporters’: the race to complete Trump’s wall – highlights the problems created (not solved) by US efforts to build a wall along its southern border.

Judy King coverFor what it’s worth, here is my own take on the wall, written a few years ago as a short chapter for Judy King’s book, Echoes from the Wall: Real Stories of Mexican Migrants (Mexico Insights, 2019). The majority of King’s book is based on her one-on-one interviews with a varied and fascinating selection of Mexican migrants who at one time or another lived and/or worked in the US. King’s personal, in-depth approach was time consuming but was amply rewarded and she acquired some extraordinary individual accounts. The book also includes short “backgrounders” on the history of Mexican-US migration and the practicalities involved.

My chapter focused on the geography related to the wall building.

The Border Story: the effects of a barrier wall (written in 2018)

The U.S.-Mexico border is unique in terms of its geography. It is the longest land border in the world between a developed economy and an emerging economy. The continental U.S.-Mexico border (excluding offshore limits) is about 1990 miles (3200 km) long. At roughly the mid-point, the cities of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez face each other across the boundary line. East of these cities, the border follows the course of the Río Grande (Río Bravo as it is known to Mexicans) to the Gulf of Mexico; west of these cities, it crosses the Sonoran desert to reach the Pacific Ocean between San Diego and Tijuana.

Map of Mexico, 1824

Map of Mexico, 1824

This boundary was established in the middle of the 19th century. After the Mexican‑American War (1846‑1848) the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceded over half of Mexico’s territory to the USA. A few years later, under the 1853 Gadsden Purchase (Treaty of La Mesilla), northern portions of Sonora and Chihuahua were also transferred to the USA. This more or less established the current border between the two countries.

Minor disputes have occurred since due to the constantly migrating meanders of the Río Grande/Bravo. Flooding during the early 1860s moved the river channel south, shifting an area of about 2.6 square kilometers (1 square mile) from Ciudad Juárez in Mexico to El Paso in the U.S. Both countries claimed the area, giving rise to the El Chamizal dispute. This dispute went to international arbitration in 1911 and was only finally resolved in 1963 with the ratification of the Chamizal Treaty by President John F. Kennedy and his Mexican counterpart, Adolfo López Mateos.

A permanent memorial to Chamizal was established in El Paso in 1966 to commemorate the two nations’ laudable international cooperation, diplomacy and respect for cultural values in arriving at a mutually acceptable resolution to the conflict. A later dispute about changes in river meanders – the Ojinaga Cut – was amicably resolved in 1970.

There are about fifty places where people can legally cross the U.S.-Mexico States border but only one where the cities on either side of the border have the same name: Nogales. Historically, straddling the international border was not a drawback to residents of the “Two Nogales” (Ambos Nogales).

Postcard of Ambos Nogales, ca 1915

Postcard of Ambos Nogales, ca 1915

A century ago, one street in Nogales – International Avenue – actually ran east‑west along the border, with one side of the street in the U.S. and the other in Mexico. Even before a boundary fence was erected down the middle, residents were apparently still required to cross at one of two entry points: either the Morley Avenue crossing or the Grand Avenue crossing. The 60-foot-wide avenue had been created in 1897 after all buildings close to the border were razed to the ground as a way of limiting customs fraud. A permanent border fence was built in 1918 following the Battle of Ambos Nogales (La batalla del 27 de agosto).

During the prohibition years (1919-34) in the U.S., Mexican cities close to the border benefited from an influx of free-spending visitors. These years were boom times for the bars, casinos, brothels and race tracks of cities such as Ciudad Juárez and Tijuana. These cities also did well during World War II, when many of the large number of U.S. military personnel stationed near the border were able to circumvent wartime rationing at home by hopping south.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, physical barriers (fences, walls) were erected along some sections of the border to try and stem the flow of migrants from Mexico. Other sectors are closely monitored via electronic sensors, drones, cameras and mobile and satellite surveillance systems. In total, about 30% of the border already has some form of barrier, physical or virtual.

Existing barriers have already made life very difficult in many places. For example, it used to be a ten minute walk for residents of Ejido Jacume in Baja California to cross the border into Jacumba Hot Springs, California, to go to school, work, shop or attend the health clinic. With the barrier, it is now a two hour drive via Tecate.

Most of the physical barriers already built are along the western half of the border (where California, Arizona and New Mexico meet Baja California, Sonora and Chihuahua), They aim to prevent undocumented crossings into the major cities, especially San Diego and El Paso. They have forced would-be migrants to take on crossing the border somewhere in the largely unpopulated Sonoran Desert west of Nogales. The arduousness of this trip has cost the lives of many, many migrants, with the number of deaths of border-crossers since 2004, in this section alone, averaging more than 200 a year.

One of the many ironies associated with demands to build more and higher barriers between the two countries, given their extremely close social and economic ties, is that there is a simultaneous demand (in other quarters) to ease the movement of people and goods across the border in order to boost tourism and facilitate trade. For instance, in December 2015, a 120-million-dollar pedestrian bridge, known as The Cross Border Xpress (CBX), opened to allow passengers living in California to walk across the border into Tijuana International Airport. This helped ease border congestion at the existing land crossings into Tijuana.

Similarly, U.S. and Mexican border officials have piloted joint customs inspection procedures to cut border-crossing times for freight by up to 80%. Trade between the two countries is worth 1.4 billion dollars a day. The first tests of the new joint system were at Laredo international airport in Texas (for vehicle, electronic and aerospace components being flown to eight cities in Mexico), the Mesa de Otay in Baja California (for Mexican farm products entering the U.S.) and San Jerónimo in Chihuahua (for computers and other electronic exports from Mexico). The project has been warmly welcomed by business representatives on both sides of the border.

Finding the right location to build any barrier/wall may prove harder than many would anticipate. While most existing sections of barriers along the western half of the border are located very close to the true boundary line, this is not possible east of El Paso where the boundary runs (theoretically) down the deepest channel of the Río Grande/Río Bravo. Here, a wall or barrier along the boundary is impracticable.

Several protected National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) areas sit on or astride the boundary. They include the Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR and the Santa Ana NWR in Texas, the the Tijuana Slough NWR in California, and the Cabeza Prieta NWR in Arizona (the 3rd largest national wildlife refuge in the lower 48 states) which is contiguous to the UNESCO-designated World Heritage site of El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve in Sonora. In west Texas, Big Bend National Park extends to the border where it meets the Cañon de Santa Elena National Park in Chihuahua.

Ecologists have grave concerns about animal migration corridors and the future of numerous trans-border species. Up to now, only rudimentary and superficial Environmental Stewardship Plans (ESPs) have been prepared for the border areas where barriers have been constructed. These ESPs almost invariably claim that any adverse impacts on plant and animal populations will be only short-term, even in the absence of any scientific studies assessing existing populations.

Barriers such as walls prevent some species from crossing the border and can separate existing cross-border populations into two distinct groups, reducing their viability and increasing the risks of in-breeding, reducing their resilience to changes in climate or food sources. One major study identified 93 currently endangered species likely to be affected by a wall, including jaguars, ocelots, Mexican gray wolves and Quino checkerspot butterflies. Black bears in Texas that currently migrate across the border annually will have their natural territory sliced in half, as will the pronghorn antelope herds further west. Several species, including the jaguar, arroyo toad, the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl (which flies close to the ground) and Peninsular bighorn sheep, have critical habitats either side of the border.

People, too, have cross-border territories. Spare a thought for Native American groups such as the Tohono O’odham people whose ancestral lands now lie on either side of the Arizona-Sonora border. Their divided territory originated in 1853 with the Gadsden Purchase. Most of the estimated 25,000 Tohono O’odham alive today reside in Arizona but about 1500 live in northern Sonora. For decades, the two groups of Tohono O’odham, never granted dual citizenship, kept in regular contact for work, religious ceremonies and festivals, crossing the border as needed without any problem. Stricter border controls have made this impossible today.

Repeated efforts to solve the “one people‑two country” problem by granting U.S. citizenship to all registered members of the Tohono O’odham, regardless of their residence, have so far not succeeded. Ironically, because of its relatively remote location, the Tohono O’odham Nation has often been called upon to provide emergency assistance to undocumented workers (and drug traffickers) attempting to cross the border who have underestimated the severe challenges of crossing this section of the harsh Sonora desert.

Land ownership along any wall-building line is another issue. Building it on federal land is relatively easy, especially if the U.S. administration continues to utilize mechanisms that ignore, or they claim trump, dozens of existing environmental and cultural laws. Costs and protests rise where the planned barrier is located on privately-owned land.

Some sections of barrier have already been built in the wrong place. In 2008, for instance, one Native American human rights delegation reported that the official International Boundary obelisks marking the Arizona/Sonora boundary had been moved about 20 meters south during barrier construction, a clear violation of international law. Costs escalate still further whenever the barrier needs to be relocated.

The effective implementation of many cross-border agreements will be adversely affected by a barrier. For instance, the U.S. Forest Service and Mexico’s National Forestry Commission have a co-operation agreement, the Bi‑national Convention on Forest Fires, for dealing with cross-border wildfires on the Arizona/Sonora border. It aims to increase public safety on both sides of the border, reduce habitat loss, and facilitate the fighting of wildfires. It allows for a united bi‑national command to be established and for firefighting brigades, together with supporting vehicles and aircraft, to cross the border by up to 16 km (10 miles) in either direction in order to battle ongoing wildfires, provided advance notice is given. With a wall, this is clearly impossible.

Quite apart from the cost implications and the potential adverse impacts for people, communities, trade and fauna in the border regions, building a wall is not the answer. Animals may not have a viable choice after a wall is built but if people still want to cross, and can’t do so by land, they will surely turn to the air, the oceans, or (as has already happened repeatedly with smugglers in both directions) underground tunnels.

In fact, despite fear-mongering news reports in the U.S. press, the flow of migrants over the past decade has actually reversed: the number of people now crossing the border from the U.S. to live in Mexico is higher than the number of Mexicans moving north. While some of the migrants moving south are Mexicans returning home, others are estadoudienses preferring to retire, live or work in Mexico.

Judy King’s Echoes from the Wall: Real Stories of Mexican Migrants (Mexico Insights, 2019) is available worldwide via Amazon. The case studies of individual migrants are excellent starting-points for geography classes about international migration in high schools and colleges.

Mexico’s vehicle industry

 Teaching ideas, Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Mexico’s vehicle industry
Dec 272014
 

Mexico is one of the world’s “Top Ten” countries for vehicle production and for vehicle exports. In 2014, it has overtaken Brazil to become the world’s 7th largest vehicle producer and fourth largest exporter. 80% of Mexico’s production of around 3.3 million vehicles in 2014 were made for export. The trade surplus generated by the automotive sector exceeded 47 billion dollars in 2014.

auto-exports-forbes

Mexico’s vehicle exports in 2014. Credit: Forbes, México.

The industry attracts large amounts of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Vehicle assembly plants provide around 65,000 jobs, with a further 85,000 employed in distributorships nationwide and a whopping 450,000 employed in the autoparts sector.

The autoparts sector along produces items worth $80 billion/year, but Mexico also has to import components made elsewhere worth a further $35 billion. Clearly, this offers some opportunities for additional investment aimed at import substitution. Most of the opportunities are likely to be for Tier 2 companies. It is customary to divide the autoparts sector into three distinct parts: OEM, Tier 1 and Tier 2. OEM (Original equipment manufacturer) refers to companies that make a final product for the consumer marketplace (eg Volkswagen). Tier 1 companies are direct suppliers of components to OEMs, and Tier 2 companies are the key suppliers of parts or raw materials to Tier 1 suppliers.

Total production in 2014 topped the 3 million barrier, and the Mexican Automotive Industry Association (AMIA) believes production could reach 4 million units by 2015 and 5 million by 2020.According to  AMIA, the best selling models on the domestic market are the Aveo (GM), Jetta (VW), Versa and Tsuru (both Nissan).

There are about 30 vehicle assembly plants in Mexico, manufacturing many brands of cars and trucks (see map). In addition, there are 1200 firms specializing in making parts for vehicles.

Vehicle manufacturing firms that have announced or confirmed major new investments during 2014 include:

  • Chrysler – 1.25 billion dollars to expand its assembly plant in Saltillo and manufacture a new line of Tigershark engines.
  • Nissan – to open its second plant in Aguascalientes.
  • Mazda – an additional 120 million dollars for its plant in Salamanca (Guanajuato), where it will manufacture several Mazda models as well as one Toyota model.
  • GM – investments worth 690 million dollars, divided  between its plants in Silao (Guanajuato), San Luis Potosí and Toluca (State of México).
  • Audi – about to open a 1.3-billion-dollar plant in San Jose Chiapa, near Puebla.
  • VW – 700 million dollars investment to adapt production lines in Puebla to produce its redesigned Golf hatchback.
  • Kia – plans to build a $1 billion vehicle assembly plant at Pesquería in the state of Nuevo Leon (scheduled to open in 2016) to produce up to 300,000 vehicles a year. The new plant is expected to generate a further 1.5 billion dollars in investment from firms seeking to join Kia’s supply chain.

This map is an updated version of the map we included in Where are Mexico’s vehicle assembly plants located? (2011).

Vehicle assembly plants in Mexico, 2014

Vehicle assembly plants in Mexico, 2014. Credit: Tony Burton/Geo-Mexico; all rights reserved.

As the map shows, certain areas of Mexico have attracted more investment in vehicle assembly plants than other areas. The two largest existing concentrations are focused on Toluca in the State of México, and on Saltillo-Ramos Arizpe in northern Mexico. However, the fastest growing cluster is in the central state of Guanajuato.

Virtual visit to the Chrysler plant in Saltillo (video, no commentary):

For a series of discussion questions related to this map and the vehicle assembly industry, see our earlier post – Where are Mexico’s vehicle assembly plants located?

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Dec 082014
 

Every so often, a news article comes along which rattles our perceptions, causes us to think, and begs us to discuss big issues. This is one of those times.

Los Angeles Times reporter Richard Marosi and photojournalist Don Bartletti traveled across nine Mexican states, observing conditions and interviewing workers at some of the mega-farms that have powered the country’s agricultural export boom.

The resulting article, the first of a four-part series, was published yesterday in the Los Angeles Times, and offers lots of potential for serious discussions in geography classes around the world about agribusiness practices, supply chains, the persistence of inequalities, and a host of other issues. The article is accompanied by some great photographs and short, informative videos.

la-times-article

In “Hardship on Mexico’s farms, a bounty for U.S. tables“, Marosi and Bartletti find that thousands of laborers at Mexico’s mega-farms endure harsh conditions and exploitation while supplying produce for American consumers.

This is a must-read series for anyone interested in the Geography of Mexico, and we can’t wait to see the next three parts of this series.

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Oct 232014
 

The online Atlas of Economic Complexity is now interactive, allowing users to choose and combine a large number of variables related to imports, exports, date and country. In the webpage’s own words, it is “a powerful interactive tool that enables users to visualize a country’s total trade, track how these dynamics change over time and explore growth opportunities for more than a hundred countries worldwide.”

What is economic complexity?

A country with a high Economic Complexity has a wide range of complex knowledge capabilities related to productive enterprises. Its economy is likely to produce sophisticated products that require a very wide and diverse set of knowledge capabilities. For example, relatively few countries have the capabilities to produce highly complex chemicals or pharmaceuticals, since their production requires very specialized equipment and very precise measuring instruments. Equally, very few countries have nuclear power stations or space stations, since they lack the range of knowledge capabilities needed to build them. At the other end, a very large number of countries have far less complex economies that are capable of producing simple products (basic foods, mineral ores, lumber, garments, shoes, glass, kitchen utensils, furniture) but not products involving more complicated processes or technology

We first discussed the Atlas in 2012 in How “complex” is the Mexican economy?, when we noted that the Atlas ranked Mexico’s Economic Complexity Index (ECI) as #20 of the 128 countries studied. The interactive nature of the online Atlas has added the opportunity to explore many more trends in trade, generating a range of related, visually-appealing infographics.

In particular, choosing Mexico as the country, the Atlas can answer questions such as:

  • What does Mexico import and export?
  • How has Mexico’s trade evolved over time?
  • What are the drivers of Mexico’s export growth?
  • Which new industries are likely to emerge in Mexico? Which are likely to disappear?
  • What are the GDP growth prospects of Mexico over the next 5-10 years, based on its productive capabilities?

Playing with the variables and dates in the Atlas is a really interesting way to explore just how Mexico’s exports and imports have changed over the years. For example, compare these infographics for Mexico’s exports in 1964 and 2010 respectively:

What_did_Mexico_export_in_1964_

Mexico’s exports in 1964

Mexico's exports in 2010

Mexico’s exports in 2010

It is sometimes hard to imagine just how much Mexico has changed in the past fifty years! Overall, at rank #20, Mexico turns out to have an unusually high Economic Complexity Index given its income level. (All the other countries in the top 20 have significantly higher incomes than Mexico).

According to the Atlas, during the rest of this decade Mexico’s GDP should grow relatively rapidly, bringing its GDP rank more in line with its Economic Complexity Index. In general, analyses in the Atlas indicate that during the last few decades countries with higher than expected ECIs compared to their income levels experience more rapid economic growth.

Note, though, that while this relationship is empirically true, it does not explicitly include other factors thought to be important to economic growth such as governance and institutional quality, corruption, political stability, measures of human capital and competitiveness indicators.

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Mexico is a major net importer of “virtual” water

 Books and resources, Teaching ideas  Comments Off on Mexico is a major net importer of “virtual” water
Oct 132014
 

The concept of “virtual water” was developed by Professor J.A. Allan of King’s College (London University) and the School of Oriental and African Studies. Allan used it to support his argument that Middle Eastern countries could save their scarce water resources by relying more on food imports. The idea was sufficiently novel for Allan to be awarded the 2008 Stockholm Water Prize.

In Allan’s words, “The water is said to be virtual because once the wheat is grown, the real water used to grow it is no longer actually contained in the wheat. The concept of virtual water helps us realize how much water is needed to produce different goods and services. In semi-arid and arid areas, knowing the virtual water value of a good or service can be useful towards determining how best to use the scarce water available.”

As one example, producing a single kilogram of wheat requires (on average) around 1.5 cubic meters of water, with the precise volume depending on climatic conditions and farming techniques. The amount of water required to grow or make a product is known as the “water footprint” of the product.

Hoekstra and Chapagain have defined the virtual-water content of a product, commodity, good or service, as “the volume of freshwater used to produce the product, measured at the place where the product was actually produced”. The virtual water content is the sum of the water used in the various steps of the production chain.

Additional examples, showing the water footprint of producing one kilogram of:

  • biodiesel from soya –  11.4 cubic meters
  • beef –  15.4 cubic meters
  • butter –  5.5 cubic meters
  • chocolate – 17.0 cubic meters
  • pasta –  1.85 cubic meters
  • sugar (from cane) –  0.2 cubic meters

While the idea of virtual water has attracted some attention, its methodology is contested, and its quantification is not yet sufficiently precise to offer much potential for policy decisions.

Imports and exports of virtual water represent the “hidden” flows of water involved when food and other commodities are traded from one place to another. The map below (from Hoekstra and Mekonnen, 2012) shows the net imports (imports minus exports) of virtual water for different countries for the decade 1996-2005. Note that only the major flows are shown.

water-virtual-tradeIn North America, both the USA and Canada have a significant positive virtual water balance (i.e. they are major exporters of virtual water), whereas Mexico has a significant negative water balance, and is clearly one of the world’s largest importers of virtual water.

As Allan’s original work suggests, this is not necessarily bad news since it may imply that Mexico is currently using less of its own (limited) water resources than it might otherwise have to. In other words, Mexico’s virtual water imports may be delaying the inevitable crunch time when water usage becomes a critical limiting factor in the nation’s development.

Source of map

A.Y. Hoekstra and M.M. Mekonnen. 2012. The water footprint of humanity. Proc. Nat. Academy of Sciences, 109, 3232-7. Map was reproduced in “Spotlight on virtual water” by Stuart N. Lane in Geography, vol 99-1, Spring 2014, 51-3.

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How can tourism perception be assessed? A case study using the Lerma-Chapala drainage basin

 Books and resources, Teaching ideas  Comments Off on How can tourism perception be assessed? A case study using the Lerma-Chapala drainage basin
Aug 282014
 

In numerous previous posts, we have looked at the importance of tourism in Mexico, and have examined its impacts at different scales, from the national/international scale at one extreme to the single resort scale at the other:

National scale:

Sub-national regional scale:

Single resort scale

We have also considered the way in which the characteristics of tourism in a resort change over time:

Attempting to quantify the importance or impacts of tourism, beneficial or otherwise, is fraught with methodological difficulties. The number of hotel rooms in different cities is often used as a proxy measure of the relative importance of tourism in different communities, but looking only at tourist capacity “masks  the fact that hotels are rarely full. In 2007, the national occupancy rate was 54.8%. Traditional beach resorts such as Acapulco, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta had an occupancy rate of 52.2%, compared to 68.1% for modern, planned mega-resorts like Cancún and Los Cabos. The occupancy rate in the large cities—Guadalajara, Mexico City and Monterrey—was 55.0%, well ahead of the 47.2% for other interior cities.” (Geo-Mexico, p 134).

As in other branches of geography, it is not only the “reality” that matters, but also people’s perceptions of reality. Most decisions concerning location (such as where to live, the best place to start a new business. etc) are taken on imperfect or incomplete information; in other words, these decisions are based, at least to some extent, on perceptions.

In the case of tourism, it is the perception of visitors that matters. This is precisely why certain resorts gain a reputation as being “jet set” or the “in place” to vacation. The “in place” today is not going to be the “in place” in a few year’s time, since perceptions (and reality) change. Nowhere has this proved to be more true in Mexico than in the case of Acapulco.

But is it possible to measure tourist perceptions? It is very difficult to do so directly, but there are ways of tackling this question, and here we look at one approach, based on an analysis of tourist-oriented literature.

The approach is easiest to explain in the context of a real example, in this case an analysis of the likely perception of foreign tourists of destinations in the Lerma-Chapala drainage basin in Mexico. (This study formed part of my contribution on tourism to the Atlas de la cuenca Lerma-Chapala, construyendo una visión conjunta, Semarnat-Unam-IE, 2006 – the link is to a low-resolution pdf of the entire atlas).

The Lerma-Chapala Basin (see map) is one of Mexico’s major river systems, comprising portions of 127 municipalities in five states: México, Querétaro, Michoacán, Guanajuato and Jalisco. The basin has considerable economic importance. It occupies only 2.9% of Mexico’s total landmass, but is home to 9.3% of Mexico’s total population, and its economic activities account for 11.5% of national GDP. It also has considerable importance for tourism.

Lerma Basin Tourist Perception Index.

Lerma Basin Tourist Perception Index. Cartography: Tony Burton / Geo-Mexico; all rights reserved Click to enlarge.

The red circles superimposed on the map represent an index of tourism perception. This index is based on an analysis of seven tourist guides that purport to cover the entire country:

  • AAA Tourbook (2004)
  • Let’s Go Mexico (2004)
  • Lonely Planet (2002)
  • Footprint Guide (1999)
  • Upclose Mexico (1998)
  • Insight Guide (1994)
  • Cadogan Guide (1991)

In each case, the total number of lines of text in the guide devoted to any location within the Lerma-Chapala drainage basin was counted, as well as the number of lines devoted to each individual location. This allowed a ratio or percentage to be worked out for each place for each book. For example, if a book had 240 lines in total devoted to the drainage basin, of which 60 were devoted to San Miguel de Allende, the perception index for San Miguel for that book would be 60/240 * 100 = 25%. Similar calculations were performed for all the locations mentioned, for each book, and then the mean index was calculated for each location. These mean indices were the basis for the size of the circles on the map.

In broad terms, the map shows which places are likely to be on a foreign traveler’s radar when they are visiting the area. Those familiar with this area may be surprised to see that the ghost town of Pozos merits as many lines of text as Quiroga (and indeed more lines of text than Atotonilco). Another surprise is that Tzintzuntzan appears to be as much in the tourist eye as Chapala, Dolores Hidalgo or Toluca. The main purpose of this post is not to analyse such apparent anomalies but only to suggest a relatively easy way of analysing tourist perceptions through the use of tourist-oriented literature. Applying the same method to the entire country, on a state-by-state basis, throws up far more interesting anomalies which we plan to share at some point in the future.

Related posts:

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Monitoring air pollution in Guadalajara

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Jun 162014
 

Air pollution in the city of Guadalajara, the state capital of Jalisco, has worsened over the past decade, though there are some recent signs of improvement :

The Jalisco Environmental Agency now has a webpage where residents and travelers alike can now monitor Guadalajara’s air quality on an hourly basis. Readings for 10 stations are superimposed on a basemap on that page, together with links to graphs showing recent trends and other meteorological data. Tabs above the map also give a link to the current wind conditions across the city. Historical data (in Spanish) can also be accessed via the link to “Datos”.

Screenshot of Guadalajara air monitoring webpage

Screenshot of Guadalajara air monitoring webpage. Note: Two stations are shown as undergoing maintenance.

The map provides summary data in IMECAs, which stands for Índice Metropolitano de la Calidad del Aire (Metropolitan Index of Air Quality). IMECAs are a compound index combining measurements of concentrations of ozone (O3), sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO) and particles smaller than 10 micrometers (PM10).

In Guadalajara, formal smog alerts are issued if average readings rise above 150 IMECAs (“Very Bad”) for more than two consecutive hours. If readings rise above 200 IMECAs (“Extremely Bad”), then “serious alerts” impose restrictions on vehicle use and may lead to the suspension of school classes.

In Guadalajara, the worst air quality tends to be in the southern and eastern sections of the city. It also tends to occur in the months of April and May, immediately before the rainy season gets underway. The webpage system gives everyone an easy way to check these assertions!

In Guadalajara, mitigation efforts are centered mainly on reducing vehicle emissions (partly by stricter emissions testing and verification, and partly by improvements to the public transport network) since they are the main source of pollution. To date, there are no plans in Guadalajara to introduce a “Day without car” program similar to that in Mexico City:

Teaching idea

Use the Jalisco Environment Agency webpage to monitor Guadalajara’s air pollution and identify any patterns or trends related to air pollution in the city. Consider suggesting one or more hypotheses, such as “Air pollution gets worse in the afternoon”, or “The level of air pollution in eastern Guadalajara is worse than in western Guadalajara”, before testing your ideas using the online data.

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May 262014
 

In a recent post – Mexico’s internet connections and e-commerce – we looked at how 35.8% of Mexican households now have computers, 30.7% are now connected to the internet, and at the very rapid rise of e-commerce over the past few years.

How does internet access in Mexico compare to other countries? Comparative studies show that Mexico lags well behind almost all major countries in terms of internet access. Mexico’s rate of 30.7% of households with internet access compares poorly with other countries in Latin America such as Brazil (37.8%), Chile (37.8%) and Argentina (34.0%).

Among OECD member states, Mexico ranks bottom in terms of internet access. South Korea ranks top, with 97.2%. The Netherlands, Norway, Iceland, Luxembourg, Sweden and Denmark all have rates over 90%. Canada has a rate of 78.4%, the USA 71.1% and Japan 67.1%. The lowest ranking European countries are Turkey (41.6%), Greece (50.2%) and Portugal (58.0%).

Within Mexico, the rate of internet access varies widely from one state to another (see graph).

Percentage of households with internet access

Percentage of households with internet access. Source: INEGI (2014)

The disparities are evident from the graph, but the pattern becomes much clearer when the data are grouped and mapped:

Internet access, 2013

Pattern of internet access, 2013. Data: INEGI. Credit: Geo-Mexico

The north-south divide in Mexico, that we have frequently referred to in previous posts, is immediately evident (with the notable exception of the easternmost state of Quintana Roo). Perhaps not surprisingly, there is a close correlation between GDP/capita in different states and their internet access.

Discussion question:

What other factors are likely to influence rates of internet access? To support, or challenge your ideas, try using Geo-Mexico’s map index to find maps to compare with the map of internet access.

Source of data:

  • Estadísticas a Propósito del Día Mundial de Internet” (pdf file) (INEGI 2014)

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Qualitative fieldwork methods: auto-photography

 Teaching ideas  Comments Off on Qualitative fieldwork methods: auto-photography
Jan 132014
 

In an interesting recent article, Melanie Lombard of the Global Urban Research Centre of the University of Manchester in the UK describes how she used the fieldwork technique of auto-photography to explore the views of people living in two informal settlements in Xalapa, the state capital of Veracruz.

What is auto-photography?

Auto-photography is not the same as selfies! In auto-photography participants take photographs, choosing images and representations for themselves. Auto-photography typically entails a researcher giving cameras to research subjects and then asking them to photograph particular places and/or events.

Why use auto-photography?

Visual images are of great importance in geography. Geographers have utilized photographs and other images in their research and teaching for decades, paying considerable attention since at least the 1950s to the ways in which people respond to particular images, and how they interpret them. Auto-photography follows in this long-standing geographic tradition of recording and analysing visual images.

In particular, auto-photography “allows researchers to capture and articulate the ways identity guides human action and thought. It can generate more authentic data because it enables researchers to look at the participants’ world through the participants’ eyes. Auto-photography does this because participants themselves select and record the static images they feel represent them the best. This is a particularly critical issue for those who conduct research on the experiences of marginalized groups. Because auto-photography provides participants a chance to speak for themselves, it helps researchers to avoid exclusive reliance on potentially culturally biased research instruments.” (Noland, 2006)

In other words, auto-photography is one way to challenge the assumptions and generalizations often made by “outsiders”, even if they are researchers with the best intentions!

Lombard studied two informal settlements (colonias populares) in Xalapa: Loma Bonita and Moctezuma.

Xalapa, Veracruz

Xalapa, Veracruz (Mexico’s highest peak, Pico de Orizaba, in the background)

What method did she use?

Participants were given a camera and asked to take at least three photos to illustrate each of the following:

  • positive aspects of living in the neighborhood
  • negative aspects of living in the neighborhood
  • residents’ achievements in the neighborhood
  • special/typical characteristics of the neighborhood

Cameras were given to six selected individuals who were given a week to take a series of photos. During a follow-up interview, participants were asked about their motivations for having chosen particular locations to illustrate their neighborhood’s positive and negative aspects.

As Lombard points out, unlike the typically “negative framings” of informal settlements in most discussions, the images taken by the residents “convey a sense of everyday life taking place, amid hope and conviviality, as well as struggle and hardship”. Interestingly, photos of the local schools were taken by 5 of the 6 participants, with one 16-year-old teenager explaining how “in such an isolated neighbourhood, school is a service as significant as water or electricity”. There is a valuable lesson to be learned from the stark contrast between a photo of Loma Bonita school taken by the researcher, in which the school’s building and location are emphasized, and an image of the same school taken by one of the participants, who chose to photograph a group of students, accompanied by a teacher, engaged in a cultural activity in the playground.

Photos illustrating positive aspects of the neighborhood including a resident working a small plot of land for corn (maize) and one of a family butchering a pig. Such images underline the importance, as Lombard points out, of “understanding poverty from the point of view of the poor”, suggesting that residents view their neighborhoods not only as sites of hardship and discrimination, but also as “an important base for livelihoods”.

There are several financial and ethical considerations that also need to be considered. For example, should a financial reward be offered to participants? Might the offer of a financial reward change the level of commitment of participants and affect their choice of subject matter? In the context of Lombard’s study, she opted to give a copy of all photos to each participant, as well as giving them the opportunity to keep the camera that had been provided.

Lombard’s article is a valuable addition to the literature about qualitative fieldwork methods, though (as she takes pains to point out) the method does present “a set of specific ethical challenges” and the results of such studies may be difficult to interpret.

References:

Lombard, Melanie. 2013. Using auto-photography to understand place: reflections from research in urban informal settlements in Mexico. Area (RGS/IBG) 45:1, 23-32.

Noland, Carey M. 2006. Auto-Photography as Research Practice: Identity and Self-Esteem Research Journal of Research Practice, Volume 2, Issue 1.

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“Los que llegaron”, Spanish language videos about Mexico’s immigrant groups

 Books and resources, Teaching ideas  Comments Off on “Los que llegaron”, Spanish language videos about Mexico’s immigrant groups
Oct 052013
 

Once TV México (“Eleven TV Mexico”) is an educational TV network owned by the National Polytechnic Institute (Instituto Politecnico Nacional) in Mexico City. Over the years, Once TV México programs have won numerous national and international awards.

Many of its programs are available as webcasts or on Youtube. Once TV México has made hundreds of programs that provide valuable resources for Spanish-language geography classes or for students of Spanish or anyone wanting to improve their Spanish-language skills. For example, their long-running program “Aquí nos tocó vivir” (“Here We Live”) has explored all manner of places throughout Mexico over the past 35 years, and has received UNESCO recognition for its excellence.

Of particular interest to us is “Los que llegaron” (“Those Who Arrived”), a series of programs looking at different immigrant groups in Mexico. Each 20-25 minute program focuses on a different group and explores the history of their migration to Mexico, their adaptation to Mexican life, their integration into society, the areas where they chose to settle, and the links between their home countries and Mexico.

Mexico has a long history of welcoming people from other countries, including political refugees. Each of these programs offers some fascinating insights into the challenges faced by migrants arriving in Mexico for the first time.

Sister city of Segusino, Italy

Sister city of Segusino, Italy

For instance, the program about Italian immigration to Mexico (above), explains why Mexico was seeking colonizers in the middle of the 19th century in order to populate and develop rural areas. One group of Italians settled in Veracruz (in present-day Gutiérrez Zamora); another group, 3,000 strong, and from the Veneto region in northern Italy, settled in Chipilo, near the city of Puebla. (For anyone not familiar with Chipilo, one of our favorite bloggers, Daniel Hernandez, has penned this short but memorable description of a typical Sunday morning there: Cruising in Chipilo, an Italian village in Mexico).

Italian immigration increased dramatically after the 1914-1918 war. Today, according to the program, there are approximately 13,000 Italian citizens residing in Mexico and an estimated 85,000 Mexicans of Italian descent. Note, though, that most sources quote a much higher figure for the latter category, perhaps as high as 450,000.

[Aside: In chapter 4 of “Mexican National Identity, Memory, Innuendo and Popular Culture”, William H. Beezley looks at the role of itinerant puppet theater in molding Mexico’s national identity. The largest and most famous single troupe of all 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 annual tours around the country helped influence national opinions and attitudes.]

Program list for the “Los que llegaron” series:

  • Españoles (Spaniards)
  • Alemanes (Germans)
  • Húngaros (Hungarians)
  • Italianos (Italians)
  • Argentinos (Argentines)
  • Ingleses (English)
  • Japoneses (Japanese)
  • Estadounidenses (Americans)
  • Coreanos (Koreans)
  • Franceses (French)
  • Chinos (Chinese)
  • Libaneses (Lebanese)
  • Rusos y Ucranianos (Russians and Ukrainians)

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