The answer appears to be a resounding “No!” This article in the Guardian explains why:
And what’s true for Cancún is likely to be true for almost all the beaches in Quintana Roo along Mexico’s Caribbean coast.
Christmas festivities in Mexico are not just a one-day wonder but extend over several weeks, and are already well underway!
Nativity scenes such as this one are popular with all ages:
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; this romance-adventure novel by Jan Dunlap, set in 1970s’ Mexico – Dilemma; or this beautifully-written memoir of a childhood in Mexico (Mexico City and Lake Chapala) – According to Soledad – by Katie Goodridge Ingram. For an inspiring and heart-warming non-fiction work, try Gwen Burton’s New Worlds for the Deaf, which recounts the history of a pioneering school for the deaf in Jocotepec, Jalisco.
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:
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.
As the accompanying text explains, “Making baubles for Christmas trees is the main source of jobs in the town, which is now one of the top five producers in the world. Due to their quality, 90 percent of the total production is exported to the U.S. and Canada. There are 200 family workshops in the town with seven-hour shifts, and each worker can make up to 550 baubles per day. Each workshop decorates about 500 per day. Red, blue, green and yellow are the top selling colors in Mexico, while black, brown and grey are more popular in the U.S.”
The village of Tzintzuntzan, on the shores of Lake Pátzcuaro, also in Michoacán, is another settlement where Christmas seems to be a year-round source of inspiration. The village handicraft market is a cornucopia of straw work in every conceivable color, design and size, which make ideal Christmas decorations or gifts.
Happy Christmas from Geo-Mexico! – ¡Feliz Navidad!
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.
For 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.
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).
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.
We have frequently published international comparisons showing how Mexico fares in comparison with other Latin American countries and major world economies for a wide variety of indicators.
Reliable comparisons for comparing countries on their Covid-19 response have been hard to come by, but here is a link to one compiled by Bloomberg News:
As the article concludes, Mexico’s response to Covid-19 does not bode well for future economic progress. Nor does it bode well for reducing economic and social disparities within Mexico.
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!
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:
- Turkey: The geography of Thanksgiving: why a Mexican bird came to be called turkey
- Pumpkin Pie: The geography of Thanksgiving
- Corn: another of Mexico’s gifts to Thanksgiving
- Potatoes: another Mexican contribution to Thanksgiving
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.
The town of Chapala, on the shores of Lake Chapala—Mexico’s largest natural lake—played an important role in the history of tourism in North America and has become one of the world’s premier retirement destinations. Yet, the details of how and why this transformation occurred have never been adequately reconstructed… until now!
My latest book If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s historic buildings and their former occupants, reveals the results of more than two decades of research. The book explores the history of the town’s formative years and shares the remarkable and revealing stories of its many historic buildings and their former residents.
The front cover shows the waterfront of Chapala at the start of the twentieth century. On the right is the parish church of San Francisco, which dates back to the sixteenth century and features in D. H. Lawrence‘s novel The Plumed Serpent, set at the lake. (The house Lawrence rented in 1923 is now a boutique bed and breakfast.) The turreted tower on the left is part of the Villa Ana Victoria which was built by the Collignon family of Guadalajara in the 1890s, right at the start of the village’s explosive growth.
In 1890, Chapala was a small fishing village. Within decades it became an important international tourist destination. This book explains how and why this transformation took place, and looks at the architects, entrepreneurs, adventurers and visionaries responsible. The cast of characters includes Mexican and British politicians and diplomats, as well as the eccentric Englishman Septimus Crowe, who abandoned his wife and child in Norway and carved out a new life for himself by investing in Mexican mines and importing a German-built yacht to sail the lake. Crowe was the area’s first real estate developer and pressured friends and acquaintances to join him in Chapala. One of the town’s central streets is named after him.
Chapala’s transformation into an international tourist destination was aided by its links to dictatorial President Porfirio Díaz, whose wife’s relatives lived on the outskirts of the town, and by a host of business leaders and wealthy, high society families from Mexico City and Guadalajara.
The story of Chapala is truly international. The visionary Norwegian entrepreneur Christian Schjetnan refused to take no for an answer as he worked tirelessly to organize a Chapala Development Company, start a yacht club, run steamboats on the lake, and build a branch railroad linking Chapala to the Central Mexican Railroad mainline at La Capilla, near Atequiza.
Chapala’s first major hotel, the Hotel Arzapalo which opened in 1898, was built by a Mexican businessmen and had a succession of Italian managers, some more honest than others. Many members of the extensive French and German communities in Guadalajara also played key roles in the area, both by building private family villas in Chapala and by helping finance improvements and public buildings in the town.
Organized as a walking tour of Chapala, each of the 42 chapters of If Walls Could Talk focuses on a different building and explores the fascinating stories of its former occupants—locals and foreigners. The valuable legacy left by these extraordinary individuals is still clearly visible today in the streets, villas, hotels and grand mansions of this idyllic lakeside locale.
The book includes more than 40 vintage photographs and four original maps showing how Chapala’s street plan has changed over the years. The text is supported by a bibliography, index and detailed reference notes.
This early postcard (cerca 1905) shows smoke billowing from Colima Volcano.
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:
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.
This 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)
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.
- Poverty on the rise in some states in Mexico (Jan 2014)
- The world’s richest man is one of 15 Mexican billionaires on 2013 Forbes list (Mar 2013)
- The widening income gap in Mexico; the rich earn 26 times more than the poor (Dec 2011)
- The GINI index: is inequality in Mexico increasing? (Oct 2011)
- The measurement of poverty: the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) (Sep 2011)
- J.K. Galbraith talks about Mexico’s poverty and inequality (Aug 2012)
- The Ethos Foundation’s Multidimensional Poverty Index (Sep 2011)
- Oportunidades – Mexico’s flagship social development program (Jan 2010)