Happy Christmas from Geo-Mexico! Mexico City sets up world’s largest nativity scene…

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Dec 232011

Mexico City authorities have set up largest nativity scene in the world as part of their Christmas festivities. The nativity scene, which cost two million dollars to create, was opened by Mayor Marcelo Ebrard in early December and is located in the parking lot of the city’s giant Estadio Azteca (Aztec stadium).

The nativity scene covers 20,000 square meters (215,000 sq. ft.) and has 5,000 figures and 700 tons of infrastructure. It incorporates 57 smaller scenes that recall the biblical passages related to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago.

The world's largest Nativity Scene

It took a team of architects, engineers, designers and historians, among others, 70 days to create the displays. Many of the pieces and figures, including camels, donkeys, elephants, the Three Kings, an angel and some of the residents of Bethlehem, were crafted by Mexican artisans.

According to the Mexico City government, the scene has set two Guinness world records, one for the largest nativity scene in the world and another for having the greatest number of figures for a scene of this type.

Organizers expect more than one million people will view the scene before it is dismantled in mid-January.

The world's largest Nativity Scene. Credit: Mario Guzman / EPA

The world's largest Nativity Scene. Credit: Mario Guzman / EPA

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Review of “Mexican National Identity, Memory, Innuendo and Popular Culture”, by William H. Beezley

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Sep 152011

William H. Beezley, a professor of history at the University of Arizona, has written widely about Mexican history. He was co-editor, alongside Michael C. Meyer, of the Oxford History of Mexico, an illustrated “narrative chronicle” through the centuries, and a landmark modern history of Mexico. In this book, first published in 2008, Beezley explores the development of Mexican National Identity through a history of some facets of its popular culture.

As in the case of his earlier work (Judas at the Jockey Club and Other Episodes of Porfirian Mexico), Beezley’s Mexican National Identity. Memory, innuendo and popular culture (University of Arizona Press), is wide-ranging and engaging. The book consists of five essays on different themes which Beezley considers central to the development of Mexican National Identity.

In the first chapter, Beezley looks at how the character known as El Negrito came to be “one of the most famous marionettes of nineteenth-century puppet theater”. El Negrito, an Afro-American usually portrayed as a Veracruz cowboy, personified the attitudes of nationalistic Mexicans in the nineteenth century, with his mocking of the French and Maximilian, his temper tantrums, his infidelity, his wit and his resistance to the American invaders.

beezley - coverFrom a geographic perspective, chapter two is the book’s most interesting. The chapter opens by looking at the development of maps which “like symbolic physical features and regional individuals, portrayed Mexico with diversity as the salient attitude”. He describes two 18th century maps, drawn specifically for clerical travelers, highlighting altitude (and therefore climate) and language (ethnicity), but lacking scales, physical features or other landmarks. The modern era of Mexican map-making began with Alexander von Humboldt, and was extended later in the 19th century by others including Antonio García Cubas.

The production of maps necessarily included decisions as to which landmarks, places and features were most important. It also prompted clearer definitions of national boundaries, in both the north and south. In Beezley’s words, “This question of borders had political significance, and both cultural and social dimensions as Mexicans believed the boundaries divided their civilized society from the barbarians beyond.”

Chapter 2 then examines the role of almanacs and lotería (lottery cards), the quintessential Mexican parlor game, in helping to foment national attitudes. Almanacs were “a source of popular or local history and collective memory”. They gave potted summaries of the lives of the saints and martyrs, lists of holy days, images and biographies of political leaders and so on.

Lottery cards shared stereotypical views of objects and characters, often related to local stories. Beezley says that the version played in Campeche eventually gained the greatest popularity. The images used in Campeche formed the basis for the earliest commercially produced sets of cards when Clemente Jacques (a French immigrant and founder of the eponymous food processing brand)  first launched his range of culinary products, from chiles, olive oil and mole sauce to beans, jams and honey, and founded his own printing business to print his own labels. Jacques promoted his brand at the world’s fairs in Chicago (1893) and St. Louis (1904), using printed decks of lotería cards as a form of advertising. His cards became the basis for the modern packs of lotería cards sold throughout Mexico. Many of the most common images have multiple associations, some even including an overtly sexual double meaning. Some figures such as El Borracho (The Drunk) and El Valiente (The Brave One) and La Sirena (The Siren/adultery) are not associated with a particular region or place. Others such as The Scorpion and The Toad are readily associated with specific geographic regions or states: Durango and Guanajuato respectively. Almanacs and lotería cards helped reinforce a sense of national identity while recognizing regional and ethnic differences.

In Chapter 3, Beezley focuses on how celebrations of Mexican Independence gradually came to assume a massive significance for national identity. Independence came in 1821, but it was not until 1869 that annual celebrations of Independence Day really took off. On September 16, 1869, the Mexico City-Puebla railway line was inaugurated, beginning an exciting new era for transportation, which was to have far-reaching effects. During the presidency of Porfirio Díaz, Mexico celebrated its centenary of Independence, an event marked with banquets, parades and the opening to the public of a hastily-restored section of “The Pyramids” at the archaeological site of Teotihuacan. Beezley outlines how the popular perception of Mexico’s patron saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe, changed in less than a century from “the terrifying emblem of Padre Miguel Hidalgo’s insurrection, and the patron of downtrodden, rebellious Mexicans, to the patron saint of the dictatorship’s elite.”

Chapter 4 looks at the role of itinerant puppet theater in molding Mexico’s national identity. The largest and most famous single troupe 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 creativity knew few bounds, and by undertaking annual tours around the country, they helped influence opinions and attitudes. Incidentally, their need to undertake annual tours was in keeping with the established principles of central place theory. As described in Geo-Mexico, the same principles apply in the case of traveling circuses.

In the hierarchy of central places, each step up sees a smaller number of places, each providing a wider range of goods and services, and serving a larger market area. This occurs because for a service to be provided efficiently there must be sufficient threshold demand in the central place and its surrounding hinterland to support it. For this reason we do not find new car dealers, heart surgeons or ballet schools in every small village. These activities can only survive in much larger centers where there is sufficient demand. Individual residents are not prepared to travel far in order to access a service of relatively low value. This poses a challenge for services such as puppet shows which are unable to command a high ticket price, but which need large numbers of potential viewers (a large threshold population) if they are to succeed. This quandary can be resolved by moving from one mid-sized center to another throughout the year, gaining access to a new audience in every location.

Needless to say, the invention of modern communications systems such as television means that this is no longer entirely true, except for live performances.

Beezley’s entertaining romp through Mexican popular culture and its links to national identity is well worth reading. It may not discuss all aspects of how Mexico’s national identity developed during the 19th century, but it provides numerous valuable insights into how a country of such diversity gradually acquired a clearer sense of national identity and purpose.

Where to buy:

Mexican National Identity. Memory, innuendo and popular culture, by William H. Beezley (link is to Sombrero Books’ amazon.com page).

The Battle of Puebla is re-enacted each year on Cinco de Mayo (May 5), but in Mexico City

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May 052011

The Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo (5 May) commemorates the Battle of Puebla, fought on May 5, 1862. Puebla is a major city about 100km east of Mexico City, on the historically important route to the port of Veracruz.

In 2012, to mark the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, a major re-enactment of the Battle was held in Puebla, attended by the President and many cabinet members and officials. A commemorative bi-metallic 10-peso coin was also issued to commemorate this anniversary.

Since the 1930s, a re-enactment of the Battle of Puebla has been held each year at Peñón de los Baños, a rocky outcrop close to Mexico City’s international airport. Of geographical and geological interest, the rocky outcrop of Peñón de los Baños was formerly an island in the middle of Lake Texcoco. The prominent landmark was visited by Alexander von Humboldt when he toured parts of Mexico in 1803-4. Among other things, Humboldt analyzed the chemical composition of its thermal springs, thought to have curative and medicinal properties.

The re-enactment of the Battle of Puebla at Peñón de los Baños attracts tourists, history buffs, and Mexico City residents looking for an unusual experience.

Re-enactment of Battle of Puebla.

Re-enactment of Battle of Puebla. Photo credit: Jose Carlo González (La Jornada)

In an earlier post, we noted that the Cinco de Mayo holiday is less celebrated in Mexico these days than in the USA:

Celebrations of 5 May in the USA date back to the third quarter of the nineteenth century (only a few years after the Battle in 1862), though they gained prominence only after the 1950s and 60s when major Mexican beer makers associated their brands with Cinco de Mayo celebrations north of the border.

Mexican beer may be one of the country’s most important exports but, as the annual re-enactment in Peñón de los Baños shows,  the commemorations of Cinco de Mayo still held on Mexican soil are far more authentic.

May 032011

Somewhat surprisingly, the number of Mexicans speaking indigenous languages has increased significantly in the past 20 years. In 2010 there were 6.7 million indigenous speakers over age five compared to 6.0 million in 2000 and 5.3 million in 1990.

There are two factors contributing to this finding:

  • First, indigenous speakers are teaching their children to speak their indigenous language.
  • Second, indigenous speakers have higher than average birth rates.

The number of indigenous speakers that cannot speak Spanish decreased slightly from 1.0 million in 2000 to 981,000 in 2010.

The most widely spoken indigenous languages are:

  • Nahuatl, with 1,587,884 million speakers, followed by
  • Maya (796,405),
  • Mixteca (494,454),
  • Tzeltal (474,298).
  • Zapotec (460,683), and
  • Tzotzil (429,168).

[Note: language names used here include all minor variants of the particular language]

About 62% of all indigenous language speakers live in rural areas, communities with under 2,500 inhabitants. Nearly 20% live in small towns between 2,500 and 15,000, while about 7% in larger towns, and 11% live in cities of over 100,000 population. Indigenous speaking areas tent to have low levels of development. Over 73% of the population In Mexico’s 125 least developed municipalities speak an indigenous language.

States with the most indigenous speakers tend to be in the south. In Oaxaca, almost 34% of the population over age three speak an indigenous language followed by Yucatán (30%), Chiapas (27%), Quintana Roo (16%) and Guerrero and Hidalgo (15%). States with the fewest indigenous speakers are Aguascalientes and Coahuila (0.2%), Guanajuato 90.53%) and Zacatecas (0.4%).

A total of 15.7 million Mexicans over age three consider themselves indigenous. Surprisingly, 9.1 million of these cannot speak any indigenous language. There are 400,000 Mexicans who can speak an indigenous language, but do not consider themselves indigenous.

Related posts:

Chapter 10 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico is devoted to Mexico’s indigenous peoples. Many other chapters of Geo-Mexico include significant discussion of the cultural and development issues facing Mexico’s indigenous groups.

Cultural adaptation: the Cinco de Mayo holiday is far more widely celebrated in the USA than in Mexico

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May 022011

The Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo (5 May) commemorates the Battle of Puebla, fought on May 5, 1862. The battle marks Mexico’s best-known military success since its independence from Spain in 1821.

Today, in a curious example of cultural adaptation, the resulting holiday is celebrated far more widely in the USA than in Mexico.

The background to the Battle of Puebla

The nineteenth century in Mexico was a time of repeated interventions by foreign powers, including France, Spain, Britain and the USA, all of which hatched or carried out plans to invade.

US stamp for Cinco de MayoThe first French invasion, in 1838, the so‑called Pastry War, lasted only a few days. A decade later, US troops entered Mexico City, and Mexico was forced to cede Texas, New Mexico and (Upper) California, an area of 2 million square kilometers, about half of all Mexican territory, in exchange for 15 million pesos.

A new constitution in 1857 provoked an internal conflict, known as the Reform War (1858‑60), between the liberals led by Benito Juárez, who supported the new constitution, and the conservatives. The War decimated the country’s labor force, reduced economic development and cost a small fortune. Both sides had serious financial problems. At one point in this war, the liberals reached an agreement with the USA to be paid four million pesos in exchange for which the USA would receive the “right of traffic” across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec “in perpetuity”. Fortunately, this treaty was never ratified by the US Senate.

The financial crisis deepened, eventually leading Mexico to suspend all payments on its foreign debt for two years. The vote was approved by the Mexican Congress by a single vote. The foreign powers involved were furious; in 1861, Britain, France and Spain decided on joint action to seize the port of Veracruz on Mexico’s Gulf coast and force Mexico’s government to pay. The UK and Spain quickly agreed terms and withdrew their military forces, but the French decided to stay.

The French are confident of victory

France’s emperor, Napoleon III (Louis Napoleon Bonaparte) had grand ambitions and envisaged a Mexican monarchy. To this end, he decided to place Austrian archduke Maximilian von Habsburg as his puppet on the Mexican throne. The French Army moved inland from Veracruz and occupied the city of Orizaba. The French commander was supremely confident that his forces could crush any opposition. (Following their defeat at Waterloo in 1815, no-one had beaten the French in almost fifty years.) The Commander, Charles Ferdinand Latrille, the Count of Lorencez, confidently boasted that, “We are so superior to the Mexicans in race, organization, morality and devoted sentiments that I beg your Excellency [the Minster of War] to inform the Emperor that as the head of 6,000 soldiers I am already master of Mexico.”  (Quoted in “Betterment for Whom? The Reform Period: 1855‑1875” by Paul Vanderwood, chapter 12 of The Oxford History of Mexico (edited by Michael C. Meyer and William H Beezley, O.U.P. 2000).

Mexican resistance

Marching towards Mexico City, the French needed to secure Puebla, which was defended by 4,000 or so ill‑equipped Mexican soldiers. Ironically, given the eventual outcome, many of the defenders were armed with antiquated weapons that had already beaten the French at Waterloo, before being purchased in 1825 by Mexico’s ambassador to London at a knock-down price! The Mexican forces, the Ejército de Oriente (Army of the East) were commanded by General Ignacio Zaragoza, a Texas‑born Mexican. Zaragoza dug his forces into defensive positions centered on the twin forts of Loreto and Guadalupe.

The events of 5/05

On the 5 May 1862, Zaragoza ordered his commanders to repel the invaders at all costs. Mexicans received unexpected help from the weather. After launching a brief artillery bombardment, the French discovered that the ground had become so muddy from heavy unseasonable downpours that maneuvering their heavy weapons was next to impossible.

Painting of Battle of Puebla

Bullets rained down on them from the Mexican troops that occupied the higher ground near the forts. At noon, the French commander ordered his troops to charge the center of the Mexican lines. But the lines held strong, and musket fire began to take its toll. Successive French attacks were rebuffed. The Mexican forces then counter‑attacked, spurred on by well-organized cavalry, led by Porfirio Díaz who would subsequently become President of Mexico.

As the afternoon wore on, and the smoke began to clear, it became apparent that the defenders of Puebla had successfully repelled the European invaders. The French troops fled back to Orizaba before retreating back to the coast to regroup. A crack European army had been soundly defeated by a motley collection of machete‑wielding peasants from the war‑torn republic of Mexico….

A few days later, on 9 May, President Benito Juárez declared that the Cinco de Mayo would henceforth be a national holiday.

Aftermath: the French return with reinforcements

Back in Paris, Napoleon was enraged. He ordered massive reinforcements and sent a 27,000-strong force of French military might to Mexico. This strengthened French army (under Marshal Elie Forey) took Mexico City in 1863, forcing Benito Juárez and his supporters to flee. Juárez established himself in Paso del Norte (now El Paso) on the US border, from where he continued to orchestrate resistance to the French presence. Supported by the conservatives, Maximilian finally ascended to the throne in May 1864. By this time, in the USA, the Unionists had taken Vicksburg, and the US government was considering its position. In May 1865, General Philip Sheridan led 50,000 US soldiers to ensure that French troops did not cross the Mexico‑USA border. Diplomatic pressure for a French withdrawal intensified and Napoleon III finally agreed to remove his troops in February 1866.

After the French had departed, President Juárez reestablished Republican government in Mexico, and put Maximilian on trial, ending an extraordinary period in Mexican history.

The significance of 5/05

With the passing of time, the Cinco de Mayo has assumed added significance because it marks the last time that any overseas power was the aggressor on North American soil.

In Mexico, the Cinco de Mayo is still celebrated with lengthy parades in the state and city of Puebla, and in neighboring states like Veracruz. There is at least one street named Cinco de Mayo in almost every town and city throughout the country.

In the USA, the Cinco de Mayo has been transformed into a much more popular cultural event, and one where many of the revelers think it commemorates Mexican Independence, not a battle. (Mexico’s Independence celebrations are in mid-September each year).

Many communities in the USA, especially the Hispanic communities, use Cinco de Mayo as the perfect excuse to celebrate everything Mexican, from drinks, music and dancing, to food, crafts and customs. The Cinco de Mayo has become not just another day in the calendar, but a very significant commercial event, one now celebrated with much greater fervor north of the border than south of the border.

Where to go to see more — Texas

General Ignacio Zaragoza died on September 8, 1862, only a few months after the Battle of Puebla. In 1960, the General Zaragoza State Historic Site was established in his birthplace, near Goliad, Texas, to commemorate his famous victory. In Zaragoza’s time, the town was known as La Bahía del Espíritu Santo.

Where to go to see more — Puebla

The Guadalupe and Loreto forts are in parkland, about 2 km north‑east of Puebla city center. The Fuerte de Guadalupe is ruined. The Fuerte de Loreto became state property in 1930. It is now a museum, the Museum of No Intervention (Museo de la No Intervención), complete with toy soldiers. The park has an equestrian statue of General Zaragoza and is the setting for the Centro Civico 5 de Mayo, with its modern museums, including the Regional Museum (history and anthropology), the Natural History Museum and the Planetarium (IMAX screen).

Potatoes, yet another Mexican contribution to Thanksgiving…

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Nov 242010

Alongside turkey and/or corn at Thanksgiving and Christmas, the humble yet versatile potato is often eaten. That, too, was introduced to Europe from Mexico (though the plant appears to have originated in Andean Peru). A previous post delved into the connections between Mexico, the potato, and the Irish migration to North America following the potato famine of the early 19th century.

But did you also know that potatoes were originally sold in Spain on the strength of claims that they could cure impotence, at prices up to two thousand dollars a kilo?

Nowadays, potatoes in one form or another are virtually ubiquitous – from mashed or baked or potato salad, to French fries and the quintessentially Québécois variation of poutine (fries, curds and gravy).

On our Thanksgiving menu, we now have turkey, corn and potatoes, all of which originated in Mexico, but we still have one essential ingredient left… (for next time)

Previous posts in the Thanksgiving mini-series:

Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico is your handy reference guide to all aspects of Mexico’s geography! Ask your library to acquire some copies today. Better yet, purchase your own copy…

The geography of Thanksgiving: why a Mexican bird came to be called turkey

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Nov 222010

Geographers who are Hungary like to eat Turkey, provided it does not have too much Greece.

The first in this Thanksgiving series of posts looked at how the first Thanksgiving was actually held in Mexico, and not the USA as more commonly claimed.

Many of the essential ingredients of the modern Thanksgiving feast also originated in Mexico. In this post, we take a look at the origins of the Thanksgiving (and Christmas) turkey.

How did the turkey eaten at Thanksgiving and Christmas acquire the same name as a European country? Or was it the other way around?

Modern day turkeys (the edible kind) are the direct descendants of the wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) still found in many parts of Mexico.

Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo Painting by John James Audubon, 1830

Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo. Painting by John James Audubon, 1830

So, how is it possible that a Mexican bird acquired the name turkey? The most likely explanation derives from the fact that the merchants who traded in the Middle Ages between the Middle East and England were based in the Turkish Empire and hence known as “Turkey merchants”. Turkey merchants are also believed to have introduced the guinea fowl, a native of Madagascar, to European dinner tables.

Later, the larger New World bird, the present-day turkey, was brought back to Spain by the conquistadors. The rearing of New World birds gradually spread to other parts of Europe and North Africa. The Turkey merchants capitalized on the new opportunity, and began to supply the new birds instead of the guinea fowls to the English market, and the rest is history.

The first use in English of the word “turkey” to describe the bird dates back to 1555. By 1575 , turkey was already becoming the preferred main course for Christmas dinner. Curiously, the Turkish name for the turkey is hindi, which is probably derived from “chicken of India”, perhaps based on the then-common misconception that Columbus had reached the Indies.

Mexico’s wild turkeys had been domesticated by pre-Columbian Indian groups long before the Spanish conquistadors arrived. Several archaeological sites provide tantalizing clues as to precisely how turkeys were reared. One such site is Casas Grandes in the northern state of Chihuahua, an area where modern, large-scale turkey-rearing is still an important contributor to the local economy.

Previous posts in the Thanksgiving mini-series:

Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico is your handy reference guide to all aspects of Mexico’s geography. If you have enjoyed this post, please consider gifting a copy of Geo-Mexico to someone this holiday season.

Oct 222010

By common consent, the history of blacks in what-is-now Mexico is a long one. The first black slave to set foot in Mexico is thought to have been Juan Cortés. He accompanied the conquistadors in 1519. It has been claimed that some natives thought he must be a god, since they had never seen a black man before.

A few years later, six blacks are believed to have taken part in the successful siege of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan. Several hundred other blacks formed part of the wandering, fighting forces employed in the name of the Spanish crown to secure other parts of New Spain.[1]

The indigenous population crashed in the first hundred years following the conquest, largely as a result of smallpox and other European diseases. Estimates of the native population prior to the conquest range from 4 to 30 million. A century later, there were just 1.6 million.

afromexico-coverNew Spain had been conquered by a ludicrously small number of Spaniards. To retain control and in order to begin exploiting the potential riches of the virgin territory they had won, a good supply of laborers was essential. There were not enough locals, so imports of slaves became a high priority.

By 1570, almost 35% of all the mine workers in the largest mines of Zacatecas and neighboring locations were African slaves. [2] Large numbers of slaves were also imported for the sugar plantations and factories in areas along the Gulf coast, such as Veracruz. By the mid-seventeenth century, some 8,000-10,000 blacks were Gulf coast residents. After this time, the slave trade to Mexico gradually diminished.

Miguel Hidalgo, the Independence leader, first demanded an end to slavery in 1810 (the same year that Upper Canada freed all slaves). Slavery was abolished by President Vicente Guerrero on September 15, 1829.

During the succeeding 36 years, prior to the abolition of slavery in the U.S. (1865), some U.S. slaves seized their chance and headed south in search of freedom and opportunity. Recognizing the potential, in 1831, one Mexican senator, Sánchez de Tagle, a signatory of the Act of Independence, called for assistance to be given to any blacks wanting to move south on the grounds that this movement would possibly prevent Mexico being invaded by white Americans. [3] Sánchez de Tagle’s point was that black immigrants would be strong supporters of Mexico since they wouldn’t want to be returned to slavery, and would be preferable to white Americans, who might be seeking an opportunity to annex parts of Mexico for their homeland. Sánchez de Tagle’s fears came to pass. One year after the U.S. annexed the slave-holding Republic of Texas in 1845, it invaded Mexico.

Perhaps as many as 4,000 blacks entered Mexico between 1840 and 1860. At the beginning of 1850, several states enacted a series of land concessions for black immigrants, in order that undeveloped areas with agricultural potential might be settled and farmed.

Even after the abolition of slavery in the U.S., small waves of blacks continued to arrive periodically in Mexico. Many came from the Caribbean after 1870 to help build the growing national railway network. In 1882, some 300 Jamaicans arrived to help build the San Luis Potosí-Tampico line; another 300 Jamaicans made the trip in 1905 to take jobs in mines in the state of Durango. [4] Partially as a response to their own independence struggles, thousands of Cubans came after 1895. They favored the tropical coastal lowlands such as Veracruz, Yucatan and parts of Oaxaca, where the climate and landscapes were more familiar to them than the high interior plateaux of central Mexico.

Mexican historians have largely ignored the in-migration of blacks and their gradual intermarriage and assimilation into Mexican society. For a variety of reasons, they chose to focus instead on either the indigenous peoples, or the mestizos who form the majority of Mexicans today. The pendulum is finally beginning to swing back, as researchers like Charles Henry Rowell, Ben Vinson III and Bobby Vaughn re-evaluate the original sources, and examine the life and culture of the communities where many blacks settled.

Most work about the influence of blacks on modern-day Mexico has focused on the Veracruz area, in particular on the settlements of Coyolillo, Alvarado, Mandinga and Tlacotalpan. 5 On the opposite coast, Bobby Vaughn has spent more than a decade studying the Costa Chica of Oaxaca and Guerrero. [6]

Analysts of Mexican population history emphasize the poor reliability of early estimates and censuses, as well as the complex mixing of races which occurred with time. While the precise figures and dates may vary, most demographers appear to agree with Bobby Vaughn that the black population, which rose rapidly to around 20,000 shortly after the conquest, continued to exceed the Spanish population in New Spain until around 1810.

It is estimated that more than 110,000 black slaves (perhaps even as many as 200,000) were brought to New Spain during colonial times. Happily, their legacy is still with us, and lives on in the language, customs and culture of all these areas.

Sources / Further Reading

1 Matthew Restall. Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest. (Oxford University Press) 2003

2 Peter J. Bakewell. Silver Mining and Society in Colonial Mexico: Zacatecas, 1546-1700, cited in Afroméxico.

3 Vinson III, Ben & Vaughn, Bobby. Afroméxico. (in Spanish; translation by Clara García Ayluardo) Mexico: CIDE/CFE. 2004. The main source for this column, divided into three parts. Following a joint introduction, Ben Vinson III, Professor of Latin American History at Penn State University, provides a detailed overview of studies connected to blacks in Mexico. Then Bobby Vaughn, who has a doctorate in anthropology from Stanford University, adopts an ethnographic perspective in writing about the Costa Chica of Oaxaca and Guerrero; his short essay includes discussion of the Black Mexico movement. The work concludes with an extensive bibliography of sources relating to Afroméxico.

4 Vinson III, Ben & Vaughn, Bobby. Afroméxico. Mexico: CIDE/CFE. 2004

5 See, for example, the Winter 2004 and Spring 2006 issues of Callaloo (A Journal of African Diaspora Arts and Letters). The Spring 2006 issue, vol 29, #2, pp 397-543, has a series of articles under the general heading of “Africa in Mexico”, including transcriptions of fascinating interviews with such characters as Rodolfo Figueroa Martinez, who relates the history of how several local towns, including San Lorenzo de los Negros (now Yanga) were founded by blacks, and of how a black identity gradually emerged. Other interviewees discuss how they view their color and Afromestizo identity, lamenting the fact that their history has been distorted or largely forgotten. Local food and festival celebrations are also highlighted.

6 Bobby Vaughn’s Black Mexico Home Page, Afro-Mexicans of the Costa Chica, available via MexConnect, provides links to several of his articles including Blacks in Mexico. A Brief Overview.

Original article on MexConnect

Several chapters of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico discuss population issues, including population growth, distribution and density. Buy your copy today to have a handy reference guide to all major aspects of Mexico’s geography!

Mexico goes global: the geography behind Miss Universe 2010

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Aug 272010

A few days ago, Jimena Navarrete, a beautiful and well-spoken 22-year-old from Guadalajara, Jalisco, was crowned Miss Universe 2010. The event was held in Las Vegas. Navarette became the second Miss Universe to come from Mexico. Lupita Jones, twenty years ago, was the first.

Miss Universe 2010Mexican señoritas have long had the reputation of being among the most beautiful women on the planet, but it may come as a surprise to discover that the very first Miss Mexico was held as recently as 1952. By way of international comparison, Miss Australia was first chosen in 1908 and Miss France in 1920, while Miss Germany dates back to 1927, Miss England to 1928, Miss Spain to 1929 and Miss Italy to 1939. The globalization of beauty pageants (as they were originally known) dates back to the 1950s, when the USA and many other countries in the Americas first held their national competitions.

The first Señorita México (Miss Mexico) national beauty pageant in 1952 was won by Señorita Chihuahua. The contest was then held annually (with a couple of exceptions) until 1993. In 1994 it was replaced by Nuestra Belleza México (Our Mexico Beauty). The winner of Mexico’s national beauty pageant represents Mexico in the Miss Universe competition and Nuestra Belleza México was founded by Lupita Jones (Miss Mexico 1990) who went on to become Mexico’s first Miss Universe.

Prior to 1970, Miss Mexico was a relatively small event, less than truly national, and young ladies from Mexico D.F. won no fewer than 9 times in the first 14 occasions the competition was held. Despite the event’s low-profile, some years were marred by controversy. For instance, accusations of favoritism were leveled at the organizers of the 1957 event since the winner apparently held Spanish citizenship. In these early years, no other state besides Mexico D.F. won more than once.

Since 1970, the results reveal a clear domination by señoritas from Mexico’s northern states. Sinaloa has won no fewer than 7 times. The other winners (number of times in parentheses) have come from Nuevo León (4), Sonora, Chihuahua, Yucatan and Mexico D.F. (3 each), Baja California, Jalisco and Tamaulipas (2 each) with a single winner each from Coahuila, Durango, Nayarit, Guerrero, Veracruz, Tlaxcala, Hidalgo, the State of México and Campeche.

Chapter 13 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico analyzes Mexico’s cultural landscapes. Buy your copy today!