May 152010

Mexico’s population exploded in the mid-20th century as death rates plummeted and birth rates remained high.  From 1940 to 1980, the number of Mexicans more than quadrupled from under 20 million to over 80 million.  In the 1960s and 1970s the population growth was among the world’s fastest at 3.3% a year.  At this rate, the population doubles in less than 22 years.

Mexico's birth rates, death rates and demographic transition

Concerns about overpopulation resulted in a massive planning program which included health professionals, multimedia advertising, and messages is telenovelas (serialized TV dramas) and historietas (comic books).  As a result of this campaign and the demographic transition (the drop in fertility rates with modernization observed in all countries), the average number of children per woman dropped dramatically from 5.7 in 1976 to about 2.2 in 2010.  Mexico’s population should peak at about 120–130 million in about 2045.  This is a fairly large spread because accurately predicting future rates of immigration to the USA is very tricky.

Mexico’s natural increase now is about 1.5%, but actual increase (including immigration/emigration) was closer to 1% in 2006, 1.3% in 2008 and will probably be down to 1% again by 2011.

Mexico’s National Population Council (CONAPO) has projected a fertility rate of 2.1 for 2010, but international sources estimate it to be between 2.2 and 2.3 in 2010.

Mexico’s population dynamics are the subject of chapter 9 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico; the importance of telenovelas and historietas is discussed in chapter 18.

Organic farming helps the Mam of Chiapas regain their cultural identity

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Apr 192010

The Mexican Mam (there are also Guatemalan Mam) first settled in Chiapas in the late nineteenth century, mainly in the deforested mountains of the eastern part of the state. They had virtually disappeared from view as a cultural group by 1970, having lost most of their traditional customs. Today, the 8,000 or so Mam, living close to the Guatemala border, have shown that it is possible for some indigenous groups to re-invent themselves, to secure a stronger foothold in the modern world.

Mexican policies from 1935-1950 towards Indian groups were focused on achieving acculturation, so that the groups would gradually assume a mestizo identity. It was widely held at the time that otherwise such isolated groups would inevitably be condemned to perpetual extreme poverty. To the Mam, this period is known as the “burning of the clothes”. Almost all of them lost their language, traditional dress, and methods of subsistence, and even their religion, in the process. Indeed, for a time, the term Mam never appeared in any government documents.

Cover of Histories and Stories bookFrom 1950-1970, the Mexican government opted for a modernization approach, building roads (including the Pan-American highway) and attempting to upgrade agricultural techniques. The mainstay of the regional economy is coffee. During this period, most Mam were peasant farmers, subsisting on corn and potatoes, gaining a meager income by working, at least seasonally, on coffee plantations. Working conditions were deplorable, likened in one report to “concentration camps”. Plantation owners forced many into indebtedness. The Mam refer to this period as the time of the “purple disease”: onchocercosis, spread by the so-called coffee mosquito. Untreated, it leads to depigmentation, turning the skin purple, skin lesions and blindness. Reaching epidemic proportions, it devastated the Mam peasants who had no access to adequate medical services.

After 1970, the Mam gradually re-found themselves, as official policy was to foment a multicultural nation. Some, especially many who had become Jehovah’s Witnesses, migrated northwards forming several small colonies, promoted by the government, in the Lacandon tropical rainforest on the border with Guatemala. Others, spurred on by Catholic clergy influenced by liberation theology, began agro-ecological initiatives.

For instance, one 1900-member cooperative, ISMAM (Indigenous People of the Motozintla Sierra Madre), specialized in the production of organic coffee. ISMAM’s agro-ecological initiatives benefited from the advice of the community’s elders and rescued many former sound agricultural practices, such as planting corn and beans alongside the coffee bushes to avoid the degradation that can result from monoculture. It halted the application of agrochemicals, and studied methods of organic agriculture and land restoration. Its coffee, adroitly marketed, commands premium prices, double those of regular coffee sold on the New York market. The Mam have effectively taken advantage of modern technology, from phones to e-mail, to overcome their isolation, and compete on their own terms, developing export markets in many European nations, as well as the U.S. and Japan.

At the same time, the Mam have re-invented their cultural identity and helped revive the language and traditional forms of dance. They have also rewritten their past. The revisionist version is that they always had the utmost respect for nature and had always lived in harmony with the environment. In reality, as historical geographers have demonstrated, this was not always the case. Whatever the historical reality, the defense of the earth, nature and their culture is now central to the Mam.

The main source for this post is R. Aída Hernández Castillo’s Histories and Stories from Chiapas. Border Identities in Southern Mexico (University of Texas Press, 2001).

Link to original article on MexConnect

An overview of Mexico’s indigenous peoples

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Apr 162010

How many indigenous people are there?

According to INEGI figures, about six million Mexicans over the age of five speak at least one indigenous language. Another three million Mexicans consider themselves indigenous but no longer speak any indigenous language.

How many indigenous towns or villages exist?

INEGI figures show that, in over 13,000 localities, more than 70% of the population speaks an indigenous language. Most of these localities are small rural settlements with fewer than 500 inhabitants. These settlements are often highly marginalized, with high levels of poverty.

Speaking an Indian language is associated with disadvantage

Oaxacan weaver. Photo: Tony Burton. All rights reserved

Speakers of indigenous languages fall way below the Mexican average on almost any socio-economic indicator. For instance, almost 33% of indigenous-speakers are illiterate, compared to a national rate of 9.5%. Females are particularly disadvantaged – indigenous females stay in school a full year less than their male counterparts, and for only half the time that the average non-indigenous female does. Even today, almost 5% of indigenous infants die before reaching their first birthday. A third of indigenous houses lack electricity; more than half do not have piped water.

Where do the indigenous people live?

More than 92% of the indigenous population lives in central and southern Mexico. With the notable exception of the 50,000+ Tarahumara Indians who live in the remote Copper Canyon region of Chihuahua, other indigenous groups in northern Mexico have relatively small populations.

The reason is largely historical. The major pre-Columbian civilizations in Mexico—Maya, Aztec, Zapotec, etc—developed in central or southern Mexico. The north always had fewer indigenous people. The disparity in numbers between north and south was heightened in early colonial times, as Spain expanded its territorial interests in New Spain along two major axes of economic development: the Mexico City-Veracruz corridor (the major trade route linking the capital to the port and Europe) and the Mexico City-Zacatecas corridor (the major route linking the capital to valuable agricultural and mining areas). It is no coincidence that indigenous languages and customs first died out along these corridors, as the indigenous people were forced to become assimilated into the developing dominant culture.

Indigenous peoples and languages did much better in the south. At last count, Oaxaca has over one million indigenous speakers representing more than a third of the state’s population. The state’s largest indigenous linguistic groups are the Zapotec, Mixtec, Mazatec, Chinantec, and Mixe. Oaxaca’s ethnic diversity is celebrated in the annual Guelaguetza festival, normally held in July.

Chiapas has almost as many indigenous speakers as Oaxaca. The largest indigenous groups in Chiapas are the Tzotzil, Tzeltal and Chol. One numerically-small Chiapas group is the Mam. Its recent history is an interesting study in how an indigenous group can re-invent itself in order to survive in the modern world.

The population figures quoted in this post are from INEGI’s Census and II Conteo de Población y Vivienda 2005 (INEGI, Aguascalientes).

Click here for original article on MexConnect

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 characteristics of, and development issues facing, Mexico’s many indigenous peoples.

Cartogram of Mexico’s population distribution

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Apr 112010

Cartograms are maps in which the sizes of areas (such as states or countries) have been distorted to reflect some numerical value applying to that area. They are a form of topological transformation. To help make the end-product recognizable, the positions of major places are kept as close to their conventional spatial arrangement as possible. Drawing such maps used to be a very time-consuming and trial-and-error process. Only in the last decade or so has it become possible to make such maps using sophisticated computer programs. The most famous cartograms produced to date have emerged from the work of a team at the University of Sheffield in the UK. Their main website includes some fascinating examples of world cartograms portraying everything from tornadoes to tractors and nurses to national savings.

The Sheffield team have also produced population cartograms for individual countries, which offer a unique visualization of population distribution.


Cartogram of Mexico's population. © Copyright 2009 SASI Group (University of Sheffield). Used under Creative Commons Licence.

The original cartogram on its original page (a somewhat larger image).

The cartogram offers a striking image of the dominance of Mexico’s three main cities—Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey—and their surrounding areas in the nationwide distribution of population.

The home page of

The 10 largest states in Mexico in terms of population

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Apr 062010

This table shows the ten states in Mexico which have the largest populations. The total population was 112,322,757 in 2010, according to the preliminary results of the 2010 census. These figures may change slightly when the final results of the census are made available.

RankStatePopulation (2010 census)
1State of México15,174,272
2Federal District8,873,017
8Nuevo León4,643,321

Q. Find these ten states on a map of Mexico [printable map of Mexico in pdf format]. Do the states with the most people also have the largest land areas?

Mar 112010

Some of Mexico’s key population indicators are listed below, with the latest estimates of the 2010 values for each indicator:

  • Total population –  108.4 million
  • Crude birth rate  – 17.8 / 1,000
  • Crude death rate – 5.0 / 1,000
  • Natural population growth rate – 1.28%/yr
  • Infant mortality rate – 14 / 1,000 live births
  • Total fertility rate – 2.1 children per woman of reproductive age
  • Life expectancy – 75 years (male  73 ; female 78)

Table 9.1 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico provides values for each of these indicators for the period from 1900 to 2000 inclusive, together with estimates (projections) for the period from 2010 to 2050.

Click here for a post about Mexico’s population age-sex pyramids for 1990, 2010 and 2050.

Mexican sayings and beliefs, cats and unlucky days

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Mar 082010

Anglo and Mexican sayings are often subtly different.

For starters, consider your pet cat. In Canada or the USA, cats are considered to have nine lives; in Mexico, however, cats only have seven (siete) lives. Perhaps they used up two lives as kittens just getting to be old enough to be a cat?

Nine lives or seven? Hmm... let me see, which country is this? Photo by Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

Or perhaps the difference reflects the differences in the human lifespans in the two cultures? The life expectancy of someone born in the USA is currently about 74 years for men and 80 years for women, compared with 73 years and 78 years respectively for people born in Mexico.

While on the subject of luck, it is not Friday the 13th that is considered an unlucky day in Mexico but Tuesday the 13th (martes trece). Perhaps that is just as well since it means that it can never simultaneously be unlucky in all three North American countries. Hence, on days when it is unlucky to do business in the USA and Canada, it will not be so in Mexico and vice versa.

In 2001, Mexicans had to survive three Tuesdays that fell on the 13th (February, March and November), whereas Anglos had to cope with two Fridays that fell on the 13th: April and July. In 2002, it was a better time to be in Mexico since there was only one martes trece in the calendar (in August), compared with two Fridays the 13th, in September and December.

The calendar is not always very fair. This year (2010) Mexico faces two martes trece (April and July) while Anglos are looking at only one Friday 13th (August). But the same is also true in 2011, with a martes trece in both September and December, while Friday 13th occurs only in May.

Perhaps readers know of other days of the week associated with the number 13 and considered unlucky elsewhere in the world?

Still on a calendric note, how about the first day of April, variously known in English-speaking countries as April 1, April Fool’s Day or All Fool’s Day? Anyone playing minor pranks on someone on this day in Mexico is likely to be met with blank stares, or looks of shock or horror, depending on the prank. The Mexican equivalent comes much later in the year, on December 28, Day of the Holy Innocents ( Día de los Santos Inocentes). This is when Mexican children will borrow, but not repay, small loans from unsuspecting friends and relatives that they consider a soft touch. Once they’ve received the loan, they say either the following verse (quoted in Frances Toor, A Treasury of Mexican Folkways, 1947) or something similar:

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

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

So, be careful on December 28 if anyone admires your prized possessions!

Now, you probably want to know how these subtle differences came into being.

Well, I’ve no idea and I’d like to know too! But it is precisely these subtle differences in sayings and beliefs that help make Mexico such an interesting place. Remember, though, that these small, and apparently insignificant differences in everyday life are only the tip of the iceberg. Anyone intending to do business in Mexico or thinking of moving there from another country should be aware that many aspects of Mexican culture and life are very different to Canada and the USA – not better, not worse, just different!

This is an edited version of an article originally published on MexConnect

Click here for the complete article

Linguistic diversity in Mexico, with a map showing areas where indigenous languages are spoken, is analyzed in chapter 10 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. The geography of the Spanish language in Mexico, complete with a map of  Spanish dialect regions, is discussed in chapter13 of Geo-Mexico; Mexico’s life expectancy is discussed in chapter 9.

Feb 222010

Mexicans have a long history of working and living in the USA. Migration is one of the most important linkages between North America’s two most populous countries. The Mexican diaspora in the USA is an integral part of both Mexican and US society. Each year roughly 250 million legal border crossings are made, about half by Mexicans. A much smaller number, perhaps a few hundred thousand, cross the border illegally despite US efforts to tighten border controls. The Mexican communities on either side of the border are very closely linked.

Mexicans in the USA
As of 2008 over 31 million Mexicans lived in the USA (see graph). This is more than one fifth of all Mexicans anywhere and a larger number than in any single Mexican state. Almost 19 million Mexican-Americans were born in the USA of Mexican parentage; these have always outnumbered migrants.

Roughly 10% of everyone born in Mexico now lives in the USA. This figure was only 5% as recently as 1990 and only 1.4% in 1970. Migrating Mexicans are as likely to move to the USA as within Mexico. Clearly, in recent decades, an increasing number of Mexicans have chosen to live in the USA.

[Extract from chapter 27 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico]

Mexico’s ten largest cities (2009)

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Feb 202010

Mexico’s ten largest cities (2009 population) are:

  1. Mexico City          19,982,000 (Metropolitan Area)
  2. Guadalajara          4,365,000
  3. Monterrey             3,986,000
  4. Puebla                  2,647,000
  5. Tijuana                 1,784,000
  6. Toluca                  1,775,000
  7. León                     1,555,000
  8. Cuidad Juárez      1,408,000
  9. Torreón                1,187,000
  10. San Luis Potosí   1,037,000

[Figures taken from Table 21.2 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico.]

Teaching idea:
1. Plot the location of these cities on a blank map of Mexico
2. Show the relative sizes of the cities in a way which is clear to the viewer. Use some form of proportional representation, and justify your choice.
3. Describe the resulting pattern of Mexico’s ten largest cities. (For instance, are they mainly in the central part of the country, the south, the north, or…?)
4. Suggest some possible reasons for the pattern you have described.

Mexico’s population in 1990, 2010 and 2050

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Feb 082010

Want your very own Geo-Mexico bookmark?

This link – Population of Mexico in 1990, 2010 and 2050 – is to a pdf file of three age-sex pyramids showing the population of Mexico in the years 1990 and 2010, and the predicted population for the year 2050.

Print the file to make your own Geo-Mexico bookmark and get a fascinating insight into Mexico’s likely future population. Mexico’s population growth rate has fallen dramatically since 1990. More surprisingly, between now and 2050, the average age of people in Mexico will rise rapidly. Mexico is set to move from a predominately young population to a predominately old population in only a couple of generations.

What else can you say about Mexico’s population from a close analysis of the population pyramids? (Feel free to post your comments below)

Canadian Club of Ajijic listens to Geo-Mexico co-author

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Jan 152010

More than 300 people packed the grounds of La Nueva Posada hotel in Ajijic, Mexico, to hear Geo-Mexico co-author Tony Burton talk about the significance of 2010 in Mexico. Burton took an historical approach, exploring both the history of geography and the geography of history while comparing many aspects of Mexico in 1810 (Independence), 1910 (Revolution) and 2010. His entertaining and informative talk, which was largely based on material in Geo-Mexico, was well received.
At the end of his talk, Burton highlighted the fact that Mexico’s population projections for 2050 suggest that the country will have moved from a predominately young to an elderly population in only one or two generations.