Nov 162013
 

In an alliance with the Sonoran Institute, the National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations helped the region’s communities create the first transborder Geotourism MapGuide, covering northern Sonora and southern Arizona. The mapguide was published in 2007:

The maps  have vignettes of information about history, culture, geology and many other aspects of the region, making it a useful guide for geo-tourists. While some might argue about the choice of locations and attractions described on the maps, this is a useful addition to the background reading for anyone thinking of traveling to this region with some time on their hands to explore.

Surprisingly, the map has only a very brief and somewhat dismissive mention of the El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de  Altar Biosphere Reserve:

“Stand at the rim of this mile-wide volcanic crater and you may feel as if you’re on the moon. This land of ancient lava, sand, and cinder cones is sacred to the O’Odham people. Today, those on the Sonora side of the border call themselves “Pápago.”

Related posts:

Cross-border tribe faces a tough future

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Sep 162013
 

In this post, we consider the unfortunate plight of the Tohono O’odham people, whose ancestral lands now lie on either side of the Mexico-USA border.

How did this happen?

Following Mexico’s War of Independence (1810-1821), the rush was on to draw an accurate map of all of Mexico’s territory. Mexico’s boundaries following independence were very different to today. At that time, the major flows of migrants linking the USA to Mexico were from the USA to Mexico, the reverse of the direction of more recent flows, where millions of Mexicans have migrated north.

As this map of Mexico in 1824 shows, Mexico’s territory extended well to the north of its present-day limits.

Map of Mexico, 1824

Map of Mexico, 1824

At the end of 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 (shaded brown on the map below) were transferred to the USA.

Mexico 1853

Source: National Atlas of the United States (public domain)

With minor exceptions since, to take account of changes in the meanders of the Río Bravo (Grande), this established the current border between the two countries.

Impacts on the Tohono O’odham people

One of the immediate impacts of the Gadsden purchase was to split the lands of the Tohono O’odham people into two parts: one in present-day Arizona and the other in the Mexican state of Sonora, divided by the international border. The O’odham who reside in Mexico are often known as Sonoran O’odham.

There are an estimated 25,000 Tohono O’odham living today. Most are in Arizona, but about 1500 live in northern Sonora. In contrast to First Nations (aboriginal) groups living on the USA-Canada border who were allowed dual citizenship, the Tohono O’odham were not granted this right. For decades, this did not really matter, since the two groups of Tohono O’odham kept in regular contact for work, religious ceremonies and festivals, crossing the border when needed without any problem. Stricter border controls introduced in the 1980s, and much tightened since, have greatly reduced the number of Tohono O’odham able to travel freely. This is a particular problem for the Tohono O’odham in Sonora, most of whom were born in Mexico but lack sufficient documentation to acquire a passport.

Tohono o'odhum border protest

Tohono O’odham border protest

Since 2001, several attempts have been made in the USA 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. So far, none has succeeded.

The largest community in the Tohono O’odham Nation (the Arizona section of Tohono O’odham lands) is Sells, which functions as the Nation’s capital. The Sonoran O’odham live in nine villages in Mexico, only five of which are offically recognized as O’odham by the Mexican government.

The border between the two areas is relatively unprotected compared to most other parts of the Mexico-USA border.

The Tohono O’odham Nation is often called upon to provide emergency assistance to undocumented workers (and drug traffickers) from south of the border who have underestimated the severe challenges of crossing this section of the harsh Sonora desert. Tribal officials regularly complain about the failure of the U.S. federal government to reimburse their expenses.

ABC News reports (Tohono O’odham Nation’s Harrowing Mexican-Border War) that the border “has made life a daily hell for a tribe of Native Americans” and that drug seizures on the Tohono O’odham Nation’s lands have increased sharply.

Want to read more?

  • The Sonoran O’odham lieutenant governor continues to help after 16 years
  • A story passed down from generation to generation  (Lisa Palacios, a Tohono O’odham anthropology student at the University of Arizona with relatives on both sides of the border shares her grandparents’ story)

Over half a million natives of the state of Puebla live in New York City

 Excerpts from Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Over half a million natives of the state of Puebla live in New York City
Aug 252010
 

The New York City area is now home to over half a million poblanos, natives of the Mexican state of Puebla. A 2005 Smithsonian article by Jonathan Kandell (available here as a pdf file) takes a close look at their expectations and aspirations. Most started as undocumented workers, but many have gained legal status through the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (ICRA) or a variety of other means.

The story of Ricardo and Aldea is just one example. They got to New York by crossing the 49o C (120o F) Sonoran Desert in the summer of 2003. They work 70-hour weeks for less than the minimum wage. She will pay for her month long trip back to Puebla by serving as a courier, or paquetera, a person who carries clothing, electronics, and other gifts from immigrants to their families.

Getting back and forth across the border without proper documents is more difficult than it used to be, but is not a significant problem. Most rely on trusted polleros, often called coyotes, who provide border crossing service for fees ranging from a few hundred dollars for just crossing the border to a few thousand dollars for door-to-door service.

Population pyramid for Piaxtla, 2000.

Population pyramid for Piaxtla, 2000. How does this pyramid reflect out-migration?

Migration has had a profound impact on villages in Puebla, such as Piaxtla. Most of the 1600 current residents of Piaxtla are either children or elderly (see population pyramid). The mayor claims that “maybe three out of four of my constituents live in New York”. The hundreds of millions of dollars send back each year are having a dramatic effect on rural communities in Puebla. Forty years ago, virtually all the houses were made of palm-thatch adobe. Now they are mostly brick and concrete. Many are topped with satellite dishes.

The towns also have new restaurants, taxis, video arcades, cybercafes, and newly paved streets, all made possible from remittances. Ironically, the towns are sparsely populated and many of the new houses are empty because their owners are working in New York.

Most youth consider the prospect of migration. Few think about careers in Mexico or becoming artisans and continuing Puebla’s long tradition of ceramics, woodworking and weaving. Teenagers show little interest in corn farming, the traditional mainstay of the local economy. In short, migrating to jobs in New York has become the norm.

Somewhat similar migration channels link:

For previous posts about remittances, the funds sent home by migrant workers, see:

Migration between Mexico and the USA is the focus of chapter 25 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Ask your library to buy a copy of this handy reference guide to all aspects of Mexico’s geography today! Better yet, order your own copy…

Aug 182010
 

People in the small village of Napizaro near Lake Pátzcuaro in Michoacán are very familiar with North Hollywood, California, which is over 2400 km (1500 miles) away. Almost everyone born in Napizaro now over 20 years old is living, or has lived, in North Hollywood, which is home to at least one member of virtually every family in Napizaro.

Map showing location of Napizaro, Michoacan

Map showing location of Napizaro on Lake Pátzcuaro, Michoacán. Click to enlarge.

Initially, a few migrants from Napizaro found good jobs in North Hollywood. Through letters, phone calls and visits home, they told their friends and relatives in Napizaro and new migrants headed north. Movement between the places increased significantly. The majority of young boys and many young girls look forward to the day when they can travel to North Hollywood and start making real money. Many of the migrants from Napizaro moved their immediate families and settled permanently in North Hollywood.

Remittances sent back from workers in North Hollywood have had a big impact on Napizaro. The village has numerous impressive brick homes, with cars parked in the driveways and satellite TV dishes on the roofs. The newly built bull ring is named “North Hollywood.”

This is another example of a migration channel linking two rather distant places.  There are numerous migration channels between specific towns in Mexico and particular places in the USA.

Another migration channel links Aguililla, Michoacán, and Redwood City, California

For previous posts about remittances, the funds sent home by migrant workers, see:

Migration between Mexico and the USA is the focus of chapter 25 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Ask your library to buy a copy of this handy reference guide to all aspects of Mexico’s geography today! Better yet, order your own copy…

Migration channels between Mexico and the USA, or how distant towns are linked through migration

 Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Migration channels between Mexico and the USA, or how distant towns are linked through migration
Aug 132010
 

The municipality of Aguililla, Michoacán, is closely linked to Redwood City, California, over 2900 kilometers (1800 miles) away. Redwood City has about 37,000 Latino residents, perhaps half of which were originally from Aguililla. There are almost as many Aguilillans in Redwood City as there is in the municipality of Aguililla, which has about 25,000 residents. Aguililla and Redwood City are officially “Sister Cities”.

Coat-of-arms of Aguililla, Michoacán

Coat-of-arms of Aguililla, Michoacán, clearly showing the road out...

How did this linkage form?  Under the Bracero program many workers from Aguililla got temporary visas to work in California’s San Joaquin and Salinas valleys. Since agricultural work was seasonal, the immigrants looked for more permanent employment.

A number found jobs in Redwood City, just south of San Francisco. Word spread to Aguililla relatives and friends in the Bracero program. They headed for Redwood City where they got assistance in finding jobs and homes from earlier Aguilillan migrants. Many returned to their hometown and soon everyone in Aguililla learned about the good jobs and good life in Redwood City.

Before long there was a significant stream of workers leaving Aguililla headed for Redwood City.  Many early migrants became permanent and moved their families. But they retained their ties to Aguililla and made return trips from time to time so their children could learn their roots and see their grandparents. The remittances sent back from workers in Redwood City have been important to the Aguilillan economy for over 60 years.

This is an example of a migration channel which links two rather distant places. There are numerous migration channels between specific towns in Mexico and particular places in the USA.  We look at other examples in other posts.

The principle of distance decay suggests that the strength of links between settlements is usually inversely proportional to the distance between them (places close together, strong links; places further apart, weaker links). Migration channels cause anomalies in this pattern, since they often lead to strong spatial interactions which do not match those expected from distance decay.

For previous posts about remittances, the funds sent home by migrant workers, see:

Migration between Mexico and the USA is the focus of chapter 25 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Ask your library to buy a copy of this handy reference guide to all aspects of Mexico’s geography today! Better yet, order your own copy…

Oil in the Gulf of Mexico (Canwest headline writers take note).

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Oil in the Gulf of Mexico (Canwest headline writers take note).
Mar 262010
 

Inaccuracies involving Mexico occur all too frequently in the press. This is the first of an occasional series recording such Mexico-related imprecisions.

Canwest News Service claims to be “the best source in Canada for editorial content because we have more journalists than any other organization.” Maybe its journalists are better than its headline writers.

The evidence? Canwest’s report (20 March 2010) about a recent oil discovery by Shell in the Gulf of Mexico, headlined Mexican oil find ‘significant’. Apparently, Canwest’s headline writers do not realize that much of the Gulf of Mexico is not actually Mexican. A more accurate title for the Canwest story would have been US oil find ‘significant‘.

The USA and Mexico share the Gulf, with periodic arguments about the precise offshore limits of each country’s jurisdiction. A few years ago, it was alleged, probably without foundation, that the USA was already  “sucking the oil” out from joint oil fields that straddled the divide.

What is certain is that the USA has encouraged the development of oil fields in relatively deep water (more than 500 meters deep or 1,640 feet) in the Gulf, which require advanced deep-water drilling techniques, and the expertise of Shell and other multinational oil firms.

However, in Mexico, all oil exploration in managed by state-owned oil giant Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex). Mexican experts believe that up to 29.5 billion barrels of oil might reside in Mexico’s share of the Gulf, but Pemex has little to show for 7 years of deep water drilling apart from some relatively minor gas finds.

Only a few days before the Canwest story, though, Pemex did announce two  important new finds in shallow waters in the Gulf of Mexico. Ayatzil-Tekel, found in 2008, holds a total of one billion barrels of proven, probable and potential (3P) reserves of super-heavy crude. Tsimin-Xux, found last year, has a similar amount of super-light crude.

Mexico’s total 3P reserves now stand at about 46 billion barrels, which would last more than 40 years at current rates of extraction.