Mexico

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The United Mexican States or Mexico (Spanish: Estados Unidos Mexicanos or México; regarding the use of the variant spelling Méjico, see section The name below) is a country located in North America, bordered by the United States to the north, and Belize and Guatemala to the southeast. It is the northernmost and westernmost country in Latin America, and also the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world.

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History

Main article: History of Mexico

Pre-Hispanic Times

Hunter-Gatherer peoples are thought to have discovered and inhabited Mexico more than 28,000 years ago. Ancient Mexicans began to selectively breed corn plants around 8,000 B.C. Evidence shows the explosion of pottery works by 2300 B.C. and the beginning of intensive farming between 1800 and 1500 BC.

For more than 3,000 years, Mexico was the site of several Mesoamerican civilizations, such as the Aztec, the Olmec, Teotihuacan, the Toltec, Mixtec, Zapotec and the Mayan.

These indigenous civilizations are credited with many inventions: pyramid-temples, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, writing, highly-accurate calendars, fine arts, intensive agriculture, engineering, an abacus, a complex theology, and the wheel.

Archaic inscriptions on rocks and rock walls all over northern Mexico (especially in the state of Nuevo León) demonstrate an early propensity for counting in Mexico. These very early and ancient count-markings were associated with astronomical events and underscore the influence that astronomical activities had upon Mexican natives, even before they possessed civilization. In fact, the later Mexican civilizations would all carefully build their cities and ceremonial centers according to specific astronomical events.

At different points in time, three different Mexican cities were the largest cities in the world: Teotihuacan, Tenochtitlan, and Cholula. These cities, among several others, blossomed as centers of commerce, ideas, ceremonies, and theology. In turn, they radiated influence outwards onto neighboring cultures.

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An image of one of the pyramids in the upper level of Yaxchilán

While many city-states, kingdoms, and empires competed with one another for power and prestige, Mexico had four major, unifying civilizations: The Olmec, Teotihuacan, Toltec, and the Mexica. These four civilizations extended their reach across Mexico and beyond like no others. They consolidated power and distributed influence in matters of trade, art, politics, technology, and theology. Other regional power players made economic and political alliances with these four civilizations over the span of 4,000 years. Many made war with them, but almost all found themselves within these four spheres of influence.

Latecomers to Mexico's central plateau, the Mexica, or Aztecs, as they were sometimes called in memory of Aztlán, the starting point of their tribes wanderings, never thought of themselves as anything but heirs of the brilliant civilizations that had preceded them. For them, highly-civilized arts, sculpture, architecture, engraving, feather-mosiac work, and the invention of the calendar were due to the former inhabitants of Tula, the Toltecs, who reached the height of their civilization in the tenth and eleventh centuries.

The Mexica, one of the Aztec groups, were the first people in the world to practice mandatory education for all people, regardless of gender, rank, or station. There were two types of schools: the telpochcalli, for practical and military studies, and the calmecac, for advanced learning in writing, astronomy, statesmanship, theology, and other areas.

The Aztecs' religious beliefs were based on a fear that the universe would cease functioning without a constant offering of human sacrifice. This belief was common throughout nahuatl people. As a result, Aztec warfare was conducted with an aim to only injure the enemy, so that he could later be sacrificed, and weapons were constructed with this in mind. This penchant for human sacrifice proved to be the undoing of the Aztecs, for when they confronted the Spaniards, who fought to the death, their less effective weapons made resistance difficult. In order to aquire captives in time of peace, the Aztec resorted to ritual warfare, or flower war. Tlaxcalteca and other nahuatl nations were forced into such wars, so they joined the Spaniard forces again the Aztec. The small Spanish force was reinforced with thousands of indian allies, who were schooled on European warfare.


The Spanish Era

The arrival of the Spanish in the early 16th century and their defeat of the Mexica in 1521 marked the beginning of the 300 year-long colonial period of Mexico as New Spain. After the fall of Tenochtitlan, it would take decades of continous war to pacify Mesoamerica. Particularly fierce were the "Chichimeca wars" in the north of Mexico (1576-1606).

The colonists brought with them the Catholic faith, to which the population apparently converted rapidly, but soon they found the natives had adopted "the god of the heavens", as they called it, as just one of their gods. While it was an important god, because it was the god of the conquerors, they did not see why they had to abandon their old beliefs. As a result, a second wave of missionaries began a process attempting to completely erase the old beliefs, and thus wiped out many aspects of Mesoamerican culture. Hundreds of thousands of codex were destroyed, priests and teachers were persecuted, and the temples and statues of the gods were destroyed. The Mesoamerican education system was set aside and replaced by church education; even some foods asociated with religion, like amaranto, were forbidden. Eventually, the natives were declared minors, and forbidden to read and write, so they would always need a white man in charge of them to be responsible of their indoctrination. Although officially they could not became slaves, the system, known as encomienda, came to signify the oppression and exploitation of natives, although its originators did not set out with such intent. Due to some horrifying instances of abuse against the indigenous peoples, Bishop Bartolome de las Casas suggested bringing black slaves to replace them. Bartolome later repented when he saw the treatment given to the black slaves.

Unlike most English-speaking colonists of North America, Spanish colonists married the natives, and were even encouraged to do so by Queen Isabella during the earliest days of colonization (in Cuba, specifically). The first Spanish colonists were mainly male, so they took native women, and sometimes black women, although rarely. After the native population was decimated by epidemics and forced labor, black slaves were imported, and for a time they even outnumbered the white population. However, they eventually mixed with the population. There are still a few black communities (see Afro-Mexican), but few modern Mexicans are aware of this. As a result of these unions, as well as concubinage, a vast class of people known as "Mestizos" and mulatos came into being, of Amerindian, black, and Spanish descent. But even if mixes were allowed, the white population tried to keep their status. A system was created to keep each mix in a different social level. This was "El sistema de castas" (the caste system). Each diferent mix had a name and a diferent privileges or prohibitions. There were even two different kind of whites, those born in Spain, or "peninsulares", and in a lower level, those born in America or "criollos". Mestizos and mulatos were next, and then the other mixes. In this system, native americans had the lower status, even lower than free black people. The spanish "peninsulares" tried by all means to keep their status, even if they took native women. Those who could afford also tried to have a Spanish wife, who was sent to Spain to give birth, thus preventing their children became criollos. Mestizos and criollos were not allowed in the upper levels of the goverment, and eventually they joined forces for the independence of México. With independence, the caste system and slavery were abolished.

Mestizos, while they no longer have a separate legal status from other groups, comprise approximately 60% of the population. In modern México, mestizo has became more a cultural term, since a native american that abandons his traditional ways is considered a mestizo, also most Afromexicans prefer to be considered mestizo, since they feel more indentified with this group.

During the following centuries, under Spanish rule, a new culture developed that combined the customs and traditions of the indigenous peoples with that of Catholic Spain. Numerous churches and other buildings were constructed in the Spanish style, and cities were named after various saints and objects of veneration, such as "San Luis Potosí" (after St. Louis) and "Vera Cruz" ("True Cross").

Spanish settlers brought with them smallpox, typhus, and other diseases. Most of the settlers had developed an immunity from childhood, but the indigenous peoples had not. There were three separate epidemics that decimated the population: Smallpox (1520-1521), measles ( 1545-1548) and typhus (1576-1581). Of the estimated 15 to 20 million of the original prehispanic population, less than two million survived. The New Spain of the end of XVI century was an underpopulated country with abandoned cities, which would be the main cause of collapse of the Mesoamerican cultures.

Mexican Republic

On September 16, 1810, independence from Spain was declared by Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Catholic priest in the small town of Dolores, causing a long war that eventually led to independence in 1821 and the creation of the First Mexican Empire.

After independence, Spanish possessions in Central America which also proclaimed independence were all incorporated into Mexico from 1822 to 1823, with the exception of Chiapas.

Soon after achieving its independence from Spain, the Mexican government, in an effort to populate its sparsely-settled hinterlands, awarded land grants in a remote area of the northernmost state of Coahuila y Tejas to hundreds of immigrant families from the United States, on the condition that the settlers convert to Catholicism and assume Mexican citizenship. It also forbade the importation of slaves, a condition that, like the others, was largely ignored.

The Empire soon fell to rebellious republican forces led by Antonio López de Santa Anna. The first Republic was formed with Guadalupe Victoria as its first president, followed in office by Santa Anna. As president, in 1834 Santa Anna abrogated the federal constitution, causing insurgencies in the southern state of Yucatán and the northernmost portion of the northern state of Coahuila y Tejas. Both areas sought independence from the Mexican government. While negotiations eventually brought Yucatán to again recognize Mexican sovereignty, Santa Anna's army turned to the northern rebellion. The inhabitants of Tejas, calling themselves Texans and led mainly by relatively recently-arrived English-speaking settlers, declared independence from Mexico at Washington-on-the-Brazos, giving birth to the Republic of Texas. Texas won its independence in 1836, further reducing the territory of the fledgling republic. In the 1840s, Mexico was invaded and defeated by the United States, which demanded and received roughly one-half of the country's remaining territory, from which were formed the modern states of California, Nevada, and Utah, and most of Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado (see Mexican-American War).

In the 1860s, the country again suffered a military occupation, this time by France, seeking to establish the Habsburg Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria as Emperor of Mexico, with support from the Roman Catholic clergy and conservative Creoles. This Second Mexican Empire was fought off by then-president of the Republic, the Zapotec Benito Juárez, with diplomatic and logistical support from the United States and the military expertise of General Porfirio Díaz. General Ignacio Zaragoza defeated the French Army (arguably the most powerful in the world at the time) at the city of Puebla on May 5, 1862, celebrated as Cinco de Mayo ever since. However, after his death, the city was lost in early 1863, following a renewed French attack which penetrated as far as Mexico City, forcing President Juárez to organize an itinerant government.
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Benito Juarez, important figure of Mexican history
Napoleon III of France, Emperor of France, imposed Maximilian as Emperor of Mexico from 1864 to 1867. In mid-1867, following repeated losses in battle to the Republican ("Liberal") Army, Maximilian was captured and executed, along with his last loyal generals, in Querétaro. From then on, Juárez remained in office until his death in 1872.

After Juárez's death, Mexico experienced economic growth under the conservative and pro-European rule of Porfirio Díaz. Foreign investment allowed the development of the oil industry and the construction of a railroad system across the country. This period of relative peace and prosperity is known as the "Porfiriato". His mandate, however, was mostly undemocratic and benefited the middle and upper classes, while the Amerindian indigenous population continued to live in precarious conditions. Growing social inequalities, restricted freedom of the press, and his insistence to be reelected for a fifth term led to massive protests. His fraudulent victory in the 1910 elections sparked the Mexican Revolution. Revolutionary forces defeated the federal army, but were left with internal struggles, leaving the country in conflict for two more decades. The creation of the National Revolutionary Party (which later became the Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI), in 1929 ended the struggles, uniting all generals and combatants of the revolution.

During the next four decades, Mexico experienced impressive economic growth, and historians call this period "El Milagro Mexicano", the Mexican Miracle. This was in spite of falling foreign confidence in investment, first through the assumption of mineral rights and subsequent nationalisation of the oil industry into Pemex. However the management of the economy collapsed several times afterwards. Accused many times of fraud, the PRI's candidates held almost all public offices until the end of the 20th century. It was not until the 1980s that the PRI lost the first state governorship, an event that marked the beginning of the party's loss of hegemony. Through the electoral reforms started by president Carlos Salinas de Gortari and consolidated by president Ernesto Zedillo, by the mid 1990s the PRI had lost its majority in Congress. In 2000, after seventy years, the PRI lost a presidential elections to a candidate of the National Action Party (PAN), Vicente Fox.

On September 19, 1985, an earthquake measuring approximately 8.0 on the Richter scale struck Michoacán and inflicted severe damage on Mexico City. Estimates of the number of dead range from 6,500 to 30,000. (See Great Mexican Earthquake.)

On January 1 1994, Mexico became a full member of the North American Free Trade Agreement, joining the United States of America and Canada in a large and prosperous economic bloc. On March 23, 2005, the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America was signed by the elected leaders of those countries.

Government and politics

Main articles: Government of Mexico,Politics of Mexico

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Vicente Fox, current president of Mexico

The 1917 Constitution provides for a federal republic with powers separated into independent executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Historically, the executive is the dominant branch, with power vested in the president, who promulgates and executes the laws of the Congress. Congress has played an increasingly important role since 1997, when opposition parties first formed a majority in the legislature. The president also legislates by executive decree in certain economic and financial fields, using powers delegated from Congress. The president is elected by universal adult suffrage for a six-year term and may not hold office a second time. There is no vice-president; in the event of the removal or death of the president, a provisional "emergency" president is elected by Congress, whose first task is to summon the Congress for a session to choose an interim president; the first task of that interim president is to call for elections within the next 18 months. However, in the event of a very short unavailability of the president (e.g. in the case of minor surgery) the executive power is handed to the president of the Supreme Court, who at the same time relinquishes temporarily his role as such.

On July 2, 2000, Vicente Fox of the opposition "Alliance for Change" coalition, headed by the National Action Party (PAN), was elected president. Fox began his six-year term on December 1, 2000. His victory ended the Institutional Revolutionary Party's (PRI) 71-year hold on the presidency.

The three most important political parties in Mexico are the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the National Action Party (PAN), and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD).

Political divisions

Main article: States of Mexico
See also: Mexican state name etymologies.

Mexico is divided into 31 states (estados) and a federal district. Each state has its own constitution and its citizens elect a governor as well as representatives to their respective state congresses.

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States of Mexico


The Federal District is a special political division in Mexico, where the national capital, Mexico City, is located. It enjoys more limited local rule than the nation's "free and sovereign states": only since 1997 have its citizens been able to elect a Head of Government, whose powers are still more curtailed than those of a state governor. Much of the capital city's metropolitan area overflows the limits of the Federal District.

Major cities

The following is a list of the biggest Metropolitan Areas of Mexico in order of population:

  1. Mexico City, Distrito Federal (22.0 million)
  2. Guadalajara, Jalisco (4.7 million)
  3. Monterrey, Nuevo León (3.6 million)
  4. Puebla, Puebla (2.6 million)
  5. Tijuana, Baja California (1.5 million)
  6. León, Guanajuato (1.2 million)
  7. Toluca, México (1.2 million)
  8. Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua (1.1 million)
  9. Torreón, Coahuila (1.1 million)
  10. San Luis Potosí, San Luis Potosí (0.8 million)
  11. Mérida, Yucatán (0.8 million)
  12. Santiago de Querétaro, Querétaro (0.8 million)
  13. Aguascalientes, Aguascalientes (0.7 million)
  14. Cuernavaca, Morelos (0.7 million)
  15. Chihuahua, Chihuahua (0.7 million)
Population figures according to INEGI (National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Information) 2000

Geography

Main article: Geography of Mexico

Situated in the southwestern part of mainland North America and roughly triangular in shape, Mexico stretches more than 3000 km from northwest to southeast. Its width is varied, from more than 2000 km in the north and less than 220 km at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the south.

Mexico is bordered by the United States to the north, and Belize and Guatemala to the southeast. Mexico is about one-fourth the size of the United States. Baja California in the west is an 1,250-km peninsula and forms the Gulf of California. In the east are the Gulf of Mexico and the Bay of Campeche, which is formed by Mexico's other peninsula, the Yucatán. The center of Mexico is a great, high plateau, open to the north, with mountain chains on the east and west and with ocean-front lowlands lying outside of them. (See list of mountains in Mexico).

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Mexico's topography

The terrain and climate vary from rocky deserts in the north to tropical rain forest in the south. Mexico's major rivers include the Río Bravo del Norte (Rio Grande) and the Usumacinta on its northern and southern borders, respectively, together with the Grijalva, Balsas, Pánuco, and Yaqui in the interior.

Economy

Main article: Economy of Mexico

According to the World Bank, Mexico is the 12th nation in the world in regards to GDP and the highest per capita income in that region; and is firmly established as an upper middle-income country. Since the economic debacle of 19941995 the country has made an impressive recovery, building a diversified economy and improving infrastructure. According to the director for Colombia and Mexico of the World Bank, the population below the poverty level has decreased from 24.2% to 17.6% in the general population and from 42% to 27.9% in rural areas [1].

Mexico has a free-market economy with a mixture of modern and outmoded industry and agriculture, increasingly dominated by the private sector. The number of state-owned enterprises in Mexico has fallen from more than 1,000 in 1982 to fewer than 200 in 1999. The administration of President Ernesto Zedillo (1994–2000) continued a policy of privatizing and expanding competition in sea ports, railroads, telecommunications, electricity, natural gas distribution, and airports which was initiated by his predecessors Miguel de la Madrid and Carlos Salinas.

A strong export sector helped to cushion the economy's decline in 1995 and led the recovery in 19961999. Private consumption became the leading driver of growth, accompanied by increased employment and higher wages. Mexico still needs to overcome many structural problems as it strives to modernize its economy and raise living standards. Income distribution is very unequal, with the top 20% of income earners accounting for 55% of income.

Following 6.9% growth in 2000, real GDP fell 0.3% in 2001, with the US slowdown the principal cause. Positive developments in 2001 included a drop in inflation to 6.5%, a sharp fall in interest rates, and a strong peso that appreciated 5% against the US dollar. Trade with the US and Canada has tripled since NAFTA was implemented in 1994.

Mexico has opened its markets to free trade as no other country in the world, having lifted its trade barriers with more than 40 countries in 12 Free Trade Agreements, including Japan and the European Union. However more than 85% of the trade is still done with the United States. Government authorities expect that by putting more than 90% of trade under free trade agreements with different countries Mexico will lessen its dependence on the US. The government is seeking to sign an additional agreement with Mercosur.

Demographics

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Beach in Cancún, Quintana Roo
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Indigenous Mexicans on a Chiapas street

Main article: Demographics of Mexico

With an estimated 2005 population of about 106.5 million, Mexico is the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world.

Mexico is ethnically and culturally diverse. According to the CIA World Factbook, about 60% of the population is mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white), another 30% is Amerindian or predominantly Amerindian, and 9% is white (or of European descent). The remaining 1% includes Afro-Mexicans and others. Mexico is also home for many other Latin American groups: mostly Argentines, but also Brazilians, Nicaraguans, Cubans, and Colombians. The PRI governments in power for most of the 20th century had a policy of granting asylum to fellow Latin Americans fleeing political persecution in their home countries. Mexico also has a sizeable population of Asians numbering around 200,000, many of them being Chinese and Japanese. There are also a small amount of Lebanese.

According to the Comisión Nacional para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas ("The National Council for the Development of Indigenous People") the Amerindian population in Mexico is approximately 12.7 million. However, the Mexican government does not collect racial information during censuses. In 2004, the National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Informatic had estimated this figure to be 12,089,094 of indigenous people of which, more than one million do not speak Spanish and almost five million are bilingual (INEGI, 2004).

Judging by the proportion of people speaking indigenous languages the states with a higher proportion of indigenous people are Yucatán (37.3%), Oaxaca (37.1%), Chiapas (24.6%) and Quintana Roo (23%). The states of Aguascalientes (0.2% ), Coahuila (0.2%), Zacatecas (0.2%) and Nuevo León (0.5%) have the lowest proportion of speakers of indigenous languages ([INEGI, 2004]).

Mexico is the country where the greatest number of U.S citizens live outside the United States. This may be due to the growing economic and business interdependence of the two countries under NAFTA, and also that Mexico is considered an excellent choice for retirees. A clear example of the latter phenomenon is provided by San Miguel de Allende and many towns along the Baja California peninsula and around Guadalajara, Jalisco. The official figures for foreign-born citizens in Mexico are 493,000 (since 2004), with a majority (86.9%) of these born in the US (with the exception of Chiapas, where the majority of immigrants are from Central America). The five states with more immigrants are Baja California (12.1% of total immigrants), Federal District (11.4%), Jalisco (9.9%), Chihuahua (9%) and Tamaulipas (7.3). More than 54.6% of the immigrant population are 15 years old or younger, while 9% are 50 or older. 4.2% of male immigrants and 3.8% of female immigrants did not have formal education while 20.2% of male immigrants and 17.7% of female immigrants had a college degree [INEGI, 2004.

Life expectancy in Mexico increased from 34.7 for men and 33 years for women in 1930 to 72.1 for men and 77.1 years for women in 2002. The states with the highest life expectancy are Baja California (75.9 years) and Nuevo Leon (75.6 years). The Federal District has a life expectancy of the same level as Baja California. The lowest levels are found in Chiapas (72.9), Oaxaca (73.2) and Guerrero (73.2 years), although the first two have had the highest increase (19.9 and 22.3% respectively).

The mortality rate in 1970 was 9.7/1000 people and by 2001 the rate had dropped to 4.9/1000 for men and 3.8/1000 for women. The most common reasons for death in 2001 were heart problems (14.6% for men 17.6% for women) and Cancer (11% for men and 15.8% for women).

Religion

Mexico is predominantly Roman Catholic (about 89% of the population), with 6% adhering to various Protestant faiths (mostly Pentecostal), and the remaining 5% of the population adhering to other religions or professing no religion. Some of the country's Catholics (notably those of indigenous background) syncretize Catholicism with various elements of Aztec or Mayan religions.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormonism) has a growing presence in the major border cities of northeastern Mexico with over 1,000,000 members nationwide. Judaism has been practiced in Mexico for centuries, and there are estimated to be 100,000 Jews in Mexico today. Islam is mainly practiced by members of the Arab, Turkish, and other expatriate communities, though there is a very small number of the indegenious population in Chiapas state that practice Islam.

Languages

Spanish is the official language of Mexico and is spoken by the majority of the population. About 7% of the population speak an Amerindian language. The government officially recognizes 62 Amerindian languages. Of these Nahuatl, and Maya are each spoken by 1.5 million, while others, such as Lacandon, are spoken by less than 100. The Mexican government has promoted and established bilingual education programs in indigenous rural communities.

Although Spanish is the official language of Mexico, English is widely used in business. As a result, English language skills are much in demand and can lead to an increase in the salary offered by a company. It is also spoken along the U.S. border, in big cities, and in beach resorts. Also, the majority of private schools in Mexico offer what they like to describe as "bilingual" education, both in Spanish and English. English is the main language spoken in U.S. expatriate communities such as those along the coast of Baja California and the town of San Miguel de Allende. There are also Mormon colonies in Chihuahua where education is delivered in English.

With respect to other European languages brought by immigrants, the case of Chipilo, in the state of Puebla, is unique, and has been documented by several linguists like Carolyn McKay. The immigrants that founded the city of Chipilo in 1882 came from the Veneto region in northern Italy, and thus spoke a northern variant of the Venetian dialect. While other European immigrants assimilated into the Mexican culture, the people of Chipilo retained their language. Nowadays, most of the people who live in the city of Chipilo (and many of those who have migrated to other cities) still speak the unaltered Veneto dialect spoken by their great-grandparents making the Veneto dialect an unrecognized minority language in the city of Puebla. A similar case is that of the Plautdietsch language, spoken by the descendants of German and Dutch Mennonite immigrants in the states of Chihuahua and Durango.

Education

Main article: Education in Mexico

Mexico has made impressive improvements in education in the last two decades. In 2004, the literacy rate was at 92%, and the youth literacy rate (ages 15-24) was 96%. Primary and secondary education (9 years) is free and mandatory. Even though different bilingual education programs have existed since the 1960s for the indigenous communities, after a constitution reform in the late 1990s, these programs have had a new thrust, and free text books are produced in more than a dozen indigenous languages.

In the 1970's, Mexico became the first country to establish a system of "distance-learning" satellite secondary education, aimed for the little towns and rural communities. In 2005 this system included 30,000 connected schools, 3 million students and 300,000 teachers, who use televised lectures and education science programs, pre-recorded and transmited through "EduSat", via satellite. Schools that use this system are known as telesecundarias in Mexico. The Mexican "distance-learning" secondary education is also transmitted to some Central American countries and to Colombia, and it is used in some southern regions of the United States as a method of bilingual education.

Culture

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Cabo San Lucas, BCS

Main article: Culture of Mexico

The name

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Mexico is named after its capital city, whose name comes from the Aztec city Mexico-Tenochtitlan that preceded it. The Mexi part of the name is from Mexitli, the war god, whose name was derived from metztli (the moon) and xictli (navel) and thus meant "navel (probably implying 'child') of the moon". So, Mexico is the home of the people of Mexitli (the Mexicas), co meaning "place" and ca meaning "people".

When the Spaniards encountered this people and transcribed their language, they naturally did so according to the spelling rules of the Castilian language of the time. The Nahuatl language had a /ʃ/ sound (like English "shop"), and this sound was written x in Spanish (e.g. Ximénez); consequently, the letter x was used to write down words like Mexitli.

Over the centuries, the pronunciation of Spanish changed. Words like Ximénez, exercicio, xabón and perplexo started to be pronounced with a /x/ (this phonetic symbol represents the sound in the word "loch"). The /ʒ/ sound (as in "vision") represented by the letter j (usually g before e or i) also started to be pronounced this way. The coalescence of the two phonemes into a single new one encouraged scholars to use the same letter for the sound, regardless of its origin (Spanish scholars have always tried to keep the orthography of their language faithful to the spoken tongue). It was j/g that was chosen. So, modern Spanish has ejercicio, ejército, jabón, perplejo, etc. (Another example is the old spelling of Don Quixote which is now Don Quijote. The old pronunciation is maintained in French "Quichotte", and the English word "quixotic" maintains the spelling while pronouncing it with its English value.)

Proper nouns and their derivatives are optionally allowed to break this rule. Thus, although xabón is now incorrect and archaic, alongside many millions of people called "Jiménez", there also are plenty called "Giménez" or "Ximénez" — a matter of personal choice and tradition.

In Mexico, it has become almost a matter of national pride to maintain the otherwise archaic x spelling in the name of the country. It is regarded as more authentic and less jarring to the reader's eye. Mexicans have tended to demand that other Spanish-speakers use this spelling, rather than following the general rule, and the demand has largely been respected. The Real Academia Española states that both spellings are correct, and most dictionaries and guides recommend México first, and present Méjico as a variant. Today, even outside of the country, México is preferred over Méjico by ratios ranging from 10-to-1 (in Spain) to about 280-to-1 (in Costa Rica). Also, in the placenames "Oaxaca" and "Xalapa", the x is pronounced as /x/; in "Xochimilco", however, it sounds as a /ʃ/.

A cultural side-effect of the fact that Mexicans use México /'mexiko/ and Spaniards sometimes use Méjico is the occasional boiling-over of negative sentiment towards the old colonial oppressor. The mere act of using the j spelling is interpreted by some as a form of colonial aggression. On the other hand, some Peninsular scholars (such as Ramón Menéndez Pidal) prefer to apply the general spelling rule, arguing that the spelling with an x could encourage non-Mexicans to mispronounce México as /'meksiko/ (as is generally the case in the English-speaking world). Méjico on the other hand could easily be mispronounced as well, because the letter j stands for /ʒ/, /dʒ/ or /j/ in other languages.

In the Nahuatl language, from which the name originally derived, the name for Mexico is Mēxihco (IPA /meː.ɕiʔ.ko/).

Miscellaneous topics

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Further reading

  • James D. Cockcroft, Mexico's Hope: An Encounter with Politics and History, 320 pages, Monthly Review Press 1999, ISBN 0853459258 – leftist view of Mexican history
  • Enrique Krauze, Mexico: Biography of Power. A history of Modern Mexico 1810-1996, 896 pages – Perennial 1998, ISBN 0060929170 - standard work by a renowned Mexican author
  • Julia Preston and Samuel Dillon, Opening Mexico: The Making of a Democracy, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2004, hardcover, 608 pages, ISBN 0374226687 – recent history since the Tlatelolco massacre of 1968 told by two journalists
  • Joanne Hershfield, David R. Maciel, Mexico's Cinema: A Century of Film and Filmmakers, SR Books 1999, ISBN 0842026827 – comprehensive survey
  • Michael C. Meyer, William H. Beezley, editors, The Oxford History of Mexico, 736 pages, Oxford University Press 2000, ISBN 0195112288 – 20 essays, also covers cultural history

External links

Government

Information about Mexico

Mexican newspapers and news agencies

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