Mexico marks the frontier between North and Central America, lying as it does directly underneath the USA. It is bordered to the south and south west by Guatemala, and to the south east by Belize.
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Mexico, with the world’s 12th largest economy, has a population of around 109 million people. No surprise then that it boasts the highest number of Spanish speakers of any single country in the world.
The capital is Mexico City, which is the eighth largest capital in the world. It was here, during the 1968 Olympics, that an average American long jumper named Bob Beamon smashed the then world record by about 2 feet. Given that long jump world records had been increasing at a rate of about 6 inches, how did he do it? The chief factor was probably thin air, for Mexico City stands at an altitude of 2,250 metres.
Among other great sporting events held in Mexico, two World Cups. That of 1970 was won by the great Brazilian team featuring Pele. In 1986 it was Maradona’s Hand of God goal against England which grabbed the headlines.
‘Colourful, varied and spicy’ is a term we might associate with Mexican food, which is now known all over the world. We are particularly fond of the ‘taco’ (a sandwich with a filling of your choice) and those hot chili peppers!
Acapulco and Cancún are two of the most popular beach resorts in Mexico, and with daytime temperatures ranging between 26-36 celsius these destinations are able to attract tourists all year round. Diving off Acapulco Rock (pictured) into the sea below is strictly for daredevils.
Tourism in Mexico is undergoing a boom, and its extensive ancient ruins are also a big draw.
Very culturally advanced civilisations developed in Mexico around 9,000 years ago. These included the Aztecs and the Mayans. Evidence of their way of life still remains in some parts of Mexico, and the stunning ruins of Chichen Itza (pictured) have recently been included in the New Seven Wonders of the World.
The Aztec and Maya civilisations lasted for thousands of years. There is much debate surrounding the demise of the Maya civilisation, and theories include peasant revolt and even climate change. The Aztecs flourished until the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors, under Hernán Cortés, in 1519. In a relatively short time, the Spanish wiped out the Aztecs.
At this point it’s worth stating the apparently obvious: much of Central and South America speaks Spanish today because of this Spanish conquest.
The Mexican Border is the stuff of legend, the country acting as a haven for criminals on the run from the USA. Now the border is heavily guarded to prevent illegal immigration. Mexicans form a large part of the ever growing hispanic immigrant population in the USA (they bring the Spanish language with them of course), and on the other side of the coin Mexico has the highest number of US emigrants.
The Mexican Revolution from 1910-1917 left an estimated 1 million dead (out of a population of about 15 million.) It arose from disenchantment during the reign of Porfirio Díaz, who had been in control as dictator almost constantly since 1876. Ironically, Porfirio had helped stabilise and modernise his country – but at the expense of liberty for his people.
Among the key figures who emerged during the ferment were Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata*, two folk heroes (sometimes pictured wearing big Mexican ‘sombrero’ hats) who were eventually killed. Zapata coined the phrase ‘¡Tierra y libertad!’ (Land and Freedom; a phrase still used in Mexico today), while Pancho Villa’s boldness extended to attacking the USA.
These days a Mexican attack on the USA is highly unlikely. The two countries have become interdependent, especially since the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994 which unified Canada, Mexico and the USA. Almost a quarter of Mexico’s GDP depends on exports to the USA.
*There is some fascinating old video footage of Zapata here: http://www.bibliotecas.tv/zapata/VIDEOS/index.html
Note that Spanish is not the only language spoken in Mexico. See http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7097647.stm for more information.