4.1 Mexico

Mexico is the eighth-largest country in the world and is about one-fifth the size of the United States. Bordered to the north by the United States, Mexico stretches south to Central America, where it is bordered by Guatemala and Belize. One of Mexico’s prominent geographical features is the world’s longest peninsula, the 775-mile-long Baja California Peninsula, which lies between the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California (also known as the Sea of Cortez). The Baja California Peninsula includes a series of mountain ranges called the Peninsular Ranges.

Stratfor: Mexico’s Geographic Challenge

The Tropic of Cancer cuts across Mexico, dividing it into two different climatic zones: a temperate zone to the north and a tropical zone to the south. In the northern temperate zone, temperatures can be hot in the summer, often rising above 80 °F, but considerably cooler in the winter. By contrast, temperatures vary very little from season to season in the tropical zone, with average temperatures hovering very close to 80 °F year-round. Temperatures in the south tend to vary as a function of elevation.

Mexico's climate
Mexico’s climate

Two major mountain ranges extend north and south along Mexico’s coastlines and are actually extensions of southwestern US ranges. The Sierra Madre Occidental and the Sierra Madre Oriental run roughly parallel to each other. The Sierra Madre Occidental, an extension of the Sierra Nevada range, runs about 3,107 miles along the west coast, with peaks higher than 9,843 feet. The Sierra Madre Oriental is an extension of the Rocky Mountains and runs 808 miles along the east coast. Between these two mountain ranges lies a group of broad plateaus, including the Mexican Plateau, or Mexican Altiplano (a wide valley between mountain ranges). The central portions, with their rolling hills and broad valleys, include fertile farms and productive ranch land.

Mountain ranges in Mexico

The Mexican Altiplano is divided into northern and southern sections, with the northern section dominated by Mexico’s most expansive desert, the Chihuahuan Desert.

Looking into the Chihuahuan Desert from  the South Rim Trail in Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park, Texas
Looking into the Chihuahuan Desert from the South Rim Trail in Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park, Texas
Notice how the Chihuahuan Desert covers part of northern Mexico and extends into the southwestern United States.

Copper Canyon, in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, is about seven times larger than the Grand Canyon. Copper Canyon was formed by six rivers flowing through a series of twenty different canyons. Besides covering a larger area than the Grand Canyon, at its deepest point, Copper Canyon is 1,462 feet deeper than the Grand Canyon.

Copper Canyon in Mexico

Three tectonic plates underlie Mexico, making it one of the most seismically active regions on earth. In 1985, an earthquake centered off Mexico’s Pacific coast killed more than ten thousand people in Mexico City

Volcanic eruption sends explosion of ash, smoke into sky in Mexico | ABC News

Though only about 13 percent of Mexico’s land area is cultivated, favorable climatic conditions mean that food products are also an important natural resource both for export and for the feeding the country’s sizable population. Tomatoes, maize (corn), vanilla, avocado, beans, cotton, coffee, sugarcane, and fruit are harvested in sizable quantities. Of these, coffee, cotton, sugarcane, tomatoes, and fruit are primarily grown for export, with most products bound for the United States. The Mexican economy is a mix of modern industry, agriculture, and tourism. 

The discovery of the Americas brought to the rest of the world many widely used food crops and edible plants. Some of Mexico’s native culinary ingredients include: avocado, tomato, chocolate, maize, vanilla, guava, chayote, epazote, camote, jícama, nopal, zucchini, tejocote, huitlacoche, sapote, mamey sapote, many varieties of beans, and an even greater variety of chiles, such as the habanero and the jalapeño. Most of these names come from indigenous languages like Nahuatl.

Sapote is a soft, edible fruit
Sapote is a soft, edible fruit
Stalk purchased for Php 35
Habanero peppers are used in hot sauces and other spicy foods.
Habanero peppers are used in hot sauces and other spicy foods.
Huitlacoche (a fungus) is also known as corn smut and is a delicacy eaten in quesadillas and other foods.

Mexican cuisine is a complex and ancient cuisine, with techniques and skills developed over thousands of years of history. It is created mostly with ingredients native to Mexico.

Mole sauce is made from one or more types of chili pepper. Sometimes chocolate is added at the end of cooking.
Mole sauce is made from one or more types of chili pepper. Sometimes chocolate is added at the end of cooking.
Tamales are made of masa dough filled with meat (and sometimes cheese) and steamed in a corn husk.
Carnitas (pork), carne asada (beef), and al pastor (spit-grilled pork) tacos.
Carnitas (pork), carne asada (beef), and al pastor (spit-grilled pork) tacos.
Hot chocolate and pan dulce
Hot chocolate and pan dulce (a sweet bread) are the quintessential breakfast in Mexico.
UNESCO: Traditional Mexican cuisine
Note: This video is almost 10 minutes long. Paintings show nude natives.

Mexico City is one of the largest cities in the world and anchors the core region of Mexico. Mexico City is a historic and vibrant city, but is not without problems.


At higher than seven thousand feet in elevation, it is located between two mountain ranges. Air pollution is severe and is augmented by frequent air inversions that trap pollution over the city. To reduce air pollution, people are only allowed to drive their vehicles on certain days according to odd or even license plate numbers.

An aerial view of Mexico City with a blanket of smog

Fresh water is in short supply, and wastewater from sewage is discharged into lakes down the valley. Amerindians who live by these lakes or on the islands have to deal with the pollution. Because about four to five million inhabitants of Mexico City have no utilities, human waste buildup has become a challenge. Fresh water is pumped into the city through pipelines from across the mountains. Leakage and inadequate maintenance cause a large percentage of the water to be lost before it can be used in the city. Water is also drawn from underground aquifers beneath the city, which has caused parts of the city to sink as much as two feet, causing serious structural damage to historic buildings.

Mexico City is Sinking

The early European control of the land, the economy, and the political system created conflict for the people of Mexico. The country has experienced domination followed by revolution at various times, starting with colonial domination, then economic domination, and lastly political domination. In each historic cycle, revolution and conflict were followed by change. Let’s watch a video about Mexico’s history. It will be a lot more interesting than if I try to discuss it here in the text. 😉

Overly Sarcastic Productions: History Summarized: Mexico

The result was a mixing and acculturation of the Europeans and the Amerindians, which created the current mestizo mainstream society. Mestizos (persons of mixed race – usually Spanish and indigenous) make up about 60 percent of the current population, Europeans make up about 9 percent, and Amerindians make up about 30 percent. More than sixty indigenous languages spoken by Amerindian groups are recognized in Mexico. At least seventeen indigenous languages are spoken by more than one hundred thousand people or more in Mexico, most of them living in the southern part of the country.

worldfocusonline: Indigenous languages revive and thrive in Mexico

The current social status of Mexican society can be illustrated by a pyramid shape . Those of European descent are at the top of the pyramid and control a higher percentage of the wealth and power even though they are a minority of the population. The small middle class is largely mestizo, including managers, business people, and professionals. The working poor make up most of the population at the bottom of the pyramid. The lower class contains the highest percentage of people of Amerindian descent or, in the case of the Caribbean, African descent.

Social status in Mexico

The US-Mexican border region has become a strong pull factor, enticing poor people who seek greater opportunities and advantages to move from Mexico City and other southern regions of Mexico to the border region to look for work. When they do not find work, they are tempted to cross the US border illegally. The United States is considered a land of opportunity and attracts immigrants—both legal and illegal—from Mexico.

The illegal drug trade is a multibillion-dollar industry, and Mexico has traditionally been the transitional area or stop-off point between the South American drug producing areas and entrance into US markets. Cocaine, marijuana, and more recently heroin were produced in the Andes Mountains of South America and shipped north to the United States. Colombian cartels were once the main controllers of illegal drugs in the Western Hemisphere, but in recent decades, organized crime units in Mexico have muscled in on the control of drugs coming through Mexico, making deals with their South American counterparts to become the main traffickers of drugs into the United States .

Illegal drug income flowing into Mexico has become a major part of the economy in specific areas. Drug kingpins have used their economic power to buy off local police forces and silence opposition. They have also been known to provide poor neighborhoods with funding for services that would normally be designated as government obligations. These actions have often provided a mixed reaction within the population in local areas. The drug cartels have become an integrated part of the fabric of Mexico.

CBS News: Armed kids shine light on Mexico’s drug cartel violence

In an attempt to combat the situation, the Mexican government has been engaged in its own internal war against the illegal drug trade. The battles between the drug cartels and the Mexican government have created a serious internal conflict in the country, killing thousands of innocent bystanders in the crossfire. Bribes, payoffs, and corruption have been difficult to battle in a country with a high percentage of the population living in poor conditions.

Key Takeaways:

✎ Mexico is the 8th largest country and has two different climatic zones.
✎ Mexico is one of the most seismically active regions on earth.
✎ Mexico has a variety of native culinary ingredients
✎ Mexico City is one of the largest cities in the world and has issues with pollution and getting adequate water.
✎ People of European heritage continue to hold positions of power and privilege in Mexico’s socioeconomic class structure. Amerindian populations exist at the lowest level with the fewest economic opportunities.
✎ Efforts are being made to keep indiginous languages alive.
✎ Drug cartels in Mexico reap enormous profits and have become a major problem for the Mexican government and the country.

Next: 4.2 The Caribbean

We want to know what you thought of what you just read and watched! Leave us a comment! Please also let us know if a link or video isn’t working. 🙂

Image and additional information credits:

Mexico relief map
By Carport – Own work, using map data from administrative map by NordNordWest. The relief was created from SRTM-30 relief data, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9864019
Mexico climate map
By Adam Peterson – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52496090
Freemaps.net map of Mexico’s mountains (Used per the terms described here.)
Chihuahuan desert picture
By daveynin from United States – Chihuahuan Desert Uploaded by Fredlyfish4, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23274211
Chihuahuan desert map
By Pfly – NASA, plus my additions by myself., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1573186
Copper Canyon, Mexico
By David Broad, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54159063
Social status Mexico
Cheap labor image
By Diego rivera – http://www.todahistoria.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Conquista-de-Tenochtitlan-Mexico.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25856062
Mexico City air pollution
By Creator:Fidel Gonzalez – Template:Fidel Gonzalez, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12603125
Mexico information
By Critical Miami – flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3934027
habanero pepper
By The original uploader was Fir0002 at English Wikipedia. – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Sreejithk2000 using CommonsHelper., CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10557579
corn smut
By Jamain – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30351352
Mexican cuisine info
By Alex Pronove – Me. I took this photo last week in Quezon, Palawan, Philippines., CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14577948
Mole sauce
By MX – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=79825760
By Larry Miller – Flickr: Tinos Tacos, Roseburg, Ore., CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32052457
By Ruth Hartnup – https://www.flickr.com/photos/ruthanddave/28172617404/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=84413369
Hot chocolate
By AlejandroLinaresGarcia – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35496671
By J Doll – Imported from 500px (archived version) by the Archive Team. (detail page), CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=73879058

4 thoughts on “4.1 Mexico

  1. The drug cartel video was so well done! It showed the issue from different perspectives and really tried to get to the why they were training children with guns and what the people were really feeling.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Thanks so much for leaving a comment! 🙂

  2. Mountain ranges in Mexico picture is not loading

    1. Thank you so much for posting! We SOOOO appreciate it!! It’s working for me. Maybe there was a temporary internet glitch. 🙂 Try refreshing your page and see if it comes up. Here’s the direct link to the image in case it’s still not loading for you:
      Thanks again, and please don’t hesitate to post a comment if something else isn’t working for you. We really appreciate the help in keeping everything up-to-date and working!

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