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Mexico the "Other" North America?
email this pageprint this pageemail usLes Shulman - BellaOnline
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October 25, 2010

Consider if you will that you are interested in purchasing a book entitled The Food of North America. However when you look at that book, only on the inside does it state that the book “is a comprehensive discussion of the food of North America, south of the United States of America.” Sounds ridiculous? Sure it does! Yet, conversely, there are real life examples of this occurring.

Even citizens of Mexico who reside, temporarily or permanently, in the US are called by a specific name, Nortenos/Northeners.
There are some (but by no means a majority) of field guides for insects and field guides for birds that state in their title and cover blurb that their scope is North America but only on the inside does one discover that what they discuss is “North America, north of Mexico”- hence, what they really mean is Canada and the USA. The non-nationalistic birds, migratory or not, and insects of Mexico may not be offended by such misnomers and such unexplained omissions, but I am.

Little wonder then that such misstatements may lead to confusion, misunderstanding, inaccuracy, cultural insensitivity, and other faulty thinking. For example, a contributor to an online bird forum wrote that “Costa Rica is about the size of West Virginia but has more bird species than all of North America. Over 850 species.” Hmmm! When he was informed by me that he must not have included Mexico (or Central America) which has, mas o menos, 1060 species, he replied “Yes, I meant North of the Mexican border.” Hmmm and then some, again! This led me to ponder whether Mexico is or should ever be considered by some to be “the other North America.”

Based on geography and geology that is decidedly not the case. North America which is the northern continent of the Western Hemisphere is comprised of Greenland, the Arctic Archipelago, Canada, the USA, Mexico, Central America, and (somewhat subject to debate) either some or all of the archipelagos and islands of the Caribbean. The world’s 14th largest country by area, geologically speaking, the vast majority of Mexico lies in the North American plate.

Geopolitically, Mexico, having the world’s 11th most populated country with a population of around 111,000,000, is the world’s 14th largest gross domestic product (GDP), and being the 10th most visited by international travelers is the second largest country in the continent and is wholly considered to be part of North America. This is evidenced by Mexico’s inclusion, along with Canada and the USA, in the trilateral trade block agreement of 1994 known as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Interestingly, NAFTA superseded the 1988 bilateral Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement.

However, Canada, the USA, and Mexico sometimes are referred to in ways other than of belonging to “North America.” Although not necessarily accurate (nor politically correct), Canada and the USA have been labeled as “Anglo-America.” Whereas, Mexico is latitudinally included as a part of “Middle America” which most often (as there sometimes are other configurations of it such as the inclusion of Columbia and Argentina) is said to comprise all of Central America and the West Indies.

Far and away, Mexico is the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world; Spain is a distant second. As such, based on its linguistic roots and its colonial history (along with its Catholic tradition), Mexico is also considered to be a member of an entity, Latin America, that encompasses both North American and South American countries. In addition to Mexico, Latin America consists of all countries in Central America,(controversially again) all of the Caribbean, and the entire continent of South America. In fact, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), a United Nations agency which among its tourism-related responsibilities collects and compiles statistical information on international tourism, lists Mexico as being in the regional market of Latin America rather than that of North America.

How do Mexicans view themselves? Arguably, citizens of the US consider themselves to first be American and citizens of Canada (with more than likely the exception of many French-speaking residents of Quebec) view themselves to first be Canadian and then belonging to North America. On the other hand, generally speaking, people in Mexico most readily identify themselves as belonging first to their municipality, then to their state, then to their region, and lastly to be Mexicana/o (with one exception perhaps being when the national football/soccer team is playing an international match). Hence, to Mexicana/o hoi polloi continental identity is not of primary importance.

Yet, many Mexicans do not acknowledge people from the US to be “Americans” (at least they are hardly ever referred to as such) but rather as an extension to the commonly spoken “gringo,” meaning primarily English speakers from the US, Americans (and Canadians if a distinction is actually being made) are referred to as being Norteamericanos/North Americans. Even citizens of Mexico who reside, temporarily or permanently, in the US are called by a specific name, Nortenos/Northeners. Heck, this balding, brown-haired, blue-eyed, English-speaking guy from Boston, in addition to having been called “el Gringo” and “el Norteamericano,” has locally been referred to as “ el guero”/blondie and “ojos claros”/light eyes - Go figure!

As for me, I believe that a disservice is being committed if, externally, Mexico is perceived as being anything other than a full-fledged member of North America rather than being assigned as an afterthought to some “other” North American classification; of course, depending on the context, Mexico can be described as also being Middle American or Latin American. By non-Mexicans considering Mexico to be, stated or unstated, “the other North America” smacks of ignorance, arrogance, ethnocentricity, indifference, and/or jingoism. Mexicans have the right, individually or collectively, to self-identify as they please. However, I view Mexico-geographically, geologically, geopolitically, practically- as being totally within North America albeit spicier and with a different, literally and figuratively, accent than their continental northern partners and, oftentimes, “distant neighbors.”

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving
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