Population Geography

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This video program features two case studies on countries in Latin America:Mexico: Motive to Migrate and Guatemala: Population and Conquest.

The first case study, Mexico: Motive to Migrate, explores migration both within Mexico and to Mexico's northern neighbor, the United States. A pattern of departure from Mexico's Mesa del Norte is apparent from immigration records. This arid plateau has a poor, agricultural economic base and a depressed silver mining economy. Migration to the United States is common among the people of the rural town of Cedral, located in the heart of the Mesa del Norte, though many migrants return to their homelands after a season or a year in the U.S. 

But not all migrants in Mexico are headed to the U.S. The city of Monterrey, the capital of the border state of Nuevo Leon, has recently experienced a large population influx, growing from 1.7 million to 2.8 million people in the past fifteen years. One of the reasons for this growth is the labor demand created by the expansion of Mexico's manufacturing industries, or maquiladoras.

Maquiladoras are the result of a government program to expand Mexico's role in international trade. Industries relocate to Mexico in exchange for tariffs on the value-added portion of products shipped out of the country. By shipping the parts of a product to Mexican maquiladoras that then complete the assembly of the product, foreign companies are helping to invigorate the economy of the border region.

With the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), migration patterns in Mexico will once again be altered. One result of NAFTA will be the end of governmental price supports for Mexico's agricultural sector. Even as this further impoverishes farmers in the Mesa del Norte, new opportunities will arise as the maquiladoras of northern Mexico begin to locate throughout the north central region, including the community of Cedral. This will help diversify the economy of that region, decrease the unemployment rate, and decrease migration out of the community.

The update to this program includes more of Dr. Richard Jones' research and current trends in Mexican migration, as well as a wealth of new maps showing migration patterns.

The second case study, Guatemala: Population and Conquest, examines the historical geography of Guatemala. The country's history of Spanish conquest began in 1524, when Mayan mountain Indians were subjugated, not for their land or wealth, but to provide the labor needed to create and maintain plantations and haciendas. After Spanish rule was overthrown in 1821, the country lapsed into a period of political turmoil until 1873 when Justo Rufino Barrios redistributed the lands of the Roman Catholic Church and revived the plantation economy. The Mayan Indians were once again exploited as a source of labor, this time by international businesses intent on producing crops such as coffee, sugar, and bananas. The political status of the Mayans deteriorated as land ownership became more concentrated, with three percent of the population controlling two-thirds of the land.

A second attempt at land reform in the 1950s led to a U.S.-backed invasion of Guatemala that overthrew the liberal-democratic government of Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, touching off a civil war. The country continues to experience civil unrest, and many historic homelands of the Mayan Indians are now occupied by the Guatemalan military.

Updates to this case study include new research by Dr. George Lovell as he revisits the family profiled in the original program, explores the difficulties the Maya face in feeding themselves, and examines future population growth of the Maya people.

Find additional resources, including primary source materials, interactives, and downloadable print materials, at: http://www.learner.org/series/powerofplace/page21.html

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