Southward from its 1,500 mile long border with the United States lies
the Estados Unidos Mexicanos. A country with slightly more than 750,000 square
miles in area, Mexico has a vast array of mineral resources, limited
agricultural land, and a rapidly growing population. These factors are the basis
for many of the country's present problems as well as opportunities for future
development. The nation is struggling to modernize its economy. With more than
80 million people in the mid-1980s, Mexico's overall population density exceeds
110 per square mile. More than half of its inhabitants live in the country's
central core, while the arid north and the tropical south are sparsely settled.
The stereotype of Mexico is that it is a country with a population
consisting mainly of subsistence farmers has little validity. Petroleum and
tourism dominate the economy, and industrialization is increasing in many parts
of the nation. Internal migration from the countryside has caused urban centers
to grow dramatically: more than two thirds of all Mexicans now live in cities.
Mexico City, with a metropolitan area population of approximately 16 million
people, is the largest city in the world. While still low by United States
standards, the nation's gross national product per capita rose significantly
during the 1970s. Despite impressive social and economic gains, since 1981
Mexico has been wracked by severe inflation and an enormous foreign debt brought
on in large part by precipitous declines in the value of petroleum products.
Geologically, Mexico is located in one of the Earth's most dynamic areas.
It is a part of the "Ring of Fire," a region around the Pacific Ocean
highlighted by active volcanism and frequent seismic activity. Within the
context of plate tectonics, a theory developed to explain the creation of major
landform features around the world, Mexico is situated on the western, or
leading, edge of the huge North American Plate. Its interaction with the Pacific,
Cocos, and Caribbean plates has given rise over geologic time to the Earth-
building processes that created most of Mexico. Towering peaks, like
Citlaltepetl at some 18,000 feet, are extremely young in geologic terms and are
examples of the volcanic forces that built much of central Mexico. The
spectacular eruption of the volcano Chinchon in 1981 w...
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...ch of central and southern Mexico
and had established their capital at Tula in the Mesa Central. They also built
the city of Teotihuacan near present-day Mexico City. At about the same time,
the Zapotecs controlled the Oaxaca Valley and parts of the Southern Highlands.
The cities they built at Mitla and Monte Alban remain, though they were taken
over by the Mixtecs prior to the arrival of the Spanish.
When the Spanish arrived in central Mexico, the Aztecs controlled most
of the Mesa Central through a state tribute system that extracted taxes and
political servility from conquered tribal groups. The Aztecs migrated into the
Mesa Central from the north and fulfilled a tribal prophesy by establishing a
city where an eagle with a snake in its beak rested on a cactus. This became the
national symbol of Mexico and adorns the country's flag and official seal. The
Aztecs founded the city of Tenochtitlan in the early 1300s, and it became the
capital of their empire. The Tlaxcalans to the east, the Tarascans on the west,
and the Chichimecs in the north were outside the Aztec domain and frequently
warred with them. The nation's name derives from the Aztecs' war god, Mexitli.