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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...

... middle of paper ... 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.

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