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These forests "loose their leaves during the dry winter but are lush and verdant in the summer rainy season" (Lewis 82).
Some of the varieties of flora in these regions include the pink trumpet, cardinal sage and the spider lily. Along the dry Pacific coastal plain, from the southern end of the Sonora desert to the state of Guerrero, the predominant vegetation is thorny bushes and small trees, including morning glory, acacias and savanna. Some of this flora occurs naturally, while others occur on over-grazed grasslands or abandoned slash-and-burn farmlands. Patches of semi-deciduous tropical forest reach almost to the sea near the Guerrero-Michoacan border. The coastal lagoons that dot the Pacific coast are home to dense mangrove forests that have thick, leathery leaves and small seasonal flowers.
As to the fauna, many animals can be found living among the lowland plains and along the edges of the vast mountainous areas both north and south. Creatures such as raccoons, armadillos, skunks, rabbits and many varieties of both poisonous and non-poisonous snakes are very common. Of course, many species of reptiles are here too, such as the gecko, collared lizards, gila monsters and horned toads. Black and green iguanas are also common along the entire Mexican coast. These two reptiles, prized for their tender meat, have been over-hunted, especially in Guerrero and Oaxaca, almost to point of extinction; however, "through the efforts of conservationists and the Mexican government, most of the iguana species are now protected.
The Pacific coast is among the world's chief breeding ground for the sea turtle, another endangered species. Dolphins can often be spotted off the coast as can gray, humpback and blue whales, especially from November to March; sting rays and the larger Pacific manta ray are found here as well. Tide pools often harbor sea anemones, urchins, octopi, starfish, sea slugs and a vast assortment of crabs. In addition, the "most obvious plants in these rocky shores are red, green and brown algae... A major food source for many larger sea animals" (Moore 100). Also, in the coastal lagoons, especially in the south, crocodiles can still be found, yet their numbers have dwindled greatly, due to being almost hunted to extinction.
The lagoons and wetlands of the Pacific coast also contain hundreds of species of native and migratory birds that come from as far as Alaska each winter. There are also parrots and parakeets, loons, grebes, frigatebirds, herons, hawks, falcons, sandpipers, swifts and ibises, just to name a few. In Oaxaca, it is not uncommon for ospreys to be seen soaring high above the ocean cliffs.
The climate of Mexico varies greatly, due to its considerable north to south extension and the variations in its altitudes. The Tropic of Cancer which demarcates the northern edges of the tropics bisects the country just north of Mazatlan. However, it is inaccurate to view northern Mexico as temperate and southern Mexico as tropical, for in fact the country is divided into three climatic vertical zones, being the tierra caliente (hot land), tierra templada (temperate land) and tierra fria (cold land). For example, in the tierra templada, one can find "the warm, temperate rain forests, where the life forms of the major trees are the broad-leaved evergreen which reach as far down as Brazil" (Moore 48).
The tierra caliente runs from sea level to approximately 1,000 meters in altitude and includes all of the coastal plains, the Yucatan peninsula, Baja California, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and the north-central portion of the Mesa del Norte. The mean annual temperature in this zone is twenty-four to twenty-seven degrees Celsius but it is not uncommon in some low-lying areas for temperatures to exceed thirty-eight degrees Celsius.
Except in the Mesa del Norte, the variation in temperatures between summer and winter is relatively small in the tierra caliente. Rainfall varies tremendously among the different areas -- the Tabasco plain, the nation's wettest region, receives in excess of 200 centimeters of rain annually, while Baja California, the northern Pacific coastal lowlands and the north-central Mesa del Norte are all extremely dry, receiving no more than 40 centimeters of rain in a year.
The tierra templada is basically the highland valleys that range from about 1,000 to 2,000 meters in altitude. This zone has the most favorable climate and the mean annual temperatures range from eighteen to twenty-four degrees Celsius. Nights are often much cooler but there is only a small temperature variation between the summer and winter months. In southern Mexico, May is often the warmest, for the heavy afternoon rains during the months of June to September moderates the summer temperatures.
The tierra fria which begins above 2,000 meters averages some five degrees Celsius cooler than the tierra templada. Summer temperatures are rarely hot in this zone and frost during winter nights is not uncommon. But in the northern mountainous regions, the temperatures vary greatly, due to the extreme altitudes.
It is estimated that only about one-eighth of Mexico's territories receives adequate rainfall year round. About one-half of the territory is deficient during the dry season and south of Tampico, the prevailing winds are northeast trade winds that emanate from the Gulf of Mexico. Along the Gulf coast during the winters, strong, cold, northerly winds called nortes are common and can often be quite destructive. The Caribbean and Gulf coasts are also subject to hurricanes during the summer and autumn months.
As to the ethnic categories of Mexico, anthropologists have traditionally divided it into two categories, being the Indian and the Mestizo. North of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec the term mestizo was used for many years, while south of the isthmus, especially in the state of Chiapas, those of mixed Indian-Hispanic heritage were called Ladinos. However, in the Yucatan peninsula, the concept of metizo had a completely different meaning, for it referred to the indigenous Maya; thus, as anthropologist Julian Pitt-Rivers states "it was virtually impossible to make any statement about Indians or Mestizos that was applicable nationwide, for these concepts referred to highly qualitative and heterogeneous ethnic categories" (Ehrlich 214). In the 1980's, the terms indio (Indian) and mestizo continued to be used colloquially despite their varying connotations. In common language, indio was usually a term of denigration and in official language, Mexico prided itself on being the heir of two civilizations and a culture that was a combination of both. This was, and still is, based on the achievements of the Olmecs, Zapotecs, Toltecs and the Maya that culminated in the rise and fall of the Aztecs.
Also, during the 1980's, it was thought that it was still possible to find ethnic groups that were the direct descendants of the pre-Hispanic Indian societies; however, Mexican anthropologist Gonzalo Beltran strongly opposed this over-simplified view, for he suggested that "Indian societies lived mainly in the regions of refuge, made up of a number of villages as a rational defensive reaction to hundreds of years of abuse and exploitation" (Pielou 145).
The mestizo, for the most part, is a person of mixed blood, the offspring of white and Indian parents; however, since it was first used in the 16th century, this term has changed radically. During colonial times, mestizos always occupied the lower ranks of the dominant society and the term was basically a racial concept that served to distinguish between pure white stock of the Spanish conquerors and that of their offspring from Indian women, but since this time, the racial connotations gradually lessened and mestizo became an ethnic category. More recently, "it is used to emphasize the non-Indian social and cultural characteristics of Mexican society, and nowadays, many acculturated Indians call themselves mestizo" (Pielou 214).
Within the last twenty years or so, groups of distinguished Mexican scholars have rethought the very nature of Mexican society in relation to these ethnic diversities. One of these scholars, Jose Vasconcelos, played a very important role, for he stressed "the uniqueness of Mexican society as a result of the positive contributions of diverse racial stocks, creating what he termed a "cosmic race" (Lockwood 232). By the 1990's, the concept of mestizo, as well as that of its equivalent the ladino, had practically disappeared from the non-academic lexicon. When used today, it is assumed that the majority of Mexican society is metizo; thus, it has become one of the most distinctive sociological elements of Mexico and a good number of modern-day Mexicans acknowledge this with much pride.
In conclusion, despite its proximity to the United States, Mexico is often viewed through misconceptions and stereotypes. The impression that all of Mexico is hot and dry and made up of mostly rural societies is quite outmoded, for in truth it contains icy mountain peaks as found in the Sierra Madre systems, lush jungles and agricultural regions as found in the temperate tierra templada, exquisite coastal zones along the Pacific Ocean and Baja California and a great variety of flora and fauna. Thus, Mexico is a very diverse country…[continue]
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