By: Jaime Marquez
Mexico, the third largest country in Latin America, after Brazil and Argentina. Although there is little truth to the long-held stereotype of Mexico as a slow-paced land of subsistence farmers, Mexican society is characterized by extremes of wealth and poverty, with a limited middle class wedged between an elite cadre of landowners and investors on the one hand and masses of rural and urban poor on the other.
There is no official religion in Mexico, as the constitution guarantees separation of church and state. However, more than nine-tenths of the population are at least nominally affiliated with Roman Catholicism. The Basilica of Guadalupe, the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico’s patron saint, is located in Mexico City and is the site of annual pilgrimage for hundreds of thousands of people, many of them peasants. Throughout Mexico are thousands of Catholic churches, convents, pilgrimage sites, and shrines.
Because of its vast size and topographic diversity, Mexico has a wide array of climatic conditions. More than half of the country lies south of the Tropic of Cancer. In those areas, tropical maritime air masses from the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, and the Pacific, are attracted by the relatively low pressures that occur over land. The maritime air masses are the main sources of precipitation, which is heaviest from May through August. Northern Mexico is dominated by the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts, and arid and semiarid conditions predominate over much of the Mexican Plateau. Seasonal temperature variations within the tropics are small, often only about 10 °F between the warmest and coolest months. In those areas winter is defined as the rainy rather than the cold season. Elevation is a major climatic influence in most parts of Mexico, and several vertical climatic zones are recognized. From sea level to just over 3,000 feet is the tierra caliente (“hot land”), with uniformly high temperatures.
Public schools in Mexico are funded by the federal government. Although nearly three fourths of all primary public schools are located in rural areas, such schools are the poorest in the country and often do not cover the primary cycle. Many internal migrants move to cities because of the availability of better schools for their children and the social opportunities that derive from an education. In rural areas as well as in many low-income urban areas, teachers need only a secondary education to be certified to teach. Despite increases in the numbers of schoolrooms, teachers, and educational supplies, about one-seventh of all school-age children do not attend school, and almost one-third of adults have not completed primary school.