Join Active Minds for an in-depth look at our neighbor to the south. We will cover Mexican history and recent events as we seek to understand how this country fits in the regional puzzle of North, Central and South America. We will examine key issues in Mexican relations with the U.S. including immigration, trade relations and border security.

Key Lecture Points

  • Mexican history has remarkable pre-Colombian roots, including the Olmec, Mayan and Aztec civilizations.  That said, after the arrival of Spaniard Hernan Cortes in 1519 the land would begin to take on its European story.
  • The push for Mexican independence from Spain, begun in 1810 Hidalgo’s Rebellion culminated in 1821 with a sovereign Mexico, supported by the US.
  • From 1846-48, the Mexican-American War pitted a politically divided and militarily unprepared Mexico against the expansionist administration of US President James Polk, who believed the US had a Manifest Destiny to spread across the continent to the Pacific Ocean.  Mexico lost nearly half of its territory, resulting in a simmering resentment of the US.
  • Following the War of Reform, the liberal Benito Juarez became president in 1857.  To address economic problems, he suspended payment on foreign debt.  Napoleon III of France took this opportunity to insert Maximilian of Austria as emperor of Mexico.  Mexican forces defeated the French at Puebla de Los Angeles May 5, 1861.  Although this Mexican victory did not ultimately stop the French from putting Maximilian on the throne, it continues to be a powerful symbol of Mexico’s ability to defend its sovereignty and is celebrated as Cinco de Mayo.
  • 20th Century Mexican politics were dominated by one political party, the PRI and a closer economic relationship with the US, including the signing of NAFTA in 1994.  Since 1994, trade between Mexico, Canada and the US has quadrupled, from $290 billion in 1993 to over $1.2 trillion today.  The future of NAFTA has been called into question since the election of Donald Trump in 2016.
  • As Presidential elections in Mexico approach (July 2018), the frontrunner is Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador who is seen by many Mexicans as someone who will “stand up” to Trump and his negative comments about Mexico.  If Obrador wins, it is likely relations between the US and Mexico will be even more confrontational.

Exploration Questions

  • Other countries are fighting drug trafficking (ex. Afghanistan).  What is similar with Mexico?  What is different?
  • The Mexican War of 1846-1848 was a pivotal event for both the US and Mexico.  Why?
  • What are the major issues in the immigration debate from the US and from the Mexican perspective?
  • What are the major issues in the NAFTA negotiations?

Reflective Questions

  • Have you ever lived in or visited a border city—either with Mexico or Canada?  How would you describe the commercial and social interplay of moving across international borders?
  • What do you think it would be like to start a new life as an emigrant in a different country?  What would be challenges?  What would drive you to immigrate to another country?
  • Do you think NAFTA has been good for the US economy? Why? Why not?

More to Explore

  • General information about Mexico Click here
  • News releases and reports about Mexican current events Click here

Books for Further Reading

  • Blake, James Carlos. The Friends of Pancho Villa.  Grove Press, 2017. 272 pages.  In this novel the author portrays Pancho Villa and lets the reader experience the Mexican Revolution through his eyes.
    Click here to order
  • Lozano, Luis-Martin, Juan Rafael Coronel Rivera. Diego Rivera: The Complete Murals. Taschen, 2018. 640 pages. This book provides a comprehensive study of Rivera’s oeuvre, including photographs of his works and scholarly essays on his life and art.
    Click here to order
  • Dugard, Martin. The Training Ground: Grant, Lee, Sherman and Davis in the Mexican War, 1846-1848. Little, Brown and Company, 2008.446 pages. This book tells the story of a group of West Point graduates, including Grant, Lee, Sherman and Davis, who fought together in the Mexican War and against each other in the US Civil War.
    Click here to order
  • Gaynor, Tim. Midnight on the Line: The Secret Life of the U.S. Mexico Border. Thomas Dunne Books, 2009. 304 pages. Gaynor shows the realities of life along the border—from the perspective of the Mexican families crossing the border and the Border Patrol agents patrolling the border.
    Click here to order