This companion document to the Issue in Focus provides educators with guidance on ways to incorporate the content into classroom teaching. This component is geared toward grades 9-12 teachers, with connections across subjects and disciplines.
Contents of this Classroom Companion include:
Student Readings and Discussion Questions
Below are student readings that provide some insight into contemporary Mexico and discuss some of the most relevant topics covered in the Issue in Focus. Each article is aimed at different age groups or reading levels, and is followed by some selected discussion questions.
“NAFTA – Does the North American Free Trade Agreement really promote free trade?” – An analysis of NAFTA
“The Zapatista Army of National Liberation” – Overview of the Zapatistas and the indigenous rights movement in Chiapas
“Maquiladoras” – Description of the assembly factories that have quickly expanded along the US-Mexican border since the creation of NAFTA
Lesson Ideas and Curriculum
This portion of the guide contains some suggestions for possible lesson plans and activities to teach students about contemporary Mexico – across the disciplines. For complete lesson plans and curriculum, see the recommended curriculum units listed at the end of this section.
- Timeline – Use the timeline to examine how the histories of Mexico and the United States have been connected over time. Have students created side by side charts of major historical events in US and Mexican history. Where have the histories of the two nations overlapped, and why? What historical trends do you seen taking shape in each country, and why? What can you glean from the relationship between the two countries from comparing the timelines?
- Borders – Recently the US rejected a program that would allow an increase in Mexican trucks transporting goods on US highways to American and Canadian consumers. Have students listen to this NPR story about this issue, from March 17, 2009. Have students use physical and political maps to locate the places and borders detailed in this story. Is safety the only the main area of concern on this issue? Are there policies and programs that could be put in place that would allow Mexican trucks to operate on US highways and adequately prevent key problems from developing?
- Government and Policy – Analyze NAFTA and whether it has been good for any of the countries involved. To begin, use the online pro/con analysis tool from PBS affiliate KQED to assess whether NAFTA has been good for Americans. Use this information and additional research to have students then answer the question, “Is NAFTA good for Mexicans?” Have students simply discuss in class, or prepare their own pro/con template similar to the above online tool. Hold a class debate where some students take on the role of Mexico and some take on the role of the US to discuss whether NAFTA has been beneficial.
- Society and Culture – Compare and contrast the status of indigenous groups in Mexico and those in the United States. What is the history of land rights and redistribution in Mexico, compared to that of the United States? Land reform is at the crux of the battles between the Mexican government and indigenous interests. Why is this the case? What are the agricultural and settlement practices in Mexico that have rendered these relationships between people and the land? What kind of government policies could be implemented that would be most equitable?
- Creative Writing – The corrido is a type of song in Mexican folklorico that flourished during the Mexican War of Independence in the 18th Century. With a rhythm similar to that of the European waltz, these song lyrics carried the news of the day, giving updates on the war throughout the country, from town to town. Since then, the corrido has continued to live up to its form as a storytelling and opinion-giving vehicle. Research this song form and have students attempt writing their own corrido as a reflection of current events.
- Literary Analysis – Choose one of the contemporary novels recommended below, such as Laura Esquival’s Like Water for Chocolate. Use the Issue in Focus to learn more background information about Mexico today, and use this to provide context for the novel. Write a description of the historical events or cultural or social aspects of Mexico that influenced the novel’s setting, story, or characters. How does understanding these aspects of Mexico help you better understand the novel?
- Analytical Writing – Mestizo identity is, by definition, about being of mixed heritage, with multiple cultures or influences. How does Mexican mestizo identity compare to the American version? How does it compare to mixed identities in other nations? Have students reflect on the current American president, Barack Hussein Obama, as an individual of mixed heritage. Why is identity important in elected political leaders? What are the important aspects of identity recognized in recent and past presidents of Mexico?
- Health and Genetics — The region of Oaxaca in Mexico is known as one of the world’s most diverse “bread baskets,” except that its “bread” is made of corn. Sometimes called “The Land of Seven Moles,” its cuisine is rich with diverse and multiple varietals of corn, beans, chiles, cacao, and more. Its cultural life is just as diverse, with more than 16 indigenous tongues being spoken and numerous arts and crafts practiced. Tourists, celebrity chefs, artists, and intellectuals from around the world have traveled to Oaxaca to learn from its rich abundance. As the cradle of domesticated corn, Mexico is host to over 60 known varietals, many of heirloom quality. In 2001, Berkeley researchers David Quist and Ignacio Chapela published findings that genetically-modified (GM) corn or trans-genetically modified corn had entered the Oaxacan corn fields, despite a ban on GM corn into Mexico since 1998. The finding triggered a firestorm of international debate and further research. Find out more about “trans-genes” and how they work. Why are people so concerned about what is happening to the corn in Oaxaca? What is the principle of biodiversity? How does it work and ultimately, what does it mean to preserving life on earth?
- The Environment — Mexico City is sinking, faster than Venice. The city sits on an unstable lakebed, surrounded on three sides by mountains. Without a nearby source of water above ground, Mexico City’s daily water is supplied by a formerly vast, but limited, groundwater supply known as The Mexico City Aquifer. Having increased its population by nearly seven-fold in the last half century, the city’s aquifer has been severely depleted for decades, with no let-up in sight. Pavements and buildings are cracking from the movement ever downward. Underground pipes constantly spring leaks as the surrounding infrastructure sinks. Have students research groundwater in different contexts. How does depleting a groundwater supply contribute to sinkage? Research alternative water supplies for the residents of Mexico City. Ironically, the city also suffers from constant near-floods every year. What kinds of programs and policies could be developed to alleviate their water crisis?
- Economics — In December of 1994, the peso went from 4 pesos to the dollar to 7.2 pesos to the dollar in the space of one week. Help your students calculate what this meant to an average individual’s earnings. Research the details of the Mexican peso crisis. How and when was it resolved? Help your students scale and model mini-economies in two different conditions: (1) fixed currency exchange and (2) floating currency exchange. Consult the following websites for help and resources:
- Know the Numbers — Vote counting is one of the most difficult and contentious issues facing democracies around the world. The 2006 election that brought current President Felipe Calderon into the Mexican presidency was one of the closest races ever. His main rival was Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Research the results of the race and calculate the margin by which Calderon was declared the winner. How did Mexico decide to deal with the calls for recount? How many polling stations and votes were recounted? What percentage of the voting population did that represent? Calculate the number of votes Calderon won as a percentage of the total votes and as a percentage of the estimated total number eligible to vote. Is it a significant margin? What does that say about his support?
- Track a Trend — Have students analyze free trade versus fair trade by looking at coffee cultivation in Mexico. Have students first watch this video from PBS Frontline World. In addition to discussing the main points raised by the piece, help students construct and calculate a financial assessment for the different price points offered by free and fair trade. According to an example from the Frontline segment, fair trade farmers could get $1.26 per pound of coffee beans, as opposed to just $0.20 per pound. Help students understand and assign costs to indirect expenses and the kinds of underlying risks that farmers face in their line of work that may often be overlooked.
Recommended Curriculum Units
These lessons and curricula provide an in-depth look at various issues in Mexico, and offer full lessons ready for the classroom.
The Line Between Us: Teaching about the Border and Mexican Immigration
From Rethinking Schools, this curriculum resource explores the history of US-Mexican relations and the roots of Mexican immigration, all in the context of the global economy. It shows how teachers can help students understand the immigrant experience and the drama of border life. Includes role plays, stories, poetry, improvisations, simulations, and recommended video.
Caught Between Two Worlds: Mexico at the Crossroads
This lesson seeks to bring Mexico’s national identity and history into sharper focus for high school students. Students are asked to see the world through Mexican eyes and to contemplate current Mexican choices in the areas of economic development, political reform, and foreign relations. See www.choices.edu
Population: A Growing Problem
The lesson uses population projections to encourage students to see meaning in the arrangement of things in space; to see relations between people, places, and environments; to use geographic skills; and to apply spatial and ecological perspectives to life situations. The goal is to think about the demographic future of Mexico and to explore the possible ramifications of that future on trade, migration, and urban development. View the lesson online here.
Global Tribe – Mexico
This series from PBS combined travels with exploring global issues; one episode focused on Mexico. Lesson plans to accompany the video clips focus on permaculture (students and youth transforming their local environment), monarch butterflies (impact of environmental change on them), and sea turtles (learning about ecotourism). View the lesson online here.
People and Place: Air Pollution in Mexico City
Lesson plan that includes the factors involved in creating pollution, the effects pollution has on health and well-being, and creating solutions to the problem. View the lesson online here.
Books and Readings – Non-Fiction
The Circuit: Stories from the Life of an Immigrant Child and Breaking Through
By Francisco Jimenez
Both these books are great reads for middle and high school students, and are the memoirs of Francisco Jimenez in which he recounts his childhood immigration from Mexico and subsequent life on the migrant worker circuit in California with his family. The Circuit follows him in his childhood years, and Breaking Through follows him in his teenage years. (Jimenez went on to receive his PhD from Columbia University and head the Language and Literature Department at Santa Clara University.)
Voices from the Fields: Children of Migrant Farm Workers Tell Their Stories
By S. Beth Atkin
This photo-essay about modern fieldworkers is narrated through the voices of children and teenagers whose parents work in California’s agriculture industry. Most voices are Latinos. California author. Most of the poems are written in Spanish and English. Excellent for classroom excerpts at all levels, or for middle schoolers to read in full.
By Judith Alder Hellman
Before the passing of the NAFTA treaty, Judith Alder Hellman went into the homes of ordinary Mexicans and documented her findings in this book. The book brings to life the daily struggles of some Mexicans and draws some thought-provoking conclusions.
By Sonia Nazario
In this astonishing true story, award-winning investigative journalist Sonia Nazario recounts the unforgettable odyssey of a Honduran boy who braves unimaginable hardship and peril, riding the rails through Mexico, to reach his mother in the United States. More info and educational resources for the book on the official website.
Books – Youth and Adult Fiction
By Pam Munoz Ryan
This novel tells of a Mexican girl’s fall from riches and her immigration to California in the 1930s. The story highlights her awareness of Mexico’s post-revolution tensions, the rivalry with Oklahoma Dust Bowl victims, and struggles of Mexican workers trying to organize themselves to ask the US government for better living conditions. Grades 6 through 9.
By Gary Paulsen
A fourteen-year-old boy living on the streets in Juarez, Mexico, is desperate to cross the border into the US, and has a violent, life-changing encounter with an American soldier, who crosses the border for a drunken night in Juarez. For grades 8-12.
Like Water for Chocolate
By Laura Esquivel
This romantic, poignant, mystical tale describes love and family life in Mexico early in the 20th Century. This novel was originally published in Spanish and was a bestseller in Mexico; mature situations are portrayed. Also made into a 1992 feature film.
The Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction
By Alvaro Uribe
Sixteen of Mexico’s finest fiction writers born after 1945 are collected in this compelling bilingual anthology, offering a glimpse of the rich tapestry of Mexican fiction, from small-town dramas to tales of urban savagery. Many of these writers, and most of these stories, have never before appeared in English. Readers will meet an embalmed man positioned in front of the TV, a mariachi singer suffering from mediocrity, a man’s lifelong imaginary friend, and the town prostitute whose funeral draws a crowd from the highest rungs of the social ladder.
By Juan Rulfo
Captures the essence of life in rural Mexico during the last years of the 19th Century, and the beginning of the 20th Century, like no other work of fiction. Here, in a mere 124 pages, the author vividly portrays the radical social and economic changes which spurred the dramatic migration of the campesinos from ranchos and villages to the urban slums, where they could no longer live off the land, nor find work.
A Place Called Chiapas
Nettie Wild travels to the jungles and canyons of southern Mexico to film the elusive and fragile life of the rebellion in Chiapas, led since 1994 by charismatic guerilla poet Subcommandante Marcos with the aim of regaining their lives and land. Her camera effectively captures the personal stories behind a very public class of traditional culture and globalization.
Film follows in the footsteps of two friends traveling on an extraordinary and extremely dangerous journey from Central America to North America. They navigate real-life nightmares with uncanny calm, grace and even humor in their perilous pursuit of a better life.
This documentary looks at the Zapatista National Liberation Army and the uprising they began in Chiapas after NAFTA comes into effect and threatens their way of life. It is the story of a Mayan peasant rebellion armed with sticks and their word against a first world military. It is the story of a global movement that has fought 175,000 federal troops to a standstill and transformed Mexican and international political culture.
In this 2006 documentary, the filmmaker gave several female workers in Tijuana’s factories video cameras to make a record of their lives. The women’s stories reveal their experiences with issues such as poor wages, losing jobs to globalization, environmental hazards, and becoming grassroots activists to challenge the illegal tactics of powerful transnational corporations. View the companion website here.
The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo
This 2005 documentary from PBS is about the life and times of Frida Kahlo, exploring her art and personal life. The website includes three great lesson plans to accompany the film. View the website here.
Al Otro Lado: To the Other Side
The proud Mexican tradition of corrido music – captured in the performances of Mexican band Los Tigres del Norte and the late Chalino Sanchez – provides both heartbeat and backbone to this rich examination of songs, drugs and dreams along the US/Mexico border. Al Otro Lado follows Magdiel, an aspiring corrido composer from the drug capital of Mexico, as he faces two difficult choices to better his life: to traffic drugs or to cross the border illegally into the United States. Also includes an educators guide along with suggested readings. View the companion website here.
Websites and Multimedia
Mexico: Crimes at the Border
A New York Times and Frontline/World collaborative investigation on the business of human smuggling at the US-Mexico border. The site includes a video, interviews, maps, and an immigration timeline. View the website here.
Link TV broadcasts programs that aim to provide a unique perspective on international news, current events, and diverse cultures, presenting issues not often covered in the US media. There are over a dozen short programs on topics related to Mexico. View the website here.
National Geographic’s Mexico page includes historical and contemporary information, videos, maps, and music. View the website here.
All about Mexico
The History Channel’s Mexico page includes history, fun facts, videos, games, facts and figures and a lot of other helpful information. View the website here.
Activities described in this Classroom Companion correspond to the following national standards from McREL (Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning).
World History Standards:
Era 6: Global Expansion and Encounter, 1450-1770
- Understands how large territorial empires dominated much of Eurasia between the 16th and 18th Centuries
Era 8: A Half-Century of Crisis and Achievement, 1900-1945
- Understands reform, revolution, and social change in the world economy of the early 20th Century
Era 9: The 20th Century Since 1945: Promises and Paradoxes
- Understands major global trends since World War II
World History Across the Eras
- Understands long-term changes and recurring patterns in world history
World History Topics:
- Colonial economic life and labor systems
- Cultural continuity and change
- Cultural diffusion, adaptation, and interaction
- Cultural perspectives
- Government and the economy
- International diplomacy and relations
- Latin American independence in the 19th Century
- Legacy of classical civilizations and ideals
- Resistance and revolution in the early 20th Century
- Transformations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, 1920’s-1930’s
- Transformations in the 19th Century Americas
- Understand and know how to analyze chronological relationships and patterns
- Understands the historical perspective
1. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process
2. Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing
3. Uses grammatical and mechanical conventions in written compositions
4. Gathers and uses information for research purposes
5. Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process
7. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts
- Understands relationships among organisms and their physical environment
- Environmental Issues
- Conservation of Matter and Energy
- Interdependence of Organisms
- Populations and Ecosystems
1: Uses a variety of strategies in the problem-solving process
6: Understands and applies basic and advanced concepts of statistics and data analysis
9: Understands the general nature and uses of mathematics