See the home page of the Monitor website for information on why and how to host a World Savvy Salon – the book club for the 21st Century! See also the Classroom Companion Guide in this edition for original articles and discussion ideas for lifelong learning across all disciplines.
- Consider the complexity of US-Mexican relations – in matters ranging from economics and trade to migration, energy, the environment, and security. It may be said that layers of interdependence, asymmetry, neglect, and conflict all exist. What are the challenges to developing a coherent relationship? Can you debunk any misperceptions after reading this edition of the Monitor? How do domestic politics in each country factor into the development of US-Mexican foreign policy? How do unforeseen outside trends and events impact bilateral relations?
- Mexico’s form of government was modeled on that of the US, yet it is considered to be a “flawed democracy” characterized by weak institutions and rule of law. Similarly, its modern economy, developed through a series of structural adjustments mandated by the US and the International Monetary Fund as conditions of loans, is based on free market principles seen in the American economy. Compare and contrast the politics and economies of the two countries. Why did they take different trajectories? What are some often ignored similarities?
- Do you agree with the assertion that Mexico is a “failing” or “failed” state? Why or why not? What does this mean for the US? For Latin America? For the world?
- Unpack the concept of poverty in Mexico – its historical, structural, and modern causes as well as its manifestations. How do these compare with other developing countries around the world? How does the example of Mexico fit into current thinking about development policy – what works and what doesn’t – a subject of much popular debate these days, especially with regard to African countries.
- Do you believe that an “American Union” comprising all of the Americas – North and South – is a viable concept? The example of the European Union is often held up as a model. Is this possible in the Americas? What would have to change in order for this idea to gain traction? What would have to happen to make it work like the EU?
- The Drug Wars in Mexico continue to garner international attention, and show no sign of abating. In fact, June 2009 saw a record number of drug violence-related deaths. How can this complex issue be addressed beyond interdiction and eradication – what are the larger currents at play? How can this crisis be seen as a microcosm of much that ails Mexico and Continental relations?
Books and Readings - Non-Fiction
Opening Mexico: The Making of a Democracy
By Julia Preston and Samuel Dillon
A lively and nuanced account of Mexico’s journey from 70 years of one-party rule to its current “flawed democracy.” New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Preston and Dillon provide highly readable insight into Mexico’s recent history while informing the larger study of democracy and civic participation globally.
First Stop in the New World: Mexico City, The Capital of the 21st Century
By David Lida
A rich and detailed portrait of Mexico City (beyond the guide books), including analysis of contemporary culture, society, and politics. A fascinating look at the one of the world’s largest cities.
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 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 twentieth 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, 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. View the companion 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. 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.