Multiculturalism

Baja's population consists largely of mestizos, individuals of mixed indigenous and European heritage, mostly immigrants or descendants of immigrants from mainland Mexico. But you'll also notice the peninsula has its share of fair-skinned, light-haired Mexicans. This is due partially to Baja's proximity to the USA, but also to the number of English and other European immigrants who came to the region in the late 1800s (see p29).

Baja's 1500 or so remaining indigenous people, often known by the generic term Cochimí (after the now extinct peoples of the Desierto Central), live mainly in the Sierra San Pedro Mártir, the Sierra de Juárez and the lowlands near the Río Hardy (near Mexicali). They belong to groups including the Tipai, Paipai, Kiliwa, Cucupah (Cucapá) and Kamia, but few follow the traditional subsistence economy of hunting and gathering. Nearly all speak Spanish, but indigenous languages are still common among the Tipai, Paipai and Cucupah.

In the 19th century, Baja's first fishing villages, ranchos and secular towns appeared, along with mining operations that attracted fortune-seekers from around the world. Many established bajacalifornianos are descendants of settlers whose roots were in mainland Mexico or in other parts of the world - some trace their ancestry to the USA, southern and northern Europe, and even China. Thanks to these enclaves, unexpected surnames like Smith, Jones and even Crosthwaite and McLish are not unusual on the peninsula.

Mexicali has a small but visible Chinese population (see p132), and a group of Russian pacifist refugees left their cultural print in the Valle de Guadalupe (p109), near Ensenada. The French even had their stay in and around the central Baja town of Santa Rosalía (p166).

The past decade has seen the influx of large numbers of indigenous people from central Mexico to the city of Tijuana in particular, often as a staging point for crossing the US border. Thousands of Mixtecs from rural Oaxaca (a state in southern Mexico) have settled in the San Quintín area, driven there by poverty and the attraction of farming jobs, despite relatively low wages.

Tossed into this continually changing cultural landscape are the Americans and Canadians (and a few Europeans) who have been steadily buying property along the coast. They make up a small percentage of Baja's population, but the number is growing as real estate moguls and smalltime investors do everything they can to attract foreign homebuyers.

Recent large-scale developments, such as Puerto Los Cabos (p229) near San José del Cabo, have forced local populations from their land and homes. Not surprisingly, it foments deep resentment both toward foreigners buying land and towards the Mexican developers selling it off to the yanquis (Americans). On the flip side, tourism in Baja California has given the peninsula one of the country's highest standards of living and most locals are wonderfully welcoming toward foreigners.

THE BORDER BY NUMBERS

■ 1952 - length in miles of the US-Mexico border

■ 105 - approximate miles of existing fence along the US-Mexico border

■ 700 - miles of new fence promised for the border by President George Bush

■ 9790 - number of Border Patrol agents working along the US-Mexico border

■ 6000 - number of new agents to be added under the US Secure Fence Act by 2008

■ 2500 - average price in US dollars a coyote charges to smuggle a person across the border by car

■ 1,171,428 - number of illegal crossers apprehended by Border Patrol agents in 2005*

■ 95,718,829 - value in US dollars of seizures along the US-Mexico border in 2005*

■ 473 - number of migrant deaths along US-Mexico border in 2005**

■ 330 - number of migrant deaths along US-Mexico border in 2004**

■ 350 million - approximate number of people crossing the US-Mexico border each year*

*US Department of Homeland Security

**Migration Policy Institute (www.migrationinformation.org)

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