How the Virgin of Guadalupe embodied Mexican identity and inspired millions, including Pope Francis

2/12/16 Los Angeles Times

Fotos Nuevas Julio 2011

Before his journey to Mexico, Pope Francis had a favor to ask.

Before his first trip as pontiff to a place with more Catholics than any other Spanish-speaking country, where he will surely be mobbed by the thousands night and day, the pope requested something likely to be in short supply — a few minutes alone.

His only company will be perhaps the most revered religious artifact in the Western Hemisphere, a piece of fabric bearing the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

The request for a few minutes by himself with the image was a stunningly personal one from the pope. But he knows the Virgin well, he said, because she has seen him through difficult times.

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A snapshot of Catholics in Mexico, Pope Francis’ next stop

2/10/2016 Pew Research Center

© Mazur/

When Pope Francis, the first Latin American pontiff, arrives in Mexico this week, he will be visiting a country that is home to not only the largest Spanish-speaking population in the world, but one of the biggest Catholic populations, too. Indeed, Mexico has the globe’s second-largest number of Catholics, and a larger majority of Mexicans have remained tied to their Catholic faith compared with people in many other Latin American countries.

Across Latin America, the portion of people who identify as Catholic has declined considerably in recent decades, from at least 90% in the 1960s to 69% in 2014. This decline is largely due to widespread conversion to Protestant (and especially evangelical) denominations, as well as some people leaving organized religion altogether. But the trend away from Catholicism has been less pronounced in Mexico, where 81% of adults identify as Catholic today, compared with 90% who say they were raised Catholic, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center report.

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Oaxaca’s Native Maize Embraced by Top Chefs in U.S. and Europe

2/11/2016  New York Times

CorncobsANTA ANA ZEGACHE, Mexico — In the birthplace of maize, nobody seemed to need Juan Velasco’s crop.

For a few years, he was unable to sell half of the nutty, orange-colored cobs that he harvested. There is no farmers’ market in this dirt-road village in the central plains of Oaxaca, and middlemen offered such low prices that it made more sense to feed the corn to his sheep.

So two years ago, Mr. Velasco, 46, sold half his land, cutting his holdings to eight acres.

“It was a lot of work, and for what?” he said, tearing maize, or corn, from ragged stems growing between rows of pumpkins one winter afternoon. “You invest, and you don’t make money.”

Now, though, Mr. Velasco says he plans to expand to meet demand from an unexpected source. In New York, Los Angeles and beyond, a taste for high-quality Mexican food and its earthy centerpiece, the handmade tortilla, has created a small but growing market for the native, or landrace, corn that is central to life in these plains and to Mexican identity.

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Is Mexico The Top Destination For Expats Living In Latin America?

2/4/2016 Forbes

mexico-flagOver the last few years Mexico has emerged as a major hub of in-migration for professionals from the U.S., the UK, Spain, India, and China. According to HSBC’s 2015 Expat Survey, Mexico is the best place in Latin America for expat professionals looking to live abroad. Overall Mexico ranks 19th in the survey, well ahead of Argentina (35th) and Brazil (39th). Mexico is only three spots behind the U.S. (16th overall) in HSBC’s ranking. Mexico scores particularly well in the “Experience” category (9th overall) with top marks for culture and ease of integration. Overall Mexico ties for second place for ease of making friends. Nearly 4 in 5 survey respondents say they enjoy socializing with locals and 82% of respondents report enjoying cooking and eating Mexican cuisine.

Mexico’s economy is deeply divided but it offers far more opportunities for well-educated foreign-born professionals than locals born in poor, rural areas.

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Mexico Finally Recognized Its Black Citizens, But That’s Just The Beginning

1/27/2016 The Huffington Post


Last month, for the first time ever, the Mexican government recognized its 1.38 million citizens of African descent in a national survey. The survey served as a preliminary count before the 2020 national census, where “black” will debut as an official category.

A major force behind the government’s recognition was México Negro, an activist group founded in 1997 by Sergio Peñaloza Pérez, a school teacher of African descent. México Negro works for, among other initiatives, the constitutional recognition of Afro-Mexicans and to increase the visibility of Afro-Mexican culture.

The Huffington Post recently caught up with Peñaloza to discuss his organization, why recognition matters and what’s next for black Mexicans.

The Black Mexican Agenda

“We have been working for twenty years without much government response, so the events of the past year have been huge progress for us,” Peñaloza told The Huffington Post on the phone from his home in Cuajinicuilapa, Guerrero.

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Bookstore challenges ‘narco culture’ in hotbed of Mexico’s drug war

1/19/2015 The Guardian 

2549674296_25f954288f_nOver recent years, the sun-baked streets of Apatzingán have seen assassinations, kidnappings and blazing gun battles as armed vigilantes rose up against the cartel gunmen who once controlled this conflictive corner of Mexico’s Michoacán state.

So it’s probably not the kind of town you would expect to find a gleaming new bookshop and arts centre stacked with works that include Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, studies on the philosophy of Hegel and the works of Mexican author Octavio Paz. Just as unlikely seeming are the store’s stated goals: to promote peace and help restore the social fabric through books and music.

The highbrow publishing house and book retailer Fondo de Cultura Ecónomica (FCE) set up shop in the town this year as part of a government crime-prevention strategy pushed by President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Skeptics have questioned the value of promoting literature in a region where rule of law is not enforced and basic services are patchy, but Socorro Venegas, FCE director for children and young people, argued that the arts can play an important role in any setting. “Speaking of a culture of peace is important in any place,” she said.

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Study: Mexico Violence So Extreme It’s Causing Male Life Expectancy To Drop

1/20/2016 The Huffington Post 

(AP) — A new study suggests that Mexico’s drug violence was so bad at its peak that it apparently caused the nation’s male life expectancy to drop by several months.

Experts say the violence from 2005-2010 partly reversed decades of steady gains, noting that homicide rates increased from 9.5 homicides per 100,000 people in 2005 to more than 22 in 2010. That has since declined to about 16 per 100,000 in 2014.

The study published Tuesday in the American journal Health Affairs says “the increase in homicides is at the heart” of the phenomenon, though deaths due to diabetes may have also played a role.

“The unprecedented rise in homicides after 2005 led to a reversal in life expectancy increases among males and a slowdown among females in most states,” according to the study, published by Jose Manuel Aburto of the European Doctoral School of Demography, UCLA’s Hiram Beltran-Sanchez and two other authors.

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