Is Mexico Part of North America or Central America?
The Americas are a vast region containing 35 countries. These are divided into different regions based on language, geography, and history. Since the majority of countries south of the United States speak Spanish, they are often labeled Latin America or South America. However, there are more subcategories, one of which is Central America. The question is: is Mexico considered part of North America or Central America?
To understand whether Mexico is part of Central America or not, we need to first define regions in the Americas.
Many people think Latin America includes every country south of the United States. However, it’s a bit more complex than that. Latin America, while confined to the geographical region of the Americas, includes only countries that:
- speak a Romance language (Spanish, French, and Portuguese)
- were (or are) ruled by a country that speaks a Romance language
- To learn more, read our post on the countries in Latin America!
According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, North America includes all the countries from Canada and Greenland to the Caribbean islands and down to Panama. The border between Panama and Colombia marks the Separation between North and South America.
The South American continent starts with the Panamanian-Colombian border and extends south to Chile and Argentina.
Central America is not a separate continent, but a regional distinction describing the isthmus that connects North and South America. This region is part of North America geographically, but it has its own defining culture and history.
According to these definitions, Central America is part of North America. So, the question remains: “is Mexico part of Central America?”
Geographical and Historical Influences
The short answer to this question is no. Mexico is not part of Central America. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica:
“Central America, southernmost region of North America, lying between Mexico and South America and comprising Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Belize.”
But why isn’t Mexico part of Central America?
Central America is a connecting isthmus. This isthmus arguably starts with the isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico (line 3 in the image below), which would mean that a small portion of Mexico is in Central America. Since that is only a tiny part of Mexico, the country is not part of Central America.
As you can see from the image, the seven countries of Central America share geographical similarities. Almost every country has coasts on both oceans, and they are relatively small. They also have similar climates (tropics and mountains) and volcanic topography.
Just as Central America shares a similar climate and terrain, the region also has a united history. In 1821, the Central American countries, with the exception of Panama, formed the Federal Republic of Central America. (Belize has been declared as part of Guatemala on and off since this time, so it was not a recognized state of the Federal Republic.)
This Republic did not include Mexico, and it actually merged with the Empire of Mexico from 1822-1823. However, they soon reestablished themselves as their own entity. In 1840, the Federal Republic of Central America became the independent nations we know today.
A Similar But Distinct History
The history of the Federal Republic of Central America shows that while Mexico and Central America share a common language, there has always been a distinction between the two areas.
If we go back to the indigenous civilizations, the Aztec empire was fully located in modern-day Mexico. Even the Mexican flag illustrates the influence the Aztecs have had on modern Mexican culture. The Mayan empire, though, stretched from the southernmost part of Mexico into Central America. Even today, Guatemala is considered the heart of the Mayan civilization. Since the beginning, there has been a distinction in ruling between Mexico and Central America.
The same type of division can be seen during the centuries of Spanish rule. The Spanish divided their kingdom into New Spain (from the U.S. to the border of Panama) and New Granada (from Panama to South America). Spain divided New Spain into different governing territories in present-day Mexico and Central America. (See map below.)
Even when Mexico and Central America gained independence from Spain, they did so separately. Already divided under Spanish rule, the Mexican Empire and the Central American federation formed after each gained independence.
Current Cultural Differences
Even today, we can see vast differences between Mexico and Central America.
- Although Central America is no longer one nation (plus Panama), there is still a feeling of unity among the nations. Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua are all under the same visa. This means that residents of these nations do not need a passport to travel between countries. Foreigners can travel to these four countries on the same visa without having to renew it.
- Mexico is the only country in Latin America that borders an English-speaking country (the United States). Because of this, Mexico has a unique political and cultural position. The US and Mexico exchange aspects of language, food, and pop culture.
- The issue of immigration gives Mexico a political identity all its own. The issues that Mexico faces are not the same as those that the Central American countries face.
- Because of Mexico’s large size, it is a powerhouse of culture. Mexican movies, music, television, and food flow out of the country and influence the areas around them, including Central America. Mexico and Central America share cultural aspects due to Mexico’s cultural and economic power.
Do Mexicans Consider Themselves to Be Central American?
In general, Mexicans do not identify themselves as being part of Central America. For hundreds of years, there has been a distinction between the peoples of Central America and Mexico. As such, Mexico takes great pride in its unique culture and history. Furthermore, sharing a border with an English-speaking country creates influences and cultural aspects that no other Latin American country has.
While Central Americans can travel freely between countries in their region, it is more difficult to enter Mexico. They require a visa and interview process, which makes the distinction between Central America and Mexico very clear.
Learn the Language
Mexico and Central America have rich, diverse cultures and histories. Just imagine what else there is to discover in the rest of Latin America! One of the best ways to learn more about a country or region is to learn the language they speak. Try a free trial class with one of our amazing Spanish teachers from Guatemala. They can teach you Spanish and give you more insight into the culture and history of Latin America. ¡Aprendamos más sobre latinoamérica!
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