Is Mexico Part of North or Central America?
Have you ever wondered if Mexico is part of North America or Central America?
As a Mexican, that’s a question I get asked a lot. People from North America tend to consider Mexico as part of Central America, while people from Central America tend to consider Mexico as a North American country.
But, what does geography say? And perhaps more importantly, what does culture suggest?
Keep reading to learn all about Mexico’s unique geographic and cultural situation, which continents form the Western Hemisphere, and what geography, culture, and economics say about Mexico’s role in the Americas.
Table of Contents:
- Mexico’s Unique Geographic and Cultural Situation
- What’s a Continent Anyway?
- Geography vs Culture
- What Do Mexicans Think?
- Visit Mexico and Central America To Practice Your Spanish
Mexico’s Unique Geographic and Cultural Situation
Mexico’s a country with a unique history, an eclectic culture that fuses many elements into one, and a particular geographic position that’s special for many reasons. Which makes the question, “is Mexico in Central America?” a bit difficult to answer.
I’ll try to clarify Mexico’s unique geographic and cultural situation to define whether it’s part of North or Central America.
What’s a Continent Anyway?
According to National Geographic, a continent is “one of Earth’s seven main divisions of land.” These seven main divisions are Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America.
Remember that definition when talking about the continents in the Western Hemisphere.
According to the Britannica Encyclopedia, North America is the third largest continent in the world, extending from Alaska and Greenland in the North down to the Isthmus of Panama in the South.
North America thus encompasses Canada, the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, and the Caribbean countries.
However, that same source recognizes that some geographic experts consider that the continent doesn’t end at the Isthmus of Panama but at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which is located in southern Mexico.
According to this vision, Mexico should be included in Central America, a region with which it shares a rich history and cultural elements.
Although South America isn’t part of this discussion, I decided to include it here to give clarity and context to the different arguments.
Keeping with the Britannica Encyclopedia, South America is the fourth largest continent in the world and extends from Colombia in the North to Cape Horn in the South in present-day Chile, getting very close to Antarctica.
The countries that form South America are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
Although some sources include French Guiana, and the Falkland Islands on that list, these aren’t independent countries but overseas territories of France and the UK, respectively.
According to the geographic definition of continent, Central America is not a continent. The name exists to designate the “southernmost region of North America, lying between Mexico and South America.”
Central America includes Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. It stretches over two time zones (Central and Eastern) and has a total population of 54 million (183 million if Mexico’s population were included).
What About Latin America?
This is all great, but what about Latin America? Well, Latin America isn’t a continent but a region defined by cultural (not geographical) elements such as language, religion, and history.
Latin America includes all the countries that were once conquered by Spain and Portugal and nowadays speak either Spanish or Portuguese.
This definition includes island countries such as Cuba and the Dominican Republic and excludes mainland countries such as Suriname and Guyana, which speak Ducth and English respectively.
To learn more about Latin America, read this post about all the countries in Latin America and check this one too which includes the flags of every country and a downloadable map of this fascinating region in the Western Hemisphere.
Geography vs Culture
As you can see, even geographers aren’t sure about where to put Mexico. No, there’s no such continent as Central America, but the region exists.
Some geographers consider it to extend from the Isthmus of Panama in the south to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (in Mexico) in the north. Meaning, that even geographically speaking, at least a southern portion of Mexico should be considered part of Central America.
Let’s now consider what culture says about it.
Common History with Central America
Mexico and Central America share a rich common history. During the three centuries of Spanish colonization, Mexico City was the capital city of New Spain, a viceroyalty that at its height included all of modern Mexico, the southwest United States and Florida, Central America, and several islands in the Caribbean Sea.
Moreover, after achieving independence from Spain, Mexico and the countries that today form Central America were united for a brief period as one huge country extending from California to Panama, as you can see on this map.
So, there’s past common history between Mexico and Central America and a map to prove it. But past history isn’t enough to put them together, as following that logic would mean that California, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, Colorado, and Florida would also be part of Mexico.
Finally, Mexico and Central America also share a rich Mayan heritage, which gives strength to the theory that extends Central America all the way to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico, as all Mexican Mayan sites are located south of Tehuantepec.
Culture Brings Mexico Closer to Central America
If history isn’t enough, perhaps culture makes the difference. Mexico shares a language (Spanish) and religion (Catholicism) with Central America, as well as a corn-based gastronomy evolving around a defining tortilla culture.
These cultural elements are more than what brings together European countries into the European Union for example. One would think that they would be enough for Mexico to consider itself part of Central America. However, as you will see, there are other factors at play here.
Geopolitics and Economics Put Mexico in the Heart of North America
Due to Mexico’s huge land border with the United States and the strong economic relationship between these two countries and Canada thanks to the USMCA, previously known as NAFTA or the North American Free trade agreement, Mexico is geopolitically in North America.
Being that the United States is the largest economy in the world and Mexico its largest trade partner, it’s understandable that Mexico looks to the North more than the South.
What Do Mexicans Think?
As a Mexican myself, I have to admit that I never thought of my country as being part of Central America. Even with all the shared cultural elements discussed above, I was more heavily influenced by contemporary North American pop culture while growing up.
I watched US movies and sports, and listened to North American rock bands. I even visited the US many times, while I never had the opportunity to visit Central America until recently.
I believe that Mexico should develop a stronger relationship with its Central American neighbors and create stronger ties with the region, both economically and culturally.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if Mexico is part of North America or Central America, that’s just a label. The important thing is what these countries can achieve together and how they can improve the lives of their peoples.
Visit Mexico and Central America To Practice Your Spanish
Mexico and the Central American countries are home to extraordinary cultural expressions and natural wonders. Visit them and discover how closely related these countries are—and practice your Spanish while doing so.
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