Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil

The Two Biggest Myths About Mexico

July 18th, 2012 | Posted by Ian in The Places We'll Go

When we tell people about our travel plans, they are almost uniformly concerned about Mexico. The American media, in its usual sensationalism, has managed to help perpetuate some stubborn stereotypes about our neighbor to the south, and most of our countrymates have a negative impression of a nation that is actually a leader in our region and increasingly on the global stage. A lot of misconceptions come up, but two are overwhelmingly common:

Myth Number One: All of Mexico is dangerous

We all know that as a whole Mexico has higher rates of violent crime than the United States, thanks to the strong presence of drug cartels in some parts of the country. What you may not be aware of, however, is that the centers of violence in Mexico tend to be highly localized. A recent report estimates that only about 80 of Mexico’s 2,500 municipalities (somewhat equivalent to a county in the United States, or parish if you are a crazy Cajun) are strongly affected by ongoing drug violence. Those municipalities are overly represented in the northern half of Mexico, especially near the border, and are known and documented, making it a fairly simple affair to just not go to those places. This sample of stats might be illuminating:

  • New Orleans, St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit, Newark, Oakland, Washington D.C., Kansas City, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Cleveland have higher murder rates than the overall rate in Mexico (based on statistics from the FBI and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime).
  • In 2010, Mexico City had 8.3 homicides per 100,000 people. Miami’s rate was 14.1, and Chicago’s was 16.1.
  • The homicide rate in Jamaica, another popular American travel destination, is nearly three times as high as in Mexico.

A vibrant and robust group of expatriates, both American and otherwise, call Mexico home and are quite vocal in defending their adopted country. Those living there seem to think it’s not such a bad place. In short, there are an endless number of places to travel in Mexico without being anywhere close to an inordinate amount of danger. Just like anywhere else, one should always take caution, avoid going out at night in unknown areas, avoid being flashy, and be careful about how much one drinks, but feel free to leave your heightened sense of danger at home.

Myth Number Two: All of Mexico is poor

Mexico has the 14th largest economy in the world, according to the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank. Their GDP per capita (based on purchase power parity) is close to $15,000, which is around 60th in the world. The richest man in the world, Carlos Slim, is from Mexico City. It’s not northern Europe or an Asian tiger, and both poverty and inequality remain problems, but Mexico has a respectable economy and is steadily growing in stature. Contained within its borders are a thriving manufacturing industry and good transportation infrastructure, not to mention an amazing array of history, culture, ecology, food, landscapes, archaeology, cuisine, art, and people.

Do you have any thoughts or experiences to share? We’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments below.

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