5a. Describe the differences between the rimland and the mainland of Middle America
The division of Middle America into two regions based on location and physical geography is evident in the differing occupational activities and colonial dynamics of the rimland and the mainland. In terms of location, the names of the regions indicate their positions as shown in the map below. The differences in the physical geography of the two regions contributed significantly to the resulting patterns of land use.
Colonists quickly took over the rimland islands and coastal areas, converting them to plantation agriculture. The origins of plantation agriculture are primarily northern European with the goal being efficiency. A single crop is grown for export on a large plot of land. The native AmerIndian population that survived the diseases the colonists brought provided labor during the harvest. Slaves were brought from Africa to provide the remaining labor, thus altering the ethnicity of many parts of the rimland. The rimland became a mix of primarily people of European and African descent.
It took longer for colonists to penetrate the larger mainland region. Because Spain colonized much of this region, they imposed the hacienda style of land use. This system provided the colonists with social prestige through land ownership rather than profits through exports. There was more crop diversity. The native AmerIndian population engaged in subsistence farming to survive. Slaves from Africa were uncommon, thus the ethnicity of the mainland became a mix of people of AmerIndian and European descent.
Review the section on Rimland and Mainland in the Introducing the Realm.
European colonists had a devastating effect on the AmerIndians of Middle America. Within a hundred years, between 84 and 90 percent of the population had died due to disease, warfare, enslavement, and execution. The colonists were eager for immediate profit, looting precious metals and gems and seizing land. Many of the changes the colonists brought with them are evident today:
Mesoamerica is one of the places where civilization began. (The term Mesoamerica, meaning "middle America", is Greek but is reserved for identifying this region as it existed prior to the arrival of Europeans.) Because it was influential in creating customs, innovations, and ideologies, it is considered one of the world's ancient cultural hearths.
The Aztec were in power when the Europeans arrived. Although the Europeans decimated the Aztecs and other AmerIndian groups, the evidence of the Mesoamerican civilizations remains in their descendents and their art and architecture.
Review Introducing the Realm.
In Tenochtitlán, temples, palaces, and public buildings dominated the city center and economic activities occurred on the periphery. The Spanish model places the plaza or marketplace in the center.
The commoners in Aztec society also lived on the urban periphery due to the fact that many were engaged in agricultural activity.
Review Introducing the Realm.
As the eighth largest country in the world, it is not surprising that Mexico's physical geography would vary.
Mexico's varied physical geography makes it home to ten to twelve percent of the world's species.
The following figure illustrates all of Middle America's social structure, including the ethnic groups that comprise each socioeconomic class. Mexico's social structure is also a triangle. Europeans make up nine percent of the total population yet control most of the wealth. Although mestizos make up sixty percent of the total population, not all of them have made it to the middle-class. Many of them join the AmerIndians, who make up about thirty percent of Mexico's population, in the labor base at the bottom.
Review the section on Mexican Social Order in Mexico.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was a treaty between Canada, Mexico, and the United States that was in place from 1994 to 2020. The purpose of NAFTA was to reduce barriers to trade and investment between the three countries and has been beneficial to their respective economies. There have, however, been concerns that the economic growth has favored only some segments of society and that the environment and employment have suffered in some regions.
NAFTA led the United States to build manufacturing plants known as maquiladoras across the border in Mexico to take advantage of cheaper labor. Although maquiladoras provide jobs for Mexicans and cheaper goods to U.S. residents, there are disadvantages to both the workers and the environment. Maquiladoras exploit workers because Mexico's labor laws do not protect them from working longer hours with few benefits. Furthermore, housing and infrastructure are inadequate, causing extensive slum areas to grow around the maquiladoras.
Review the section on NAFTA and Maquiladoras in Mexico.
Mountain ranges, lowlands, and coastal plains characterize the physical landscape of Central America, with mountainous terrain being the most prevalent. Because of the ubiquity of mountain ecosystems, the residents of Central America have adapted their activities based on altitudinal zonation as shown in the following figure. Thus, different crops are grown at different elevations.
The United States' economic and political interests have long affected countries in Middle America.
Although U.S. involvement in Central America has been destructive, it has contributed to the economies of some Central American countries.
Review the section on The Republics: Diverse Political Geography in Central America.
Although these countries are similar in terms of their physical landscapes and colonial history, their cultural, political, and economic landscapes vary.
In addition to these examples, there are many more similarities and differences between the seven republics of Central America.
Review Central America.
Before construction of the Panama Canal, ships had to travel 12,000 miles to reach New York from San Francisco. Rather than traveling around the southern tip of South America, the Panama Canal made it possible to shorten the trip to 4,000 miles. In addition to easing the transportation of commercial cargo from one coast to the other, the Panama Canal also facilitated international relations with countries in the Pacific. The Panama Canal opened a new corridor between the East and West.
Review the section on Panama and the Panama Canal in Central America.
The effect of colonialism on the Caribbean countries differs somewhat from the other countries in Middle America. In addition to Spain, Great Britain, the Netherlands, France, and the United States colonized the islands of the Caribbean. Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, and Portugal also had a colonial influence. On some islands, there is still an active colonial presence as is the case in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, for example. The language of the colonists is still spoken in many Caribbean countries. Haiti, as a former French colony, has two official languages, French and Haitian Creole.
The ethnic makeup of the Caribbean countries also varies more than Mexico and most of the countries of Central America. Although the effect on the indigenous populations was the same, decimation through disease and subjugation, the African and Asian influence is greater. The colonists of these countries were more likely to import slaves from west Africa to labor in the plantations. When slavery was outlawed, colonists brought indentured laborers from their colonies in Asia. The British, for example, brought laborers from India to work in Trinidad. Rather than returning to their home countries, these indentured laborers stayed, contributing to the multiethnic heritage of the Caribbean.
Review the section on European Colonialism in the Caribbean in The Caribbean.
The rimland of Middle America consists primarily of islands thus facilitating the development of different genres of music. Because the native populations of the islands were decimated due to disease brought by colonists and harsh treatment, little if any remnants of native musical traditions remain. Thus, each island's music evolved according to the origins of the people that settled there either by choice or enslavement. Cuba's music, for example, is a product of the cultures of its African slaves, Spanish colonists, and even Chinese immigrants brought to work in the sugar fields during the 19th century.
Review the section on Caribbean Music in The Caribbean.
Hurricanes begin formation over ocean waters that exceed 80°F and 160 feet in depth.
Hurricanes that form north of the Equator, like those affecting Middle America, rotate counterclockwise. Middle America is in the hurricane belt with the rimland and east coast of the mainland vulnerable to hurricanes that develop over the Atlantic and the west coast of the mainland vulnerable to hurricanes that develop over the Pacific.
The force of hurricane winds moving cyclonically around a storm causes water to be pushed up in the center, creating a storm surge. As the storm moves toward shore, it encounters the continental shelf causing that storm surge to be pushed even higher. Storm surge is often the greatest threat from hurricanes due to the devastating impact on life and property. When the hurricane makes landfall, the storm begins to weaken but not without causing extensive damage from high winds, heavy rainfall, and extensive flooding. Although Caribbean cruises still operate during hurricane season, they do have contingency plans in place and encourage travelers to be flexible when scheduling their trips.
This vocabulary list includes terms that students need to know to successfully complete the final exam for the course.