Immigration to Mexico – Emigration from Where?

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

According to the 2020 decennial Mexican census, the population of Mexico was 129,932,753 people, of whom 1,212,252, or less than 1%, were officially counted as immigrants. In the United States, which has the highest number of immigrants in the world (nearly 50 million), they comprise about 15% of the population; in Canada, it’s 21.5%. The vast majority of immigrants arrive in Mexico from the United States, mostly in the form of retirees and snowbirds who hold temporary or permanent residency; the next largest groups come from Central and South America.

Although the numbers of immigrants to Mexico may be very small – every year, more Mexicans leave the country than foreigners arrive – immigrants have exerted a fair amount of impact on Mexican life and culture. Immigration to Mexico started, of course, with the conquest; during the colonial period, the Spanish rulers were not eager to have immigration from any place besides Spain. After independence (1821), however, Mexico sought to attract other foreigners, who brought their purchasing power and businesses with them. The General Colonization Law of 1824 allowed foreigners to buy land in Mexico, as long as it was farther than the border than 20 “leagues” (60 miles), and farther from the sea than 10 leagues (30 miles) – the General Colonization Law is the ancestor of the trust system, painfully familiar to home-owning residents from abroad.

The law, with a hostile hiatus for the U.S. Mexican War (1846-48), which finally defined Mexico’s northern border, gave impetus to immigration to Mexico, particularly in the 20th century. People came, and continue to come, for religious freedom, to escape unfavorable political conditions, to improve their economic situation.

German immigrants started coming in the 19th century, and were quick to start mercantile/manufacturing and agricultural businesses, in particular coffee and henequen and sisal plantations. Cubans boosted the performing arts, including film production, in the mid-nineteenth century. Tacos árabes and Carlos Slim Helú? Lebanon. Look elsewhere in this issue for short profiles of immigrant contributions to Mexico.

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