After checking my stats using Google Analytics a few weeks ago, I noticed that Google included Mexico as part of Central America. I thought it odd, because I was taught Mexico was part of North America (as a Google Images search seems to confirm). After all, the NAFTA does include Mexico.
So, I wrote Google Analytics support team with the question. They responded, citing the use of United Nations data:
From: “Analytics Support” <email@example.com>
Date: June 11, 2007 4:19:59 PM PDT
Subject: Re: [#159418445] Continental Error
Thanks for your inquiry about the maps feature in Google Analytics. We
use Standard Country and Area Codes Classifications (M49) adopted by the
United Nations Statistics Division to determine borders and continental
classifications. To see how the United Nations classifies geographic
regions, visit http://unstats.un.org/unsd/methods/m49/m49regin.htm. We
understand that borders change over time and we make every effort to
reflect the changes periodically within the product. Political borders
within the Google Analytics maps are meant to help our users understand
where their visitors are coming from and should be considered guidelines.
They in no way represent a political opinion or position . . .
The U.N.’s posted methodology also claims these regional definitions are apolitical:
The assignment of countries or areas to specific groupings is for statistical convenience and does not imply any assumption regarding political or other affiliation of countries or territories by the United Nations.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, some geologists and physical geographers include parts of Mexico in Central America. Wikipedia’s Central America entry quantifies this area at about 12% of Mexico’s landmass. The same entry says the European Union excludes Mexico and Belize from Central America.
The issue brings home the basic premise that borders and labels can be completely arbitrary. That is, if we removed the labels and borders, we would have land and people living on that land. The borders we have in our world today are 100% political. They establish boundaries where each country considers itself sovereign. When borders move, it’s often a matter of life and death for the locals.
Is it wrong for the U.N. to label Mexico as part of Central America? I don’t know and it doesn’t affect my daily life one way or the other. It does, however, affect the way people and cultures respond to each other. In the U.S., if Mexico is part of “our” North American continent, we might have reason to consider ourselves neighbors. When the U.S. Americans refers to Mexico as “Latin America” it’s an added step of distance, a clarification that those people are something “other” than us. Whether we like it or not, the U.S.A. is the minority in the Americas, and the largest minority group within the country is made up of Latinos. The U.S. is part of Latin America.
I can understand a geological explaination that deals with physical land formations. But in any other circumstance, you usually round down. Twelve percent would still exclude Mexico from Central America. It seems like an easy excuse to distance a “third world” country like Mexico from “first world” countries like the U.S. The disclaimer that their maps don’t express a political opinion seems more like a cop-out, not unlike television news programs’ use of the question mark.