By Tonatiuh Guillén López
How big is the Mexican population today now that the country celebrates its bicentennial? According to Mexico’s 2020 census, conducted by the national statistics agency INEGI, the country’s population is 126 million. A different government office, Mexico’s agency for demographic and population studies CONAPO, has projected that the total Mexican population is actually 128 million. Yet, both figures only take into account the population living within Mexico’s borders. Both numbers do not measure the entire size of the Mexican nation given that the country’s Constitution recognizes many people living abroad as Mexican nationals. Together, we all are the Mexican nation.
Thus, the right answer to the question of how big is the Mexican population would be: more than 164 million. That’s the real size of the Mexican nation today. By design, INEGI and CONAPO only count people residing in Mexico. Their numbers do not measure the actual size of the Mexican population and leave out about 40 million living outside Mexico’s territory: people who opted to emigrate and those who were born abroad but do have Mexican nationality. Regrettably, Mexican nationals living abroad are left out of Mexico’s official statistics except when talking about remittances.
Today, the Mexican nation is not only growing inside Mexico but also abroad. The nation also has a greater outward dynamic. Today, the national Mexican whole is not only restricted to what happens inside its borders: close to a third of the total number of Mexican nationals lives north of the United States-Mexico border.
Mexico is thus a trans-border nation. However, the Mexican state still does not wholly recognize its new national essence. This new character is not reflected in the country’s official statistics nor is it taken into account as the basis for Mexico’s development. While the Mexican nation has been radically transformed, one cannot say the same about Mexican state institutions. In theory, state institutions should mirror what the nation is.
How the Mexican nation acquired its new trans-border structure? From one day to the other, Mexico’s 1997 and 2021 constitutional reforms expanded the total number of Mexican nationals by millions. The reforms changed the definition of what the Mexican nation is. The constitutional changes also determined the nation’s new trans-border nature. The Mexican nation now encompasses those Mexicans who opted to emigrate as well as their descendants, regardless of whether they have or not another nationality. In many ways, the reforms “opened Mexico” to a large number of new Mexican nationals living abroad and who have little information about their newly acquired status. This lack of information is the Mexican state’s fault and should not be an excuse not to make efforts to integrate Mexicans living abroad.
The trans-border nature of the Mexican nation has extraordinary implications for Mexico due to its interactions with the United States, home to the majority of Mexican nationals living abroad. The huge Mexican population that lives in the United States is now an essential part of the Mexican nation -as it is of the United States- and is also a key component to help redefine a future where both countries are intertwined.
The Mexican population living abroad is the main component of the new trans-border Mexican nation. But despite being the cornerstone of a new reality, Mexicans abroad should not be the only ones interested in the nation’s new essence. This is something that should concern the entire nation whether living inside or outside its territory.
The nation is one. Consequently, the trans-border character of the Mexican nation affects the entire members of it. It is a key aspect of what defines to be Mexican. It should concerns us all. It is then urgent for all Mexicans to begin to understand each other and to begin taking into account this new horizon.
* Tonatiuh Guillén López is professor and researcher at the Program for Development Studies at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (PUED-UNAM). This Op-Ed contains fragments of a forthcoming book by Guillén López. The U.S.-Mexico Foundation is a binational non-profit organization dedicated to fostering bilateral cooperation and improving the understanding between the United States and Mexico by activating key people in the relationship that once were dormant.Twitter: @usmexicofound