Summary and Keywords
Called “Mar del Sur” [South Sea] when first spotted by Balboa in 1513 and dubbed “Mar Pacifíco” [Peaceful Calm Sea] by Ferdinand Magellan in 1520, the historical relationship between the Pacific Ocean and the people of Mexico is multilayered and dynamic. During the Spanish colonial era (1521–1821), the viceroyalty of New Spain (Nueva España) supervised the Asian and Polynesian colonies of the Philippines and Guam (and briefly Taiwan and the Spice island of Ternate) across the Pacific. Acapulco became a mythical emporium of exotic luxury supplied by the galleons from Manila that for 250 years tied Asia to the Iberian New World. Beyond this famous port, littoral native communities dotting the Pacific coast, from Oaxaca in the south to the forty-second parallel of Alta California in the north, gradually fell under Spanish secular and religious control. The enormous coastline measured approximately 5,400 miles, more than double the length of seaside territory facing the Gulf of Mexico. Following the War of Mexican Independence (1810–1821), the United Mexican States (Estados Unidos Mexicanos) emerged. For the next fifty years, Mexico experienced domestic political instability exacerbated by wars against the United States (Mexican-American War, 1846–1848) and France (1862–1867). When political order was finally established under the regime of Porfirio Díaz (1876–1910), regionalism was confronted by the centrifugal power of a modernizing, technocratic state. Despite losing 840 miles of California coastline, and a lucrative trade route with Manila, in the Mexican-American War, Mexico’s Pacific littoral in the south grew to incorporate the formerly Guatemalan territory of Chiapas, and a new shipping network evolved. Traditional research on pueblos, cities, or states along the Pacific coast emphasizes purely local or regional contexts within the colonial or independent Mexican state; or it is grouped thematically into studies about the galleon trade or California mission settlements. Recent scholarship is encouraging a more balanced approach, accentuating the many threads that wove a rich tapestry of Mexico’s unique relationship with the “Pacific World” (as opposed to the more popular “Atlantic World”); not only in a nationalist framework, but with inter-American and trans-Pacific or global dimensions.
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