People and Culture
The people of Baja California are a diverse mix of farmers, anglers, laborers, entrepreneurs, students, and professionals. Some belong to families that have lived on the peninsula for generations; others arrived more recently from mainland Mexico, the United States, Canada, or Europe.
But regardless of their line of work and heritage, Baja’s residents tend to share a common outlook on life: Somewhere along the line, they decided to search for—and found—a better way of life, albeit one that requires resourcefulness.
Mainland Mexicans tend to regard Baja California in the same way that Americans view Hawaii or Alaska—as a faraway place that captures the imagination.
The current population of the Baja Peninsula is between three and four million people, most of whom reside above the 28th parallel in Baja California (Norte). More than half the population lives in Mexicali or Tijuana. The rest of the peninsula is sparsely populated, with an average density of less than one person per 26 square kilometer (one person per 10 sq mi).
Mexico’s population growth rate is estimated at 1.1 percent per annum for 2011. The average for Baja California is probably somewhat higher than the national average because of immigration. Baja California Sur is Mexico’s least-populated state.
When the Spanish missionary period began in 1697, historians estimate the indigenous population of Baja was about 50,000. Less than 100 years later, only 20 percent of the population survived. Today very few people of the central and northern Cochimí and Yumano tribes live in the valleys and sierras of Northern Baja.
True bajacalifornianos are a multicultural lot, with a much more diverse heritage than Mexican people from the mainland. Many are a mix of the Spanish and Indian cultures, but others descend from British, French, German, Dutch, Chinese, Russian, and other roots.
In addition to the families that have been in Baja since the early days of colonization, the peninsula has attracted a sizable population of U.S. and Canadian retirees as well as increasing numbers of younger professionals from Mexico City and groups of migrant workers from Oaxaca.
The Spanish missionaries first introduced Catholicism to Baja California, and it remains the dominant religion today. Like the rest of Mexico, Baja’s Catholics celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe as an icon of the Virgin Mary on December 12. Baja has fewer churches per capita than the mainland, so in order to accommodate demand for worship services, some churches (iglesias) hold a dozen or more masses a day.
Latin-American Spanish is the primary language spoken in Baja California. People who work in the tourism industry tend to speak at least some English, especially in the larger cities, but a little Spanish goes a long way in day-to-day interactions with the local residents. Learning and using the basic greetings and a few essential phrases will show respect and build trust with the people you meet, which will likely result in a better overall travel experience.
© Nikki Goth Itoi from Moon Baja, 9th Edition