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All About Mexico: (FSF Cultural Exploration)

Mexico Overview

Mexico is a culturally diverse nation in North America, though culturally it is more similar to Central and South American countries. It is often divided into northern, central, and south or south-eastern Mexico. This divide represents distinctions between those living in the Northern desert, the city-dwellers in the South, and the indigenous population of the country. However, these groups are all brought together by state, religion, and popular culture. The strongest of the symbols uniting Mexicans are the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917) and the Virgin of Guadalupe, a dark-skinned version of the Virgin Mary representing the fusion of European and Meso-American religions and peoples.

Mexico's History

Mexico is a nation with an extremely rich history with plenty of conflict and cultural changes. Below we will give an in-depth exploration of Mexico's pre-revolutionary and post-revolutionary history that resulted in the nation we see today.

Pre-Revolutionary History

Mexico was first settled when Pre-Columbian Civilizations Nomadic paleo-Indian societies migrated from North America into Mexico as early as 20,000 B.C.. Several advanced indigenous societies emerged between 200 B.C. and A.D. 900 though they eventually collapsed. By the 1300s, the Aztecs had established themselves on the site of present-day Mexico City. Through militarism and bureaucracy, the Aztec state ruled a tributary empire spanning much of Central Mexico.

During the early sixteenth century, Spanish military adventurers based in Cuba organized expeditions to the North American mainland. The first major military expedition to Mexico, led by Hernán Cortés, landed near present-day Veracruz in 1519 and advanced inland toward the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán hoping to conquer central Mexico. By 1521 Spanish forces under Cortés, reinforced by rebellious Indian tribes, had overthrown the Aztec empire and executed the last Aztec king, Cuauhtémoc. During the early years of colonial rule, the conquistadors and their descendants vied for royal land titles (encomianda) and Indian labor. The early colonial economic system was based largely on the ability of the encomienda holders to divert Indian labor from agriculture to the mining of precious metals for export to Spain. The encomienda became the basis for a semi-autonomous feudal society that was only loosely accountable to the central authorities in Madrid.

Throughout the colonial period, Mexico’s economic relationship with Spain was based on mercantilism. Mexico was required to supply raw materials to Spain, which would then produce finished goods to be sold at a profit to the colonies. Trade duties that placed stringent restrictions on the colonial economies protected manufacturers and merchants in Spain from outside competition in the colonies. In the mid-eighteenth century, the third Bourbon king of Spain, Charles III, reorganized the political structure of Spain’s overseas empire in an effort to bolster central authority, reinvigorate the mercantile economy, and increase tax revenues. New Spain was divided into 12 military departments under a single commandant general in Mexico City who was independent of the viceroy and reported directly to the king.

Post-Revolutionary History

In 1821, Mexico fought for and gained independence from Spain. In the nineteenth century, the formation of the national culture and polity remained a difficult task as the country faced political instability, military uprisings, and foreign invasions. In these years Mexico lost large portions of its original territory, most significantly in the war with the United States between 1846 and 1848, which broke out when the United States attempted to annex independent Texas. The 1848 peace treaty ceded Texas, California, and New Mexico to the United States and reduced Mexico's territory by half. Despite this tragic loss, the war did contribute to the development of genuine nationalism for the first time. In 1853, in a contradictory decision, the Mexican government sold present-day southern New Mexico and Arizona to the United States in order to solve budgetary problems. The relationship between Mexico and the United States has remained difficult and ambivalent ever since.

Mexico was invaded again in 1862, this time by the French, who installed a monarchy with the backing of conservative Mexican elites. Civil war ensued until the French defeat in 1867, which led to the formation of a new republic that was finally becoming a nation-state. During the Díaz regime, the country faced instability but managed to become interconnected in a railroad network. These processes fostered the political, economic, and social integration of different groups and regions within the nation and strengthened state and nation-building. However, this also created many tensions and conflicts between rich and poor, peasants and large landowners, Indians, non-Indians, and the politically influential as well as aspiring middle classes.

his instability eventually led to the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution in 1910, which drove Díaz out of power and then developed into a harsh and violent civil war. It is estimated that 1 million people were killed during the revolutionary period. The armed struggle formally ended with the adoption of a new Constitution in early 1917, but it still took several decades more before a new nation-state consolidated. Post-Revolutionary reconstruction went on to redefine the nation, with it eventually going on to become a multi-party democracy.

Mexico Cultural Values

Efforts by the Spanish colonists to assimilate the population to become more racially homogenous have resulted in an incredibly diverse population. This diversity has been compounded by immigration to the country from across the world during the 20th century. Despite this diversity, or perhaps because of it, the Mexican identity is commonly accepted as superseding any racial differences. This pride in their culture leads many Mexicans to be highly knowledgeable about the history and myths that came to shape this identity. Due to the strength of their national pride, many are unwilling to partake in other cultures without adding a Mexican flair, and those who prefer foreign things are viewed negatively by the wider community.

Mexican culture is highly fatalistic. It is commonly believed that events are predetermined by God and that one’s destiny is entirely in his hands. This belief is highly influenced by the Catholic faith in the country, with the Virgin of Guadalupe being commonly viewed as a messenger through which to reach God. It is common for people to try and change their circumstances by revering her and asking for her to grant their prayers.

Death is pervasive in the country due to high crime and poor public health. This helps to inform the unique relationship Mexicans have with death. While fear of death is still common, it is not viewed as a taboo subject. It is instead seen as something one should have a good-humored familiarity with. This can be seen in the longstanding tradition of celebrating the ‘Day of the Dead’ (Día de Los Muertos) on the 2nd of November. It is thought that the deceased can visit family and friends during this period. The celebration of this concept is reflective of the contemporary integration of past Mesoamerican traditions.

Mexico Culture: Conclusion

Mexico is a country defined by its long history. While they are divided over many issues, the populace is united by its national pride. This pride has allowed the country to overcome the divide of race by leading people to view themselves as Mexican regardless of their heritage. This has also led to the intermingling of Catholic and Mesoamerican traditions which informs the country’s view on fatalism and death.


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