For obvious reasons, Mexico and the US have a special history and relationship. For me personally, I dated a guy from Oaxaca once a long time ago, and recently my husband and I have talked about what it takes to move to Mexico. Especially if Trump becomes “president.” Hey, at least there will be a wall separating us from him. But regardless of what people think about it, Mexicans are now becoming one of the largest immigrant groups to the US. In fact, both of my neighbors on either side of me are from Mexico, and they are great neighbors. So, while it tends to be a topic of discussion and sometimes vitriol, I really want to delve into the real Mexico and what it means to be Mexican.
The name Mexico comes from the Nahuatl language. Nahuatl is the language of the Aztecs and sometimes referred to the Aztec language, especially in older books. In Nahuatl, Mexihco refers to the heartland of the Aztec Empire, sometimes called the Valley of Mexico and its people, the Mexica. There are a number of other theories and disputes by historians and linguists on the actual meaning of Mexihco and other possible origins of the name Mexico.
Mexico is included as part of North America. It shares a long border with the United States to the north (following along the Rio Grande for much of the way). It also borders Guatemala and Belize in the south. It’s eastern side touches the Gulf of Mexico, and Cuba is not far from the city of Cancún on the Yucatan Peninsula. The Pacific Ocean lies to the west, along with a peninsula known as Baja California. Mexico has several mountain ranges that rise out of the landscape, and it also is the reason that Mexico has several active volcanos as well. The climate varies so much across the land: from the cooler, drier areas high in the mountains to the much warmer tropical rainforests of the Yucatan.
One of the first civilizations in Mexico was the Olmecs. They are often seen as the predecessors to the Mayans, another major civilization spanning southern Mexico and Guatemala. They were responsible for the domestication of maize, beans, and tomatoes, which helped facilitate the transition to more of an agricultural-based society. The Olmecs were also known for their brutal ballgames and the Mayans were mostly known for their famous calendar, which was brought to everyone’s attention in 2012 (since it was “predicted” that would be the end of the world). The Aztecs came along a little later and became an important civilization not only in Mexico, but in much of North and South American history. “Aztec” actually refers to several different groups of people who generally lived in the same area. The Aztecs were mostly remembered for their sacrificial practices. They were also known for having to deal with the Spanish as they made their way across the land in order to conquer it. The famous Aztec king Montezuma fell to the hands of the Spanish, and the Spanish (unintentionally?) infected them with smallpox due to the fact that the Aztecs had no natural immunity to it. The Spanish moved in and took over their capital of Tenochtitlan, which eventually became the city of Mexico City. The country was later included in the Viceroyalty of New Spain, which also included many areas around the Caribbean, Central America, and other areas. Under Spanish rule, the face of Mexico would change. Europeans and native Mexicans would intermarry and create the mestizo class. In 1810, Mexico finally declared its independence from Spain. Like a lot of countries, their first decades were met with economic strife, which was partly the cause for the Pastry War (hmm, sounds like the loser gets a nasty raisin pie). Anyway, there were several wars and battles fought that led to gaining and losing land, including losing Texas to the US. The Mexican Revolution took place during the early days of the 20th century, and the country then spent pretty much the rest of the century under a one-party rule. The 2000 election changed all that when Vicente Fox won. Today, Mexico is a highly diverse and modern country.
Mexico City is a global city and a major financial and economic area in the Americas. With an urban area of roughly 20 million people, it’s about the same size as São Paulo, Brazil. Not only is it the oldest capital in the Americas, it’s one of two that was built by the Amerindians (the other being Quito, Ecuador). Actually, the city has just passed a number of liberal rulings in recent years: same-sex marriage, abortion, no-fault divorce, some forms of euthanasia, and other measures. It’s actually quite a diverse city and every bit of a modern city. There are significant populations of Arab, African, European, and Amerindian/Mexicans throughout the city and Mexico itself. Mexico City is also the home of the largest population of Americans outside of the US. It’s a cultural center of the country, especially for art, higher education, museums, theatres, and media. But it’s also a commerce, government, and sports center as well. (Mexicans love their soccer and bullfighting.)
This country is a leading global economy, making it the 11th largest country by PPP (purchasing power parity) and having the 15th largest nominal GDP. Some of the largest industries that drive the Mexican economy include electronics, auto manufacturing and parts (it produces the most vehicles in North America believe it or not), communications, science and technology, energy, transportation, and tourism.
Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion in Mexico, but there are also a number of other Christian denominations. It’s actually the second largest Catholic population in the world, behind Brazil. There is also a growing number of non-religious people. Because Mexico is a widely diverse country, there are small numbers of Muslims, Jews, and Buddhists in Mexico as well.
The national language is Spanish, and Mexico is the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world. But there are a number of other indigenous languages spoken in Mexico as well. Many people also speak Nahuatl, Zapotec, Mixtec, or Mayan languages. When I dated that guy from Oaxaca, and I listened to him speaking with some of his friends, and I couldn’t understand anything they were saying, recognizing it wasn’t Spanish; they all spoke one of the indigenous languages of Oaxaca—he told me that state alone has nearly 90 languages spoken there.
There is so much about Mexico that I already know. I read James Michener’s “Texas” and “Mexico” years ago, both of which cover much of Mexican history. Mexican cooking and Mexican fusion is extremely popular as is many Mexican musicians. Reggaeton is certainly gaining popularity here in the US. (I love reggaeton, by the way, so I’m one of them.) Even in moderately sized cities, there are Mexican grocery stores and bakeries. Their presence is everywhere, even outside of the major urban areas. Spanish is the most widely studied second language in the US. I know it’s been hard to narrow down what recipes I’m going to pick for Mexico because everything sounds amazing. But I’m going to try…as I look for ways to go there myself.
Up next: art and literature