Hello readers, and welcome back to Stuff where our current theme is What might we not know about Mexico? After all, this marvelous place is a popular tourist destination and lots of us Americans know (or hire to work) at least a couple Mexicans; many have Mexican heritage or are themselves Mexicans. With that said, we should know quite a bit about the nation next door, though we first have to get the courage to stop peeping in the window and to go out, get to know what makes her interesting in the first place.
For starters, we know that there are a lot of Mexican people, especially if you live or have traveled at some point to Los Angeles, Phoenix, El Paso… or places off the border like Colorado. So many people originating from another country and residing in the US would lead you to think they’ve all left their homeland behind. Nope. Even with the huge population in the States, Mexico holds up as the country with the most amount of Spanish speakers in the world and the second biggest population in Latin America.
And with good reason, as its history goes way back. The area is considered one of the cradles of civilization after having harbored the highly influential peoples and cultures of Mesoamerica (btw, Mesoamerica is the historical region where the native nations and cultures flourished around modern Mexico and Central America down to about Costa Rica).
There were many civilizations in what is now Mexico, and you’ve by now heard of the Mayans who made all kinds of advances in society. Even after the diseases, wars, and massacres that nearly wiped them out, the Mayans along with many other Native American people and their languages and cultures still persist to this day. The later Aztecs weren’t just one civilization but really a group of three main powers that controlled a regional empire.
The Aztecs were pretty loose with the people they conquered and usually allowed them to keep ruling themselves at the cost of occasional tributes and offerings, kind of like how American states can make their own laws and vote for their own politicians, but still have to pay taxes to big brother. Just like in Apocalypto, they were notorious for large-scale sacrifices to the gods but did a lot less killing and more prisoner-taking on the battlefield compared to other major empires at the time, like, let’s say, Spain.
Our subject today is home to the most populated city in all of North America, Mexico City (named just to help you know what country it’s in), which herself was built on the ruins of the old Aztec capital called Tenochtitlan. Tenochtitlan, go figure, was also the biggest city in the Americas during its heyday, a.k.a. before Cortés and them. According to legend, it was established at the location where an omen suggested the Aztecs saw an eagle eating a snake upon a lake. Now that’s a hardcore city-founding story, and familiar imagery if you remember ever seeing a Mexican flag.
Mexico City is the oldest capital in the Americas (North, South, you get it) and just one of two that was founded by Native Americans. With that said, lots of really old milestone institutions are also in Mexico, including the “New World’s” first library, public park, and the oldest university on the continent. The city was the capital through Spain of places like Florida and Cuba, and as far away as the Philippines and Guam — Spain had some serious reach.
The name comes from the Mexica people who were one of the leaders of Aztec society and the inhabitants of Mēxihco Valley where the capital stands today. In the present day, about 21.5% of people identified with being native Mexicans; compare to 14% of Americans identifying as black and about 1.6% as Native. To follow, they have the most native people in one country of all the Americas, even though percentage-wise they get beat out by a few others.
Spain, like Great Britain, had a slave trade that brought and spread African people all throughout Latin America, Mexico included. They just renamed the area New Spain (there go those creative names again) and colonized it during hundreds of years. At the time of the First Mexican Empire — after Spain ducked out — the border reached as far north as Northern California and Utah, and as far south as Costa Rica; that’s one little country away from South America.
This was all until a war broke out in the American Southwest where the barely loyal Mexicans and Tejanos (Hispanic Texans) rebelled due to disliking and wanting little to do with their far-far-away capital. This included the central government leaving people to suffer from a lack of supplies and hostile native attacks, leading them to join up with the English-speaking Texans for separation. That resulted in the USA (USA! USA!) winning the Mexican-American War and Mexico having to give up a huge chunk of their land.
A load of other whacky events happened during this time, like a Maya group from Yucatán breaking off and becoming pretty much independent for almost a hundred years, or a French occupation that lasted until a general named Porfirio kicked them out and decided to be president for the next thirty-seven years until he was exiled, ironically, to France.
Before that he and American President Taft were almost killed in a meeting in Juárez, which is unfortunate as it was the very first meeting between the presidents of the two nations. A Texas Ranger snagged the would-be assassin just feet away from the two presidents, which proves if you think long, you think wrong. So, please take your time, assassins:) After Porfirio was courteously booted out, a hectic period called the Mexican Revolution played out in a series of civil wars, military coups, exiles, and assassinations, so basically everything bad that can possibly happen in a nation.
Although Mexico is in Latin America, it’s considered North America too, along with the US and Canada. The humble Land of the Free and the Home of Mariachi share one of the most militarized borders in the world, even though the two countries are at peace, and discarding that point, is the most crossed land border on Earth, and functions more like those rotating doors you’d see at a busy office building — at least going one way.
Today’s subject is one of the most diverse places ecologically; it’s like a convenience store for habitats with the slogan: You want it, we got it! Want deserts? Got it. Mountain ranges? Yep. A tropical jungle too? You can’t possibly have… Yep, got plenty. Resources that came out of Mexico by Spain introduced some of the world’s favorite foods like many local types of fruits (avocado, tomato, guava, etc.) peppers, vanilla, chocolate (thank you… so much), legumes, beans, maize, and corn. As you can see we all love Mexican food in some way. The cuisine itself was turned into a “world heritage site” along with many other cool historic places.
The Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico is supposedly where the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs hit, sadly for us T. Rex and Velociraptor lovers, but great for the rest of humanity. The region also hides huge underground and underwater caves and cenotes, which are like giant sinkholes filled with water and ancient Mayan secrets. Many plant and animal species in these caverns still have not been discovered, adding to their mystique.
The Mexican government some years ago had passed a green energy bill which was the first of its kind in developing countries, and along with this go-green spirit form legs of memberships and in contributions with many international organizations, including a UN council group called the Coffee Club.
… Key image here: a group of national leaders sitting around a coffee table and sipping their lattes, the Italian representative taps the Mexican one telling him to take his feet off of the tabletop…
In the developing world, it’s considered one of the better-off countries and has a fast-growing middle class. The richest man in the world was actually a Mexican guy named Carlos Slim (yes, his real name). He is still one of the wealthiest men alive, though no longer guarding the numero uno card. Even though Mexico is one of the highest securers of US debt and still holds a wide gap between the extremely rich and extremely poor, it’s one of the biggest global electronics manufacturers and the biggest automobile producer in all of North America, because it sure isn’t Detroit anymore. Medical infrastructure in big cities ranks up there with the best.
Mexicans themselves make up almost 11% of the US population, which is the biggest immigrant group from one single country, a group that annually are sending more than 26 billion US dollars back home.
Not a very pretty part of the country but a real-life issue is the deep-rooted corruption in government and police forces that ranks behind countries like Thailand, Kenya, and Russia on the scale. Getting a worse grade than Russia on the corruption test can be a bad look, but we’ve seen Narcos Mexico and the evening news, and we know cartels are a problem. Over a hundred kidnappings or worse of journalists and frequently reported crimes from cartel groups have persisted despite initiatives against the cartels and towards fairness in the criminal justice system.
On the bright side, Mexico is getting “there”, and could potentially have one of the top economies in the world within the next few decades. Academics have produced some leading scientists in several fields and boast some of the world’s highly revered universities and business schools.
Colonial architecture, Mesoamerican ruins, and plain old natural beauty (not to mention easy access) all make Mexico one of the most visited locations by tourists everywhere. The Mexican population is very diverse, with ancestry that can range from one of many indigenous groups, Europeans, and people from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. However, in the past campaigns encouraging a single national identity plus the mixing of different races and ethnic groups have led to a lot of ambiguity about race. In this case the saying, “They’re just Mexican” works, which to lots of Americans is a way of describing any Latino person, but in remembering the majority of Latinos in America are Mexican it’s not totally unreasonable.
Many of the world’s Catholics are in Mexico, second in proportion only to Brazil. In contrast, Catholicism here tends to hold lots of influence from native religious practices, famously with celebrations like the Day of the Dead and adorable Disney movies like Coco.
As you’ll see with most of our subjects in this part of the globe Mexico has a huge, surprising mix of “modern” and “backward” situations, ideals and achievements, though the culture has come to extend beyond those magical invisible borders. Just as with before Spain, Mexicans have been some of the most globally influential people in arts like literature, painting, architecture, and music. I mean, Frida Kahlo practically has her own cult following after more than 60 years of being on the dead end of Día de Los Muertos. And we can see that Mexican culture at least on the surface is recognizable the world over.
Its athletes have had lots of international success and produced some of the leading competitors in sports like golf, track, diving and even taekwondo. As you might know from certain Jack Black characters, Lucha Libre and bullfighting are popular in Mexico, and the largest bullring in the world is actually in Mexico City.
Joking and making light of situations is part of the “national way”, and the opening and welcoming arms of our southern neighbors should not be overlooked. I know so many people are saying it that it has become cliché, but in this post I hoped to educate you, good readers, a bit more about a country maybe you knew more or less about, to gain some better insight, and to hopefully see people as people and be as welcoming to others as they are to us.
Yes, and we should build bridges, not walls. I know, I had to say it.
Thanks for reading and learning with me, and please share in the comments if you know or like Mexico, or have anything to add. I appreciate you! Next time we should be covering home sweet home, the old US of A.
Thank you, and this was stuff about: Mexico.
Thank you for reading!