When I travel to a new destination I like to be prepared on the general information about the country, the geography, their history, language, currency and so forth.
That will make me more comfortable as it gets easier to familiarize with everything and find my way around.
But most of all it makes me feel closer to their culture in a way. It’s a kind of feeling, very difficult to describe in words, but knowing a little more about local habits and figure of speech (if you know the language, if not I will help you with that as well, worry not!) makes me look more like a local, and confident. This way when I don’t feel like I walk around with an” I AM A TOURIST” label on my forehead.
Maybe it’s just my own impression, but it feels good.
I have to say that a couple of times I was taken for a local and that made me quite proud.
If you are interested in the topic, you can read “In the metro” by the anthropologist Marc Auge. Nothing to do with Mexico, but a very interesting perspective on the difference between tourist and locals.
Anyway, let’s cut to the chase and talk about the content of this page.
BASIC INFORMATION ON MEXICO
Geographical location: Mexico is the southern country of North America and the third largest country in Latin America after Brasil and Argentina.
Official Name: Estados Unidos Mexicanos (Mexican United States)
Official Language: Spanish and over 66 Indian languages.
Government: Federal presidential constitutional republic
Currency: Mexican Peso. 1 USD =19 MXN at the present time
Borders: On the north side the Mexican frontiers border with The United States of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas for a total of 3,141 km. In the south, Mexico shares borders with Guatemala for 962km and Belize for 250 km.
Tallest mountain in Mexico: Pico de Orizaba 5.636 mt in the state of Veracruz.
Total area almost 2,000,000 square kilometres (770,000 sq mi)
Largest Lake: Lake Chapala
Total Population: 108,701,000
Capital city: Mexico City (Ciudad de Mexico – CDMX) – with a population of almost 9 million people and a maximum elevation of 3,930 m (12.890 ft) ( about 2300 in the city center)
Second biggest city: Guadalajara, the capital city of the Jalisco State.
The biggest pre-hispanic civilizations: Mayas, located in the south of Mexico in what is nowadays called Yucatan Peninsula, and Chiapas. Aztecas, in the central and northern region. Olmecas, in Veracruz and Tabasco.
National Day: 16th September
Religion: 83% Roman Catholicism
Country Number/Prefix: +52
Country Code: MX
SUMMARY OF HISTORICAL FACTS ABOUT MEXICO
I am not including here all the intricated historical events which you can easily find on Wikipedia or in any books. I just want to highlight some important facts that to my knowledge have been pivotal for the development of the present Mexican culture.
- The Mexican territories have been colonized by the Spaniards in 1519 and declared Mexico the New Spain.
- The actual date of the conquest is 1521 when the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan (the actual Mexico city) fell into the Spanish troops led by Hernan Cortez. That was the beginning of the Spanish invasion that extended all the way south to the Yucatan Peninsula and west to the Baja California.
- The pre-hispanic cultures developed complex rituals and solar calendars, they had a significant understanding of astronomy and created elaborated forms of written communication in the form of glyphs.
- The Hispanic conquerors, not only destroyed the local culture and subjugated the local population, and killed uncountable numbers of people, but also plundered all their mineral resources, treating the indigenous population as inferior and unworthy.
- The history of the colonization times is one of the saddest and deplorable ones, which I am not going to elaborate on this occasion. Suffice to know that it has marked the Mexican culture forever. You can find a lot about this topic on the book, the Labyrinth of Solitude by Nobel prize Octavio Paz
- The military invasion has been actually called the “spiritual conquest of Mexico” as the Spanish king sent friars from the Franciscan, Dominican, and Augustinian orders, to convert the indigenous to Christianity.
- If there is one positive element of this brutal conquest was that many of the Franciscans and Dominicans, learned the native languages and recorded aspects of native culture, providing a principal source for the little we know about them today.
- Sometimes you can still perceive some resentments towards their conquerors even 5 centuries later. In fact, the recently elected Mexican president AMLO ( Lopez Obrador ) asked the king of Spain and the pope a public apology for the atrocities committed during the invasion.
- Cities like Puebla, Queretaro, Zacatecas or Merida among others well represent the synchronicity among the Spanish and Mexican culture with its colonial buildings and traditional craftsmanship, such as the Talavera in Puebla or the Haciendas in Yucatan, for example.
- A group of American born Spaniards started to believe that Mexico should be independent of Spain and the first who actually took action was a Catholic priest Father Miguel Hidalgo who marched to the capital city with a very unorganized army while shouting “Independence and death to the Spaniards!”. It was easy prey for the Spanish who decapitated the poor faithful priest. It was 16 September 1810 and up to now this date is considered the independence day and celebrated with the famous “Grito de dolores” (“Grit”o means shout)
- In reality, the independence of Mexico was signed on September 27, 1821, when the Treaty of Cordoba was signed and Spain granted the demanded freedom and finally withdrew.
- The years between 1821 through 1829 were not easy. The Spanish attempted to re-conquer Mexico and the internal politics were a total mess. General Agustin de Iturbide, whose actions were crucial in the race towards independence, was now declaring himself Emperor of Mexico and was acting as a dictator.
- In 1824 Mexicans of all classes were tired of the impossible situation and overthrew him, establishing the United Mexican States with a new constitution, which was still struggling with political confusion and difficulties.
- Between 1846 and 1848 the Mexican-American war took place and Mexico lost the territories of what is now California (previously named Alta California), New Mexico and Texas (previously called Tejas). As illustrious linguist and historian, Noam Chomsky said in his staggering book “Latin America from colonization to globalization”, the US actually stole Mexican its territories. The book tells you a lot of truths but it’s more about US foreign politics than anything else. And it’s not flattering.
- After a couple of decades of struggle mainly to fight the dominant role of the church in establishing a conservative education and society in general, finally, liberalism was established thanks to notable liberal politicians whose names are still honored up to these days, including Benito Juárez, President of Mexico Juan Álvarez, Ignacio Comonfort, Miguel Lerdo de Tejada, Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada, Melchor Ocampo, José María Iglesias and Santos Degollado.
- From 1978 for almost 3 decades, Mexico saw a lot of improvement in all aspects, from education to social distribution and foreign politics, thanks to his new liberal president Porfirio Diaz, a military leader and liberal politician whose government is known up to these days as the Porfiriato. He is remembered for his rigorous way to rule by the low, the suppression of violence and his striving to create a modern society and efficient economy. , suppression of violence, and modernization of all aspects of the society and economy. To him goes also the merit for the creation of great infrastructure, public health, and safety, among others. In his times Mexican economy took off and reached the world standards of those times.
- Despite the economic growth during his government, lasted 31 years, Díaz became unpopular among a huge part of the society mainly because his economic policies largely benefited his circle of allies as well as foreign investors, besides helping only a few circles of wealthy landowners while leaving the “campesinos” (field workers) in very difficult conditions.
- 1910-1920 The Mexican Revolution – The discontent created by the government and the final difficulties in creating a smooth succession were the main cause of The Mexican Revolution known also like the Mexican civil war which lasted almost a decade and ended with important changes in Mexican culture and society. I leave you this link where you can read all the details.
- Among the main changes brought by the Mexican revolution was the improvement of the standard of living in the cities where the landowner moved, escaping from the rural turmoil created by the “campesinos” tired of their unsustainable situation. I spoke about this in my post on the Haciendas of Yucatan which well represents the overall situation of the rural populations. There is in fact where the greatest changes happened. The agrarian reform was one of the main outcomes of the revolution and gave workers the right to own lands, as ejidatarios, a term that is still used nowadays.
- These improvements were not enough to raise the standard of living of the rural population who were still living in poor houses, normally sleeping on the floor or on hammocks and with a poor diet based on tortilla beans and rice. That’s when many peasants decide either to migrate to other regions or to other states in search of a better life.
- Unfortunately, nowadays even if Tourism has brought a lot of jobs there is still a huge unbalance in the distribution of wealth in the Mexican society with a very low minimum salary and an abundance of very low paid jobs. But this topic would open a long discussion that we are not going to start on this occasion.
INTERNATIONALLY FAMOUS MEXICANS
When you think Mexico the first things that come to your mind is Tacos, Tequila, and drug smuggling.
I want to say a couple of things about it.
About the tacos, well, the Mexican chef Daniela Soto Innes, was just nominated the best female chef for her creativity and I am sure she doesn’t cook only tacos. Mexican cuisine, in general, is one of the most creative and diverse in the world, combining Mexican heritage with international influences. So, no, it’s not only tacos. I will do a post specifically on Mexican cuisine. I promise. bear with me. 🙂
Tequila, yes indeed it’s one of the traditional liquor, that has its roots in the state of Jalisco. And although I don’t drink, I reckon it’s very much appreciated by spirit connoisseurs. I will take you there soon.
About drug smuggling, I would worry more about those who buy it and they are not in Mexico… guess where they are…
What is mostly ignored is the huge amount of amazing artists, extraordinary people whose genius and creativity is well recognized and admired all over the world, a make Mexico proud.
And right here I am going to give you a list of the most famous Mexican artists, my favorites.
FAMOUS MEXICAN PAINTERS AND SCULPTORES
FRIDA KAHLO (1907-1954)
She is one of the Mexican greatest artists. Frida was born with very delicate health which was further aggravated by a terrible incident while on a bus in Mexico City when a steel handrail impaled her through the hip. Her spine and pelvis are fractured and this accident left her in a great deal of pain, both physically and physiologically.
This situation, however, didn’t prevent her from living a fulfilled life, despite her pain and physical imperfections. Frida is also known for her profound and yet controversial love for Diego Rivera a famous painter and muralist whom she married twice. She poured her pain and love into her art, and Frida Kahlo self-portraits have become an icon and symbol of woman empowerment all over the world.
She is definitely a model to turn to. If you are in Mexico city you should definitely visit her home, the blue house, where she was born and died in the bohemian neighborhood of Coyoacan. It’s now a museum and you can see a display of the beautiful dresses that she designed for herself, besides her paintings and personal objects.
DIEGO RIVERA (1986 – 1957)
Diego Rivera is one of the greatest muralists of his times who turn around the traditional schools of painting and created his own style, very much appreciated internationally. He loved to represent Mexican society and political situation in the difficult times when he was living, the turbulent 20th century, the years of the Mexican revolution. His prolific body of work can be admired both in Mexico or in the US where he lived and work for some time. In Mexico City, you can check out Palacio Nacional and the Secretaría de Educación Publica whose walls are painted with his impressive work.
JOSE CLEMENTE OROZCO (November 23, 1883 – September 7, 1949)
Prolific and Complex muralist and illustrator, Jose Clemente Orozco continue the political work started by Diego Rivera, but in a more profound and emphatic way, as a satirical form to condemn the political conflicts of its time especially promoting the cause of workers and peasants. His work can be admired in many cities in Mexico, especially Mexico City, Orizaba, and Guadalajara in the iconic Ospicio Cabañas. But also internationally, in New York City, California, Hannover among others.
Real name Enrique Carbajal González born on November 15, 1947, in Chihuahua. He acquired the pseudonym of Sebastian after the painting of San Sebastian by Botticelli. He’s known for his majestic surreal works in steel and concrete, in a very unique and unequal style. His most famous work is the Caballito in downtown Mexico City but his work is well known also abroad.
FANNY RABEL (August 27, 1922 Poland – November 25, 2008 Mexico City)
She was a polish born Mexican artist who was recognized as the first modern female muralist. She became a friend of Frida Kahlo when she participated in her artist group. She was also an assistant and apprentice to Diego Rivera. But her work was not only limited to murals. She was also known for her paintings, engravings, drawings, and ceramic sculptures. Fanny was mainly representing considered a surrealist, mainly portraying human being with children faces, in the majority of the cases sad, as she was depicting the socially marginalized and neglected. Her most significant work is “Ronda en el tiempo” at the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City.
RUFINO TAMAYO (August 25, 1899 – June 24, 1991)
Nobel Prize-winning poet Octavio Paz said about Tamayo: “If I could express with a single word what it is that distinguishes Tamayo from other painters, I would say without a moment’s hesitation: Sun. For the sun is in all his pictures, whether we see it or not.
The author was indeed praised for its minimal use of color in his painting. A painter of figurative abstraction influenced by the surrealism, he loved to experiment with different techniques and try his own. Rufino Tamayo’s graphic work, includes woodcuts, lithographs, etchings, and “Mixografia” prints. This technique is a unique fine art printing process that allows for the production of prints with three-dimensional texture.
He lived between Mexico City and New York where he flew when he felt he could not express himself anymore in Mexico. Just like Diego Rivera, he was profoundly influenced by the political conflicts of his time which he represents in a figurative way in his work. However, unlike his fellow artists, he did not believe that conflict would resolve the problems and he was against the war.
His work reached international fame and it’s exposed in many countries including the Guggenheim Museum in NY. In Mexico city you can visit the Rufino Tamayo Museum
An eclectic contemporary artist who lived most of his life including the years of his artistic formation, in Guadalajara, where you can visit his amazing workshop and gallery in the bohemian neighborhood of Tlaquepaque.
I discovered this amazing artist when I was housesitting in Puerto Vallarta. His beautiful bronze statues for which he’s mainly famous are displayed all along the Malecon ( promenade) for the tourist enjoyment.
He’s an eclectic artist whose art has been appreciated all over the world for its originality.
DAVID ALFARO SIQUEIROS
He’s considered one of the three most talented Mexican muralists, together with Jose’ Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera. Like his fellow artists, with his murals, Siqueiros painted scenes of war and of the social condition of the poor and aimed to inspire the low social classes. He loved to experiment with new techniques as he firmly believed that the revolutionary purpose of art was not to be found only in the content of the artwork but also in the technique and a specific aesthetic to match the artist’s intent. Because of his Marxist political inclinations, he was most of the times in need to leave Mexico, and he lived between Los Angeles, South America and New York where he opened a school of art where among other students, a young Jackson Pollock.
FAMOUS MEXICAN WRITERS
A well-traveled writer thanks to the diplomatic career of his father which he eventually followed, Carlos Fuente is an eclectic writer who graduated in international law and received a National price in Science in 1984 and the prestigious literature acknowledgment, in 1987. In 1994 he published his novel Diana, an autobiographic novel reflecting the Mexican society of the 60s. All his narrative work though, is a constant reflection on the Mexican history and political situation, its origins and culture and the issues that the country is facing. Reading his books is definitely a way to know about Mexican culture and society. Here you can check out his books.
Nobel prize for literature with the labyrinth of solitude,which is one of the best study ever written on the Mexican society and culture. Octavio Paz is a poet and an essayist most of all although he undertook the diplomatic career for a while, as the Mexican Ambassador in India “an important moment in both the poet’s life and work, as witnessed in various books written during his stay there, especially, The Grammarian Monkey and East Slope.” You can look at his work here.
I have just found out about her from a friend who suggested I should read her book about Mexico City Sidewalks. I downloaded the sample from Amazon Kindle and read a couple of pages and literally fell in love. The book is there on top of my list of books to read. Can’t wait to finish what I am reading now to jump on it. Check out all her other books here.
Elena Poniatowska was born in Paris in 1932 with the title of princess Héléne Elizabeth Louise Amelie Paula Dolores Poniatowska Amor. Her family moved to Mexico in 1942 to escape from the war and she obtained Mexican citizenship in 1969. She was destined to marry a prince but he chose the journalism career working for the Excelsior where she would narrate Mexican society through daily interviews. She was a prolific writer and all her books were about Mexican political situations and facts. She was also a professor of literature and journalism in the institutes Kairos and Nacional de la Juventud. She co-founded the National Cinema and the newspaper Siglo XXI. What stands out among her main works are her chronicles of the student massacre of Tlatelolco on October 2, 1968, the earthquake in Mexico city of 1985 and the conflict in Chiapas in 1994.
Born in 1950 in México City, she specialized as an educator and in theater for children but it was with the book Like water for chocolate that her name gain international fame as the book was translated into 30 different languages and so the movie. Sho received 10 Ariel prices from the Academia Mexicana de Artes y Ciencias Cinematográficas.
An amazing human being, a journalist, activist, feminist, writer and speaker she is dedicating her life to fight for human rights and condemn crime to such an extent that she put her life at risk investigating and bringing up name involved in sex trafficking and child pornography. Despite the number of threats and scorn, she received international acknowledgment and admiration for her investigations and activism in such delicate matters. Besides, after 14 years from the publication of her poignant book Los demonios del Eden and the persecutions that followed, the Mexican state apologized 5 times for violating her human rights and neglecting her rights of expression.
FAMOUS MEXICAN ON THE BIG SCREEN
ALEJANDRO GONZALEZ IÑARRITU
Mexican film director, producer, and screenwriter, he became worldly famous for winning a second Academy Award for Best Director for The Revenant (2015), making him the third director to win back to back Academy Awards, and the first since 1950. The Revenant also won Iñarritu a DGA Award, making history as the first person to ever win two in a row. But most of all Iñarritu is known for telling very emotional stories about human conditions.
GAEL GARCIA BERNAL
Mexican actor and producer, mainly known for playing Che Guevara part in The Motorcycle diary in 2015. But in 2016 he won his first Golden Globe Award for Best Actor — Television Series Musical Or Comedy for Mozart in the Jungle.
Antonio Rodolfo Quinn Oaxaca, known as Anthony Quinn, was a Mexican-born American actor, painter, writer and film director. He was born in Chihuahua and his family moved to Los Angeles in his early age where he began his career as an actor.
The rolling stone magazine classified Santana nr 20 among the best guitarist in the world.
Of course, the list doesn’t end here. If you have any suggestion and you think I forgot someone important please let me know 🙂
27 FUN FACTS ABOUT MEXICO
- Mexico has around 130 million people, ranking 11th in the world list of the most populated country.
- Mexico is the 14th largest country by land area.
- In Mexico, there are 35 UNESCO World Heritage Sites
- Pico de Orizaba, is the tallest mountain in Mexico, a dormant volcano that reaches 5,636 metres (18,491 ft) above sea level.
- The national symbols of Mexico are the flag, the coat of arms and the anthems.
- Mexico national dish is the Mole a rich sauce made of different kinds of spices, nuts, and chocolate among other ingredients.
- Mexican popular dishes include tacos, burritos, and enchiladas, chilaquiles, gorditas…
- The most popular sport in Mexico is football (soccer).
- Mexico hosted the Football World Cup in both 1970 and 1986.
- Mexico City hosted the Summer Olympic Games in 1968.
- Chocolate originally comes from Mexico
- Hot Chocolate was considered a sacred drink among the Aztecs
- Xoloitzcuintli, a hairless breed of dog is the national dog.
- The chihuahua is the smallest dog in the world and it’s actually named after the Mexican State where they originated.
- The National University of Mexico is the oldest university in North America and was founded in 1551 by Charles V of Spain.
- Monarch butterflies travel from Canada to Mexico every year. They in colonies of about 20 million at a speed between 80-120 nautical miles per day, depending on the wind and other weather conditions. They settle in the Oyamel fir tree forests in the Mexican state of Michoacan.
- The border between Mexico and the United States is the second largest border in the world (only the U.S.-Canadian border is longer)
- Mexico City is built over the ruins of a great Aztec city, Tenochtitlán. But it’s also built on a lake, meaning that there is water underneath the city and for this reason, it’s literally sinking at a rate of 6 to 8 inches a year.
- Mexico City is the oldest city in North America and the one with the highest elevation. It is also one of the largest cities in the world.
- The most popular Pre-Colombian civilization is Mayan. However few people know that the first great civilization in Mexico was actually the Olmecs (1400-300 B.C.) who established many cities along the eastern coast of Mexico, where are now the States of Veracruz and Tabasco. They are famous for their huge sculpted Heads, that can be found in the Anthropology museum in Xalapa and worshipped a mysterious, unnamed god that was part human and part jaguar.
- When Spanish Conqueror Hernan Cortés arrived in 1519, the Aztecs believed he was their returning god, Quetzalcoatl, and offered him hot chocolate which was considered the drink of the gods.
- Chocolate was born in Mexico
- Chocolate, corn, and chilies were introduced to the world by Mexico.
- The Great Pyramid of Cholula in Mexico is the largest pyramid in the world and also the largest monument ever constructed in the world.
- Mexico is the most populated Spanish-speaking country in the world
- The Chichen Itza Pyramid in Mexico was named one of the new Seven Wonders of the World
- During the colonial era, Hernán Cortés vowed to build 365 churches in Puebla—one for each day of the year. No one is exactly sure if all of these churches were built, and it’s clear that not all of them have survived, but both Puebla and the nearby town of Cholula are indeed full of churches.
- 5 de Mayo is celebrated in Mexico to commemorate the Mexican victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla, on 5 de mayo de 1862. Not sure why it’s celebrated in the US as well…I want to think that it started as a celebration of the Mexican immigrants and it just expanded. Or just an occasion to get together and drink the day away 🙂
BOOKS ABOUT MEXICO
The Labirynt of Solitude – Octavio Paz
Like Water for Chocolate – Laura Esquivel
The diary of Frida Khalo – Carlos Fuente
Aura: A Novel – Carlos Fuente
Massacre in Mexico – Elena Poniatowska
Mexico: a novel – James A. Michener
Slavery Inc.: The Untold Story of International Sex Trafficking – Lydia Cacho
Sidewalks – Valeria Luiselli
Do you have books to suggest? Please be my guest and write on…