The Mexican Culture

The Mexican culture is perhaps one of the most fascinating cultures worldwide. The mixture of strong native legends, artistic expressions and Spanish culture elements make the Mexican culture unique.

 

Language

A huge distinction of Mexican culture is the Spanish language that is primarily spoken by 80% of the population. Of the 62 Amerindian languages recognized, Nahuatl is the most important, spoken by nearly one fourth of the population. Maya is spoken by 14% of Native Mexicans, followed by Mixteco and Zapoteco which are spoken by 7%.

Among other minority languages that appear in Mexico, it is interesting to find German, spoken by Mennonites, and the Chipilo dialect of the Venetian Language.

Indigenous Mexican Languages

© Yavidaxiu - Map of the Indigenous Mexican Languages

Arts

Unique and distinct, Mexican art is a huge representation of Mexican Culture displaying rich heritage and colorful pride.

Mayan traditions are still present in the society, and this might be best represented in paintings. As the greatest exponent of the Mexican art, paintings have achieved a well deserved popularity outside Mexico.

Some of the most influential artists have sprung from Mexican heritage. Frida Khalo is recognized as one of Mexico’s vibrant painters, as well as Diego Rivera, who painted in 1934 a well known, yet controversial, mural in Rockefeller Center in New York City.

Folk art traditions are also well rooted into the Mexican culture, displaying a wide array of handcrafted ornaments like clay pottery, garments with angular designs and multi-colored baskets and rugs. Handmade masks are created for national festivals, but these valuable items also adorn Mexican homes.

Elements of Mexican mythology are still used in designs, most commonly figures of Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoc. The details can be found adorning items such as high-end furniture and decors.

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Folk Art, Mexico

© Wonderlane - Mexican Folk Art

Literature

Mexican literature is renowned for names like Agustín Yáñez, Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes and many others. It dates, however, to the works of the early Mesoamerican tribes. Although much of this was lost due to poor preservation of the written pieces, a significant part was transmitted orally through many generations.

A prominent figure in the Pre-Columbian era was Nezahualcoyotl, who left behind a legacy of poetry and written works in the Classical Nahuatl language.

Many Mexican legends are quite famous too, like the legend of “La llorona” (“the weeping woman”), a woman whose spirit still cries for her lost son, or the legends of the Sacred woods of Chapultepec, where Aztec emperors had their effigies sculpted in order to achieve immortality.

Perhaps one of the key legends present in the Mexican culture is that of Quetzalcoatl, the most important figure of the Mexican cosmogony. It is said that Quetzalcoatl, while searching for the bones he needed to create mankind, reached Mictlan (“the region of the dead”), where the evil god Mictlantecutli tried to stop him. Aided by his sacred bees and worms, Quetzalcoatl was finally able to get the precious bones and he used them to bring the human kind into the world.

Modern times brought to recognition the works of Octavio Paz. Receiver of various prizes (notably the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990), Paz is certainly one of the greatest authors of the 20th century.

Music and Dance

Proud of their native heritage, Mexican people have preserved many of their ancestors' traditions. Many of these are now found in the Mexican music, some of which resembles the sounds produced by the ancient Aztecs' drums.

When thinking of music and dance in the Mexican culture, a colorful Mariachi band might come to mind. Mariachi is a folk style of music traditionally consisting of 5 musicians wearing a “charro" suit. They are most memorably heard playing a popular song called “La Cucaracha”, which translates to “the Cockroach”, on the street, at festivals or in restaurants.

Folks songs called corridos will tell a story of the Mexican Revolution, pride, romance, poverty, politics or crime. Other traditional music includes the Banda, Norteño and Ranchera styles.

Pop and rock are prevalent today in Mexico, as the country has the largest media industry in Latin America, producing artists who are famous in the Americas and parts of Europe.

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Folk dancing is still common in Mexico and is known for its iconic "Mexican Hat Dance", Jarabe Tapatio. This dance is performed by one or several people and it involves tossing a sombrero to the center of the stage, performing around it and ending the number with a collective “OLÉ!” and a hand clap.

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Jarabe Tapatio Dancers

© Michael Kappel - Jarabe Tapatio Dancers

Cinema

Cinema reached its peak in Mexico between 1935 and 1959, a period called the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema. The quality during this era was when actors such as Cantinflas and Dolores del Río were introduced to the big screen and became world renowned.

Despite this peak, Mexico still provides Hollywood with Academy Award winning directors like Alejandro González Iñárritu (The Revenant), Alfonso Cuarón (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth).

 

Ensenada Harbour

© GabboT - Alfonso Cuarón

 

Religion

Mexico is secular state, which means that the state is neutral in matters of religion.

The country's main religion is Roman Catholicism, embraced by 89% of the population. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patron saint of Mexico. The Guadalupan name and image are national symbols and widely honored, especially as, according to legend, the name was chosen by the Virgin herself. Guadalupe is also considered to be the link that unites Mexicans together, religiously and ethnically.

Mexico is also home to the most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in México City. The basilica is also the world's third most-visited sacred site.

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Virgin of Guadalupe

© Lawrence Op - Virgin of Guadalupe

Holidays and Tradition

Celebrations in Mexico are called “fiestas”, typically including parades, fireworks, competitions and pageants. For more religious fiestas, prayers and the burning of candles also take place. Traditional masks also have a place in the mix.

The piñata is a traditional papier-mâché object made to look like an animal or person, filled with candy and toys, hung from the ceiling at a fiesta. The fun begins when blindfolded children take their turn to try and hit it open with a bat.

On December 12th is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, considered the most important religious holiday for Mexico. It widely celebrates the belief that a man encountered the Virgin Mary on this day in 1531.

The Day of the Dead, also known as All Souls’ Day, is celebrated on November 2nd and gives Mexicans an opportunity to honor those that have passed on. Planning for this fiesta takes place all year long, which includes the collecting of goods that are placed on an adorned altar as an offering to the dead.

The Independence day, on September 16th, celebrates Mexico’s liberation from Spain’s rule in 1810, and is celebrated as a national public holiday.

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Celebrations for the feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe

© Larry Lamsa - Celebrations for the feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe

Clothing

Costumes are a regular part of celebrating Mexican tradition, and items like the “charro” suit, the sombrero, and the “San La Muerte” (saint death) are distinguishable in the colorful culture.

In more rural areas of Mexico, traditional men’s clothing is a “sarape”, a large blanket cape worn with boots. Women’s clothing includes sleeveless tunics called huipils, capes called quechquémitls and shawls known as rebozos.

In larger cities, fashion takes a more forward turn with its own Mexico Fashion Week, where there is more international and urban influence.

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Indigenous Mexicans

© Gabriel Saldana - Indigenous Mexicans

Food

Mexico is known for its traditionally spicy dishes. Staple foods such as burritos, tacos, enchiladas and tamales and very common in households as well as restaurants. Cuisine varies amongst different regions, however, several ingredients stay the same across the country such as corn, beans, tortillas, rice, peppers and potatoes.

Tequila, named for the city it originates from, is not only popular in Mexico but also world-wide. Horchata is also a common beverage, made of rice and cinnamon and sometimes with vanilla.

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Chicken Tortilla Soup

© Brett - Mexican Chicken Tortilla Soup

Sports and Games

Football is the most widely celebrated sport in Mexico, though not to be outdone by the national sport of Mexico, Charreria. Bullfighting competitions are regularly held as a cultural event and Mexico holds the largest bullfighting venue in the world, the Plaza Mexico, which can hold up to 48,000 people.

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Charreria

© Ruben Balderas - Charreria