This week we’ve headed down south to Mexico. Officially known as the United Mexican States, it’s one of the most important countries in this hemisphere despite recent troubles.
- Capital (and Largest City): Mexico City
- Population (2015): 121,005,815 (11th)
- Total Area: 1,972,550 km2 (14th)
- National Language: Spanish
- Currency: Mexican peso ($) (MXN)
History of Mexico
Much of what we know about the history of Mexico pre-Spanish conquest consists of various tribes and vast civilizations. The Maya, Olmec, and Aztec are among some of most well known indigenous powers to rule the region. Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, the Aztecs had built an empire that stretched throughout most of the central part of the country. The central authority collected tribute from the nearby settlements and was able to thrive for many years.
Mexico would be forever changed with the arrival of Hernán Cortés and his Spanish conquistadors in February 1519. With the goal of obtaining gold and other riches, Cortés set his sights on the wealthy Aztecs. The first salvo weakened the Aztecs but it was the introduction of smallpox that would ultimately ravage the once proud civilization. Between 3 and 15 million are believed to have died due to the disease. Smallpox not only weakened the Aztecs numerically, but also destroyed their resolve to resist the Spanish, as the disease was believed to be a punishment from above. Following the Fall of Tenochtitlan (the capital) in 1521, Cortés rebuilt the city, and the region – now known as New Spain – became a part of the Spanish Empire.
For near on 300 years, Mexico remained under colonial rule, along with neighbouring areas including Cuba, Puerto Rico, Central America, parts of Florida, and more. This period saw the development of a culture that emphasized both indigenous and Spanish traits which persists to this day. Education, architectural achievements, and more also came to prominence during the centuries of Spanish rule.
In 1810, part of the population began to rise up against the ruling power. The insurgency lasted until it was near defeat in 1820. When the army was ordered to deal the final blow, general Agustín de Iturbide instead joined the insurgent troops of Vicente Guerrero. In August 1821, the Spanish officially recognized Mexico’s independence – resulting in the ‘First Mexican Empire’. De Iturbide proclaimed himself Emperor, though an 1823 revolt ousted him from power and created the modern United Mexican States.
A period of economic and political instability followed. Under the apex of General Santa Anna’s power there was civil war and new independent republics were created (including Texas). Following the annexation of Texas by the US, the Mexican-American War began in 1846. The American victory was decisive and Mexico was forced to cede large swathes of territory in what is now the southwestern US to its northern neighbour.
During the early 20th century President Porfirio Díaz held power. He was later forced into exile following alleged electoral fraud and the 1910 Mexican Revolution began. Francisco I. Madero took control but was later killed in a coup, which ushered in another period of civil war. Involving famous figures such as Emiliano Zapata, Álvaro Obregón, and many others, the war lasted until 1929 with many of the prominent figures ending up assassinated and around 1 million total dead. The Revolution remains one of the greatest upheavals in the history of Mexico but also produced famous leaders whose names continue to live on.
In the end Plutarco Elías Calles took power and formed the PNR, which would later become the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The single party ruled Mexico for 71 years, using sometimes-harsh tactics during the 20th century to stay in control. Much of this was a time of economic growth, though the country remained poor. During the late 90’s, the PRI’s grip on power began to wane, finally culminating in a presidential election loss to the National Action Party in 2000. The presidency today has returned to the PRI under Enrique Peña Nieto. The current Mexican Drug War is the largest threat the country faces, with rival cartels fighting for control of the trafficking corridors. As a result the border regions are very dangerous. Still, Mexico today is one of the most important Latin American countries and the largest Spanish speaking country in the world and will continue to have a large impact on the politics of the western hemisphere.
Mexican culture is a reflection of centuries of mixing between indigenous and Spanish traditions. The result is a melting pot of sorts but also a distinct Mexican identity. One of the hallmarks of Mexican culture is a strong Roman-Catholic faith with almost 95% of the population identifying as such. In addition, centuries of architectural development during the Spanish colonial period has resulted in more UNESCO World Heritage sites than any other country in the Americas.
Mexican dance and music have also become very well know. Mariachi music is among the most famous to come out of the country. Music and dance in Mexico often blends older, traditional elements with newer pop sounds. Art from Mexico has also become well known, both of the pre-Columbian and postcolonial variety. Mexican cuisine has also grown to be extremely popular (especially in North America) and is a blend of indigenous and European traditions. Mexican beer and tequila have developed a large following around the world as well.
Sport is very important in Mexico. The national sport is Charreria, which is a collection of equestrian events. Bullfighting is also practiced, a direct import from Spain. Soccer remains the most popular sport however, with Mexico the first country to host the World Cup twice.
Mexico is a relatively large country and has a great degree of diversity amongst its ecosystems. Once you cross over the Rio Grande into Mexico you’ll find desert regions close to the US border, high mountains, tropical forests, sandy coasts, and more. Weather can be very wet in the summer and early fall while the rest of the year is largely bereft of rainfall.
Mexico is also home to some very important and large cities. First and foremost among them is the capital Mexico City. As the second largest city in the Americas (smaller than Sao Paulo but bigger than New York), it has tremendous economical, political, and cultural importance both domestically and internationally. Other important cities include Guadalajara, the border city Tijuana, and many more.
Did you know?
- “The Three Amigos of Cinema” include three famous Mexican directors working today: Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro, and Alejandro González Iñárritu
- Corn, chocolate, and chilies were introduced in Mexico
- Mexico City is sinking due to its location on a lake
- The Chichen Itza Pyramid is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World
- The Mexican flag’s colours are: green for hope, white for purity and unity, red for the blood of heroes, and the coat of arms in the middle based on an Aztec legend
- Mexico is in the earthquake and volcano prone Ring of Fire
- Mexico recognizes 68 regional languages
Mexico has come a long way since it gained independence in the 1800’s though current crime problems don’t seem to be going away anytime soon. That being said, there’s a lot to love about our nearby North American neighbour.
Stay tuned to the Current for our Country of the Week. We’ll explore the familiar and the foreign, plus uncover some hidden gems.
Stay informed. Stay Current.