Prior to the 16th century, numerous civilizations, including the Olmecs (800 B.C to 400 B.C.), the Mayan (300 A.D. to 900 A.D.), the Toltec (900 A.D. to 1200 A.D.) and the Aztec (1200 to 1521 A.D.), flourished in pre-Mexico Mesoamerica. After Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes conquered the Aztec in 1521, Spain began to colonize the region and for the next 300 years, European traditions blended with the cultures of the indigenous peoples to create a distinctive new culture that today we know as the
From the Spanish colonization, three groups, the Spanish, the indigenous peoples and a new group, Mestizos (mixed Spanish and indigenous bloodlines), came to define Mexican culture. In fact, the first Mestizo may have been an indigenous woman named Malinche who became Cortes’ mistress and later bore him a son. Over time, a distinct class system developed, separating wealthy, landowning Spaniards from the underprivileged Mestizos and indigenous peoples who were primarily laborers. To this day, huge income disparities exist in Mexico, a country in which nearly half the population lives on less than $4 a day. The ever-widening gap between rich and poor continues to create stress and generate great contrasts in the Mexican culture.
Much of modern-day Mexican culture is deeply influenced by the Catholic Church. Nearly 88% of Mexicans belong to the Church, but, unlike some other Latin American countries, the Mexican Constitution strictly enforces the concept of separation of church and state. Still, Catholic Church teachings, including its stances on birth control and abortion, have strong support in the Mexican culture and in the Mexican-American culture in the United States as well.
Mexican culture is generally traditional, with Mexican men in particular holding onto old-fashioned ideas about gender roles and family. In the Mexican household, the father/husband or oldest male remains the primary authority figure, making most of the family decisions, while the mother/wife continues to bear the majority of the responsibility when it comes to raising children and maintaining the home. Mexican children are expected to be well-behaved, obedient and respectful of their elders. Older family members often live with their children and grandchildren and are a valued part of Mexican culture. These cultural traditions are also found in Mexican-American culture in the U.S.
Mexicans will occasionally say that while their English-speaking neighbors to the north live to work, Mexicans work to live. The Mexican culture puts great emphasis on family and interpersonal relationships, and while Mexicans are industrious and dependable workers, work it is not the end all, be all of Mexican life or of the Mexican culture. Time can always be taken to enjoy a good meal with friends or to spend time with family, leading to a less stressful and perhaps more fulfilling way of life than that found in many highly-industrialized countries.
The concept of time is an interesting aspect of the Mexican culture. Life is generally relaxed and unhurried, and what can be put off until tomorrow usually is. While people in the U.S. tend to use their Blackberries, cell phones and daytimers to plan and program every minute of their lives, Mexicans prefer to live in the moment because who knows what will happen tomorrow? This “mañana” attitude is ingrained in the culture and can drive foreigners crazy, but it should be appreciated instead of scorned. Mexicans are not lazy; their concept of time is simply different from that of many Westerners. As Shinichi Tsuj, a Japanese anthropologist put it, the “mañana” attitude may “go against the principles of productivity and efficiency, but productivity and efficiency have nothing to do with the inherent joy of living.”
Mexican food culture is also something to be appreciated. Food, in all its flavors and textures and colors, is meant to be savored, and meals are a delicious sensory experience that is shared with family, friends and neighbors. In Mexico, a meal is a bonding experience, an important way to create community and kinship, and modern Mexican food culture is still influenced by the ancient civilizations that once called Mesoamerica home. The Mayans ate corn tortillas with bean paste, and the Aztecs were fond of salsa and tamales. With the Spanish Conquest, dairy products, sugar and rice were a few of the new items introduced to the native dishes.
Today, Mexican cuisine, as would be expected, is tasty, diverse and hard to resist. Mid-day meals can easily stretch into late afternoon, and the evening meal, particularly when complimented with a Margarita or two, can last well into the night. Much of Mexican food culture has made its way north and remains an integral part of the Mexican-American culture as well.
Mexican culture is well respected for its folk art and music traditions, many of them handed down from the early indigenous cultures. Notable handicrafts include animal figures from Tonala, clay pottery from Oaxaca and silver jewelry from Taxco. Familiar music traditions include Mariachi bands and the Mexican son Jarabe Tapatío (Mexican Hat Dance).
Mexico is also known for its enthusiastic embrace of fiestas (celebrations). Whether celebrating past political victories or religious events, national fiestas are plentiful, and local fiestas seem to happen all of the time. This is partly due to the fact that each Mexican village has a designated holy person in whose honor a fiesta, often 9 days long, is held each year. Banks will close, traffic will stop; wild celebrating will occur, and the party may last one day or a week. These local fiestas are a wonderful way to experience the colorful Mexican culture.
Mexico is a proud country steeped in history. The Mexican culture is a fascinating embroidery of pre-Columbian and European traditions, and visitors who immerse themselves in the local ways of life will have an enriching and unforgettable experience.