Society - Culture
By: - at January 22, 2015

15 Unique Aspects of Mexican Culture

Festivals, art, sports, entertainment, holidays, weddings, and foods shape a country's culture. Mexico is one of the most vivacious and strongly nationalistic countries on the planet. The way each of Mexico's regions have their own unique customs sheds light on Mexico's ability to embrace individuality, while maintaining the importance of national identity. This duality faces every nation in regard to cultural identity and tolerance. The U.S. could learn from Mexico's example as the U.S. has embraced sameness as a national ethos. If we are all the same then how can a nation recognize individuals for who they are truly are: individuals with uniquely defining differences? In Mexico, the balancing act between diversity and shared national identity has been as successful as any nation could hope for.

Cerro de la Silla, (Saddle Hill) in Beautiful Monterrey:
Cerro de la Silla, (Saddle Hill) in Beautiful Monterrey
By Nathaniel C. Sheetz via Wikimedia Commons

Some of Mexico's major cities include Mexico's capital, aptly named Mexico City. Mexico city has a growing population of 8.851 million (according to the 2010 Census). The cities of Monterrey, Puebla-Tlaxcala, and Guadalajara are the more notable of Mexico's more popular urban centers. Smaller towns in Mexico demonstrate their own unique sense of culture. Many regions have their own, specifically tailored way of life. Religion is another cultural issue of interest and according to 2010 census reports, 83.9 percent of Mexican citizens belong to the Catholic Church. Family values continue to be a central concern for nearly every Mexican due to the Catholic Church's immense sway over Mexican culture.

Four Boys Fountain Located in the Heart of Guadalajara:
Four Boys Fountain Located in the Heart of Guadalajara

15)  Sports and National Pride
Soccer or more correctly futball, is the most popular sport in all of Mexico. The Mexican National Team has traditionally been a serious World Cup contender. For over a hundred years, Futball and the players who have played over the years have fostered nothing but overwhelming national pride. The club C.F. Pachuca was formed in 1900 and was the first official futball club in Mexican history.

Mexicans love their futball just as Americans love their own national sport, which for some unknown reason, is also named football. The two games have absolutely nothing in common except that they are both team sports. The appropriate number of players and style of play are worlds apart. The Mexican football season is separated into two separate and annually repeating seasons, providing year-round excitement for thousands of fans.

Azteca Stadium, Mexico City:
Azteca Stadium, Mexico City
By Azteca_008 via Wikimedia Commons

The second most popular sport is boxing. Since boxing is an extremely regulated international sport with almost no cultural variation, there is little to touch on here. The third most popular sport in Mexico is Charreada. Charreada features ranch-style competitions closely resembling those at American rodeo competitions, but with some uniquely Mexican twists. Charreada is more than just a sport and is considered a very important cultural event. Charreada developed from the practice of animal husbandry and celebrates Mexican customs and ideologies derived during the Mexican Revolution.

One of these ideologies is gender equality. During the Mexican Revolution revolutionary commanders could no longer afford to discriminate who was doing the fighting. A shortage of men who could both fight and ride expertly, meant that enlistment practices had to change. The changes meant anyone could enlist and fight. Mexican woman, who were expert riders and were already accustomed to living off the land as many people did in those years, would enjoy immense success on the battlefield and gained a reputation as fierce warriors. Today's Charreada never discriminates against women and often female competitors give male competitors a run for their money.

The Pass of Death - One of the Ten Events Featured in the Charreada:
The Pass of Death - One of the Ten Events Featured in the Charreada
By ehecatzin via Wikimedia Commons

Charros and charras are the horsemen and horsewomen who compete in the Charreada. Competing in Charreada is very time consuming and expensive. The rules and regulations are similar to those in U.S. rodeo events. The charreada is a nationally sanctioned sport in Mexico and September 14th in Mexico is known as the “Day of the Charro”. Some of the major events held during charreada include reining (cala de caballo), jineteo de toro (bull riding), jineteo de yegua (bareback riding), and terna en el ruedo (team roping).

The Charreada is very significant to Mexican heritage and is reminiscent of the years the Spanish were in power. equestrian mastery and horse breaking are central parts of Spanish culture. During Spanish rule, large ranches were formed that employed huge numbers of vaqueros (cowboys). Vaqueros were and continue to be, notoriously competitive and have a reputation for never backing down from a challenge - especially if the challenge comes from a fellow vaquero.

Mexican Charreada Federation in the Heart of Mexico City:
Mexican Charreria Federation Located in the Middle of Mexico City

Before the Mexican Revolution, competitions on ranches were regularly held between the neighboring haciendas. As time evolved so did the sport of Charreada. After nationalistic fervor died down as many years after the Mexican Revolution, Charreada's popularity started to diminish. In fear of losing this national tradition all together, the Asociación Nacional de Charros was formed in 1921 to maintain this invaluable part of Mexican culture.

14)  Art
Mexican artwork is considered to begin during the pre-Colombian period and includes the modern contributions made by many Mexican contemporaries. Works by the ancient Aztecs and Mayans are of particular interest for Mexican citizens. The art world continues to be fascinated by the invaluable contributions to artistic style made by each culture. These works are renowned as some of Mexico's most important archaeological artifacts as well as some of the most significant contributions to modern archaeology and anthropology ever uncovered.

Aztec Sun Stone Commonly Known as the Aztec Calendar Stone:
Aztec Sun Stone Commonly Known as the Aztec Calendar Stone
By Rosemania via Wikimedia Commons

Mexico was referred to as Mesoamerica around the time period of the pre-Colombian era. The lack of a single and unifying ruling government allowed many styles to emerge. The styles that emerged from Mexico's history are the pre-classic, classic, and post-classical eras. Pre-Columbian artwork is mostly composed of art made by Mexico's earliest citizens who utilized artistic mediums including paint, carved stone and gem statues, and the stylishly carved designs adorning ancient ruins are known as relief sculptures.

Pre-Columbian art is often showcased in relief sculptures, on pottery, and through amate paper works of art. Amate paper was extensively implemented as an art medium by the Aztecs, and remains to be a very popular Mexican art medium. The paper items drew interest from academics outside pf Mexico during the mid-1900s, and were eventually remade and sold in Mexico City and other locales.

Examples of Amate Paper Work at the Gallery Museum - Puebla, Mexico:
Examples of Amate Paper Work at the Gallery Museum - Puebla, Mexico
By AlejandroLinaresGarcia via Wikimedia Commons

Once the Mexican government officials saw amate work as a potentially lucrative opportunity, officials promoted amate paper among Nahua artists residing in the state of Guerrero in an effort to meet the world's demand for this Mexican art form.

The Colonial Era in Mexico took place over a period of approximately 300 years. This time period refers to when the Spanish occupied and controlled most of modern Mexico. The reign lasted until Mexico gained its independence with Spain's reign formally ending with the Mexican Revolution. From 1521 to 1810 artwork styles reflected Spanish styles and are notably seen in the architecture and paintings from this time period. Religious statues depicting the Virgin Mary were prominently chosen. Known as iconography, these works serve as physical evidence of Spain's efforts to convert the entire population to Catholic.

Mural Depicting Exploitation of Mexico by the Spanish by Diego Rivera:
Mural Depicting Exploitation of Mexico by the Spanish by Diego Rivera
By Murales_Rivera via Wikimedia Commons

Mexican folk art and crafts dominate Mexico's art scene known as artesanía. Artesania works were sought after because their stylistic combination of European and indigenous designs was like nothing else around. Combining one art technique with another properly referred to as mestizo in Mexico. The art and handcrafted gift items that are made by artists today, are focused on generating income from Mexico's growing tourist industry more than expressing cultural identity. Dolls and crafted items made of wood and fiber, are the more popular items sought after by tourists. Artisans who craft these products gain valuable experience by acquiring apprenticeships in the artistic disciplines they are most interested in.

Crafts Made out of Palm Fiber:
Crafts Made out of Palm Fiber
By Alfonsobouchot via Wikimedia Commons

13)  Mexican History
Mexico has a long and interesting history whose inception and first significant event occurred in 200 BC. The absolute first entry into Mexican history is earmarked by the ancient Olmec people who made their settlement near what is now Veracruz. The early Olmec civilization serves as the starting point from which all early indigenous people in early Mexican territory would later emerge. By 1100 as the Mayan civilization had wiped itself out, and many experts believe that overpopulation and depleted resources led to the collapse of this intriguing civilization. However, another creative and intelligent civilization--the Aztecs--rose to prominence in the country's central valley in 1427. At that time, the Mayan and Toltec people also inhabited the same lands that were inhabited by the Aztecs.

Statue of Aztec Earth Goddess Coatlicue:
Statue of Aztec Earth Goddess Coatlicue
By rosemania via Wikimedia Commons

In 1521, the power enjoyed by the Aztecs came under attack when Hernando Cortes landed and promptly colonized the area in the name of Spain. The Spanish who christened the region New Spain, began ruling the region during a rule that would last several centuries. Almost 24 million people in the Aztec civilization died from smallpox because of infections contracted by occupying Europeans.

Smallpox Victims in Depicted in this 16th Century Aztec Drawing:
Smallpox Victims in Depicted in this 16th Century Aztec Drawing

Wanting to convert the people to Christianity, Catholic missionaries landed in New Spain in 1523, given encouragement to do so by Spain's monarchy. During the period, many churches were built in the country. The undertaking turned out to be more than successful as the Spanish ruler, King Carlos III, removed a number of Jesuits from the country in the later part of the 1700s. He was worried about the power and strong influence of the Catholic church. The Church remains powerful today as over 80% of the people in Mexico consider themselves Catholics.

One of the major events in Mexican history was when Mexico won its independence from Spain, all which took place in 1821. Led by Agustin de Iturbide and Vincente Guerrero, revolutionaries freed the country from the Spanish reign. While a constitution was established, Iturbide declared himself the emperor a year later. The following year after that, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna had overthrown Iturbide. The new leader served as president of Mexico for 13 years until he lost his power during the Mexican-American War.

Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna:
Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna
By Yinan Chen via Wikimedia Commons

The Mexican-American War, which ended on February 1848, resulted in the annexation of Texas to the U.S. In addition, Mexico gave the U.S. approximately 500,000 square miles of land, all which comprised the future states of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and California. In November of 1910, the Mexican Revolution started - a rebellion where the working class and peasants begin an uprising against the government of the then President, Porfirio Diaz. A 10-year civil war ensued in which approximately two million Mexicans lost their lives. The conflict ended when the rebels deposed Diaz, who was also noted as being the longest-serving president that ever held the office in the country.

Pancho Villa, one of the revolutionaries in the Civil War, was assassinated in 1923. The killers behind the assassination were never located or extradited for the crime. Pancho Villa - a bandit and robber, who was known to give to the peasants and steal from the rich, is considered to be a type of Robin Hood or folk hero by the Mexican people. Other leaders of the revolution included Francesco Madero, who eventually became president, Pascual Orozco, and Emiliano Zapata. Madero was the 33rd president, serving from 1911 until he was assassinated in 1913. All the primary leaders of the rebellion--Madero, Zapata, Carranza, Villa, Obregon--eventually lost their lives as the result of assassination.

Current history was made when Vicente Fox Quesada became president of Mexico in 2000. This noteworthy election marked the end of the Industrial Revolutionary Party's rule, which had prevailed in Mexico for 71 years. However, in January 2013, the Industrial Revolutionary Party gained control again with the election of President Enrique Pena Neto, who was formerly the governor of the state of Mexico.

12)  Mexican Holidays
Current holidays in Mexico that are legally recognized include New Year's Day, Constitution Day, the birthday of Benito Juarez (the 26th President of Mexico), Labor Day, Independence Day, Revolution Day, and Christmas.

Municipal President Delivering Greeting at Independence Day Festivities:
Municipal President Delivering Greeting for "Vita Mexico" at Independence Day Festivities
By Thelmadatter via Wikimedia Commons

Other holidays, that are only celebrated in certain locales include Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Cinco de Mayo, Day of the Dead, and the Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Skulls Made of Amaranth Grains for the Day of the Dead Festival:
Skulls Made of Amaranth Grains at the Day of the Dead Festival
By TanyaCh Sa via Wikimedia Commons

11)  Mexican Cinema
While you may think of Hollywood may have a monopoly over modern film making, Mexico also has its own film industry. Film makers started making productions as far back as the late 1800s when the primary film media were documentaries. During the first part of the 20th century, the Mexican Revolution was the primary subject of film. it is believed focusing on stories related to the revolution was central to Mexico's most noteworthy period of film making.

What historians refer to as the Golden Age of Mexican cinema concerns the years 1936 thru 1969, where films focused on making films that were central to issues regarding the Mexican Revolution dominated box offices. During these years film making in Mexico made important achievements like color and studio quality sound. One of the first major film successes from this era was the film, "Alla en el Rancho Grande." The film was directed by Fernando de Fuentes and considered to be the first "true" classic to emerge from what are really Mexican cinema's glory yeers.

Fernando de Fuentes was the Most Notable Director from the "Golden Age":
Fernando de Fuentes was the Most Notable Director from the "Golden Age"
By Fer zapata via Wikimedia Commons

10)  Mexican Weddings
During Mexican weddings the bride wears a mantilla veil which, in Spanish tradition is made of silk or lace, is worn over both the head and shoulders. When worn outside of weddings, the veil can also be worn with a comb providing serving as a reminder of what most women consider to be, the most important day of their lives.

Bride Wearing Mantilla Style Veil:
Bride Wearing Mantilla Style Veil:

The mantilla veil was first worn in the late 1500s and became increasingly fashionable during the 1600s and 1700s as part of aristocratic dress. By the 1900s the the mantilla became strictly limited to very special occasions like bullfights or weddings.

In addition to the traditional mantilla veil, brides often wear a slim dress with a bolero jacket. The groom typically wears either a Mexican wedding shirt and loose pants, or matador-style apparel.

Foods at a Mexican wedding include traditional fare like rice, beans and tortillas. Chicken and beef are the most popular proteins served during wedding receptions, and cold sangria is often served. Sangria is an alcoholic beverage made of white or red wine flavored with fruit, enhanced with small amounts of soda water, sugar, and brandy. This refreshing beverage is traditionally served chilled and gained increasing popularity in the U.S.

Traditional Sangria:
Traditional Sangria

A special traditional practice at the wedding involves the giving of 13 gold coins from the groom to the bride. The ritual is performed to demonstrate the groom’s trust and confidence in his new wife. By giving her the coins then, he is showing her that he completely entrusts here with his possessions. When she accepts the gold coins she is assuring him of her mutual love, and will take care of everything that he possesses.

Wedding expenses are paid by both families of the wedding party and both sides will also be involved in the planning of the ceremony. Traditionally other family members and friends also contributed to the wedding costs. A “money dance” is also performed at Mexican ceremonies. The male guests all pay to have a dance with the bride. The money is used to finance a new home or pay for the honeymoon and contributions are expected to be generous. One former wedding tradition involved holding the marriage ceremony in the yard where the bride lived with her family. After the ceremony, the bride and groom traveled to his parents’ house by horse, where they set up their first residence.

9)  Mexican Food
The food of Mexico is unique and the most popular dishes served are tacos, enchiladas, and fajitas. Although every type of Mexican dish may be made out of the same several basic ingredients, Mexican food is much more diverse than what people think. Chili peppers, corn, chicken, beef, avocados, tomatoes, beans, and cheese comprise the primary foods traditionally included in Mexican cuisine.

Tacos Stuffed with Grilled Chicken:
Tacos Stuffed with Grilled Chicken

While many people on the North American continent may perceive dining in Mexican restaurants as something fashionable, the irony is that most Mexican almost never dine out. Food and cooking is a central theme that brings family and loved ones together. Cooking is still largely considered the main responsibility of the women in the household as Mexican girls are in turn no longer considered a child the day they are able to prepare an entire meal for the family on their own. Most of Mexican life involves family, marriage, and having as well as raising children into adults that will be expected to repeat the actions of their parents.

Vegetarian Mexican Meal:
Vegetarian Mexican Meal

The main meal in Mexico is known as “comida,” and is served in the evening as in Mexico there are many things that need to be done in order to even have a meal. The item that is traditionally served first is either a pasta or a soup formulated with chicken broth. The main course usually includes a sauce or salsa, and makes a fantastic accompaniment to beans or tortillas. Fruit juice is generally served at the meal as well. A common practice in Mexico is to consume the leftovers from the main meal later on in the evening of the same day. These leftovers are either served with  a coffee beverage or something sweet like chocolate.

8)  Religion
While Catholicism is the primary religion practiced in Mexico, the country's constitution (drafted in 1917) prohibits sanctioning an official religion. According to statistics from 2010, more than 82% of the population consider themselves Catholics. The remaining percentages are made up of Christian denominations, such as Christians or Methodists (10%), non-religious (4.7%), or are classified as “other” (2.9%). Those people who are categorized under the “other” classification include Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, La Luz del Mundo, and individuals who consider themselves to be Orthodox in their beliefs.

Mexico City Catholic Cathedral:
Mexico City Catholic Cathedral
By Tetraktys via Wikimedia Commons

In 1992, nearly all religious bans were lifted concerning the rights of priests. Before that time, priests did not have the right to vote or run for a public office. However, those types of prohibitions no longer exist and Mexico is now a more democratic place. Although Mexico is still predominantly Catholic, the 82% figure is still lower than what it was in during the 1970s where roughly 96% of the population claimed to be Catholic.

7)  New Year's Eve Customs
While New Year's Eve is a popular celebration in Mexico just like everywhere else, Mexicans follow some unique traditions. One of these unique practices involves displaying a rimmed tray in the home with a lit candle in the middle. Family and friends place change in the tray, and later fill it with water for good luck. Another tradition involves placing candles on a plate surrounded by foodstuffs like beans, corn, and rice. Then candles are left burning all the way down during the course of the night leaving behind wax-covered foods. The last step is to take these wax-covered items and bury them in the ground and again the purpose is to have good luck in the common year.

green underwear or knickers

Women who wish to find a mate suitable for marriage or those just looking to fall in love just for fun, should wear green undergarments during Mexican New Year's Eve celebrations. If a woman wishes to gain prosperity and happiness, then her knickers should be yellow colored. Pink is the color code if a woman's interests that night are only for establishing friendships, and non-romantic friendships only. When black undergarments are worn on New Year's  it is considered  extremely unlucky in Mexico and they never worn by women as superstition is common in Mexico as well as other Latin American countries.

6)  Architecture
Ancient pyramids were built by the Mayans similar to the Pyramids of Ancient Egypt, with the most important site being Chichen Itza. Some of the monuments include El Castillo, the Pyramid of the Sun, and "El Castillo" which means the castle. This landmark ruin is formall named the "Temple of Kukulcan," and the ruins at Chichen Itza are some of the most impressive ruins of their kind. During Mexico's Colonial Period, most Mexican structures were built showcasing predominatly Spanish motifs. Many buildings in Mexico after this period exhibit a Neoclassical design.

Temple of Kukulcan - Chichen Itza Archeological City:
Temple of Kukulcan - Chichen Itza Archeological City
By AlexCovarrubias via Wikimedia Commons

5)  Mexican Literature - Noted Authors
The literature of Mexico represents some of the most influential publications ever written in the Spanish language. One of the noted authors is Literary Nobel Peace Prize winner Octavio Paz. Paz's other literary awards include the Jerusalem prize. Other notables in the writing world who have Mexican heritage include Jose Emilio Pacheco and Tomas Segovia. Both of these celebrated authors won the Octavio Paz prize for their contributions which is awarded to authors who best demonstrate literary as well as personal traits, articulated by the life and works of Octavio Paz.

Author Octavio Paz:
Author Octavio Paz
By Jonn Leffmann via Wikimedia Commons

4)  Christmas
Christmas holds special meaning in the country of Mexico not for the typically American reasons. In Mexico the primary focus of Christmas is religious in nature and miles away from the materialistic focuses of many U.S. citizens. Since Christmas traditions in Mexico are dictated by church practices and because the entire time of year is considered a holy time of year  by the Catholic Church, Mexican Christmas traditions fall on many different days around December 25th. One of these traditionally Catholic traditions is attending church on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas day at a midnight Mass. After mass, a family dinner is served at home and the family all rests together in anticipation of Christmas day.

Catholic Nativity Scene - Painting by Piero della Francesca:
Catholic Nativity Scene - Painting by Piero della Francesca

The Christmas celebration in Mexico lasts much longer than it does in the U.S. or other English-speaking countries. For example, New Year's Eve is included in the Christmas celebration. On the eve of the New Year, Christians celebrate the day by attending the Rooster's Mass at midnight. And on January 6, Mexicans give each other gifts. January 6 is notable as its is the only day that the children in the family receive their gifts. The date, known as the Day of the Wise Men, commemorates the three Kings, each who presented the baby Jesus with a gift.

Children's gifts are placed in their shoes, with the shoes set outside their bedroom door. Children also enjoy a Mexican treat by the name of Roscade Reyes on the Day of the Wise Men on January 6. The sweet bread is shaped in the form of a crown and topped with candies and fruits.

Roscade Reyes:
Roscade Reyes

During the Christmas holiday, the Christmas story is relayed to Mexican children, with the birth of Christ told each year. With globalization, however, many Mexican children are breaking away from the aforementioned custom - opting instead to exchange gifts on Christmas Day that were brought by Santa.

3)  Festivals – The Day of the Dead
The people in Mexico enjoy festive activities and therefore often celebrate historic, religious, and culturally significant events. One of the most famous festivals in the country is the Day of the Dead, which takes place on November 1 and 2 of each year. During this time, Mexican families celebrate the lives of the departed by hanging extravagant decorations, lighting candles in cemeteries, and holding huge feasts with close friends and family.

Catrina, Arguably the Most Popular Figures of the Day of the Dead Mockups:
Catrina, Arguably the Most Popular Figures of the Day of the Dead Mockups
By Tomas Castelazo via Wikimedia Commons

2)  Language
While several languages are spoken in Mexico, the far most popular language is Spanish. Also, a native tongue is recognized in the country and is spoken by a small percentage of the populace. In fact, the Mexican government recognizes 68 languages that are indigenous to the land, all which stem from seven different language families.

Countries and State Recognizing Spanish as their First Language:
Countries and State Recognizing Spanish as their First Language
By Ichwan Palongengi via Wikimedia Commons

Still, even though 14% of the people in the country are considered indigenous, only about 6% (or around 6 million people) of this group can fluently speak an indigenous language. Indigenous or native languages include Nahuati, Nahual, Yucatec Maya, Mixtec, Zapotec, Tzotzil Maya and Otomi. While Spanish is not technically considered an official language by law, it is still deemed to be the national language by the Mexican people.

1)  Music
Being diverse in nature, Mexican music is categorized under a number of genres. These forms of music all fit in with distinctly Mexican themes. Therefore, music is expressed in the form of folk renditions (such as grupera) as well as pop, rock, and electronic sounds. La Bamba, a folk music that originated in Veracruz, is a popular musical expression in Mexico as it is in Western Europe and North America.

Movie Poster from the American Movie "La Bamba":
Movie Poster from the American Movie "La Bamba"

Mexico's history and wide range of traditions may be different than what is followed in the U.S. and Western Europe. However, Mexican lifestyles promote family values just like certain customs in the U.S. Both Mexico and the US can learn a lot from each other in this respect.





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