The culture of Mexico reflects the complexity of Mexico's history through the blending of Pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican civilizations and the culture of Spain, imparted during Spain's 300 year colonization of Mexico. More recently, influences from the United States have shaped Mexican culture, and to a lesser extent, influences from Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Spanish is the official and predominant language of Mexico, spoken to some extent by nearly the entire population. Dozens of indigenous languages exist, but are spoken by relatively few. However, some of these languages, particularly Nahuatl, have had a significant impact on Mexican Spanish, lending words that are not found in the Spanish of Spain or the rest of Latin America. This is especially evident in the names of common plants and animals. Other words from Nahuatl have been incorporated into Spanish throughout Latin America, and even English, such as tomato, chocolate, coyote and avocado.
Mexican culture is known for the unified nature of the family. The country's divorce rate is among the lowest in the world (0.33 divorces per 1000 population, compared to 4.95 in the United States) . Children regularly live with their parents until they marry, even if they remain single until their thirties or later. It is also quite common for family units to remain connected, often with grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and children all living in the same area or even in the same house. Loyalty within the family is absolute – brothers will fight for the honor of their sisters, and family members are often tapped for employment opportunities.
The roles of the parents in Mexican culture are generally well-defined, with the father acting as the family's ruler and the mother as the family's heart. Machismo (Spanish for "male chauvinism") is quite common in Mexican families, with the father exercising authority in a manner not unlike a dictatorship. Some have called adultery a social norm for men, and abuse, both physical and emotional, is not uncommon. Wives are generally expected to endure this treatment from their husbands, and many consider it acceptable behavior. A mother is often exclusively responsible for maintaining the household and caring for the children, who as a result often revere her, while fearing their authoritative father.
In the past few decades, these stereotypes have begun to break down somewhat. As influences from the United States continue to shape Mexican culture, machismo is slowly becoming more recognized and despised, especially in the northern part of the country, where the American influence is more pronounced. In southern and more rural communities, however, these basic behaviors continue to exist.
In Mexican culture, it is generally considered unacceptable to show weakness or open oneself to others outside of the family. As a result, a strong sense of community is not a characteristic of Mexican culture, because strong friendships cannot be built without some level of intimacy. Relationships are generally approached with a measure of distrust because of fear of betrayal, which for a Mexican is one of the most humiliating experiences one could go through.
Lack of faith in the government and other organizations is also the result of widespread political corruption. Even at the lowest levels, police officers readily accept mordidas ("bribes") from those wishing to avoid the nuisance of a traffic ticket or a night in prison. In recent years, the government has begun addressing this corruption by reducing the number of state-owned businesses and calling on Mexicans to refuse to give bribes. This, however, has proven difficult, and the progress has been slow.
Mexico's relationships with the rest of the world are also quite complex. The arrival and conquest of the spaniards left the country searching for an identity – as a result of extensive inbreeding with the Spanish (the large majority of Mexicans are mestizo, that is, mixed blood), they lost their native heritage, but similarly are not like their European conquerers. Today, the Spanish are generally well-thought off, since they represent the bringers of civilization to the country and were so involved in the development of the country for hundreds of years.
Gringos, that is, those from the United States, are also often treated well, for their representation of a strong, independent and successful country. However, many Mexicans have not forgiven the United States for taking half their land as a result of the Mexican-American War and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Additionally, jealousy of their successful northern neighbor and the feeling of being politically neglected often lead to hard feelings.
During the Spanish conquest and colonization of Mexico, Roman Catholicism was established as the dominant religion of Mexico, and today, about 89% of Mexicans identify themselves with that division of Christianity. Protestant denominations have grown in recent years, to about 6% of the population, after being introduced by missionaries and settlers from Europe and the United States in the 19th century. Other religions make up the remaining 5%, with the most notable growth among The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Jehovah's Witnesses.
The methods of Spanish domination of the Mexican indigenous people often resulted in forced conversions to Catholicism, which ultimately meant that the people continued in their previous belief system. This led to widespread religious syncretism, since indigenous religious practices were incorporated into the practices of Catholicism. It also explains the general lack of conviction among Mexican Catholics today - instead of being a religion that was chosen by individuals, it was forced upon a whole group.
Perhaps the most striking example of this fusion of different traditions is the widespread veneration of the Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Day of the Dead is another example of religious syncretism, in which the European Catholic All Saints Day is combined with indigenous rites of ancestor veneration. In many Mexican communities, curanderos (traditional healers) use indigenous folk medicine, spiritual, and Christian faith healing to treat ailments and "cleanse" spiritual impurities.
Mexico is known worldwide for its folk art traditions, mostly derived from a combination of indigenous and Spanish crafts. Particularly notable among handicrafts are the clay pottery made in the valley of Oaxaca and the bird and animal figures made in the village of Tomala. Colorfully embroidered cotton garments, cotton or wool shawls and outer garments, and colorful baskets and rugs are seen everywhere. Between the Spanish conquest and the early Twentieth Century, Mexican fine arts were largely in imitation of European traditions. After the Mexican Revolution, a new generation of Mexican artists led a vibrant national movement that incorporated political, historic, and folk themes in their work. The painters Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros became world famous for their grand scale murals, often displaying clear social messages. Rufino Tamayo and Frida Kahlo (Rivera's wife) produced more personal works with abstract and surreal elements. Mexican art photography was largely fostered by the work of Manuel Álvarez Bravo .
Literature and Poetry
Mexico has a long and distinguished literary tradition. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1651-1695), a nun in Colonial Mexico, wrote many fine poems and won fame for her defense of women's rights. José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi (1776-1827) is often considered the first important Hispanic American novelist for his satirical novel 'The Itching Parrot' (c. 1816).
Main article: Music of Mexico
Main article: Cuisine of Mexico
- Homs, Ricardo . Gran Reto Mexicano. México: Editores Asociados Mexicanos, 1993. (Spanish)
Paz, Octavio. Laberinto de la Soledad . México: Fondo de Cultura Économicaico, 1976. (Spanish)
- Riding, Alan . Distant Neighbors: A Portrait of the Mexicans. New York: Vintage, 2000. (English)
Last updated: 09-03-2005 18:37:12