The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







The United Mexican States or Mexico (Spanish: Estados Unidos Mexicanos or México; regarding the use of the variant spelling Méjico, see section The name below) is a country located in North America, bordered to the north by the United States of America, to the southeast by Guatemala and Belize, to the south and west by the Pacific Ocean, and to the east by the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. It is the northernmost and westernmost country in Latin America and the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world.

Estados Unidos Mexicanos
(Flag of Mexico) (Mexican Coat of Arms)
National motto: None, though sufragio efectivo – no reelección (Spanish: effective suffrage - no re-election) is widely in use on government documents
Official language Spanish
Capital and largest city Mexico City
President Vicente Fox Quesada
 - Total
 - % water
Ranked 13th
1,972,550 (km²)
 - Total (2003)
 - Density
Ranked 11th
 - Declared
 - Recognized
From Spain
September 16 1810
September 27 1821
GDP (PPP) (2003)
 - Total
 - Per capita

$935 billion (12th)
$9,138 (58th)
Currency Mexican peso (MXN)
Time zone UTC -6 to -8
National anthem Mexicanos, al grito de guerra
Internet TLD .mx
Calling Code 52


Main article: History of Mexico

For almost 3,000 years, Mexico was the site of several Mesoamerican Native American civilizations, such as the Olmec, the Maya and the Aztecs. The arrival of the Spanish in the early 16th century, and their defeat of the Aztecs in 1521, marked the beginning of the 300 year-long colonial period of Mexico as New Spain.

On September 16, 1810, independence from Spain was declared, by Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Catholic priest in the small town of Dolores, causing a long war that eventually led to independence in 1821 and the creation of the First Mexican Empire.

After independence, Spanish possessions in Central America were all incorporated into Mexico from 1822 to 1823, when they declared independence, with the exception of Chiapas.

Soon after achieving its independence from Spain, the Mexican government, in an effort to populate its sparsely-settled hinterlands, granted Stephen F. Austin permission to settle hundreds of immigrant families in a remote area of the northernmost state of Coahuila y Texas, on condition that the settlers convert to Catholicism and swear loyalty to the government of Mexico. It also forbade the importation of slaves, a condition that, like the others, was largely ignored.

The Empire soon fell to rebellious republican forces led by Antonio López de Santa Anna. The first Republic was formed with Guadalupe Victoria as its first President, followed in office by Santa Anna. As president, in 1834 Santa Anna abrogated the republican consititution, causing insurgencies in the southern state of Yucatán and the northernmost portion of the northern state of Coahuila and Texas. Both areas sought independence from the Mexican government. While the republican army, led again by Santa Anna, quickly quelled the revolt in Yucatán, then turned to the northern rebellion. The inhabitants of Texas, calling themselves Texians and led mainly by relatively recently-arrived English-speaking settlers, declared independence from Mexico at Washington on the Brazos, giving birth to the Republic of Texas (settlers from the United States began to arrive in 1821). The insurrection led to the Texas Revolution. Texas won its independence in 1836, further reducing the territory of the fledgling republic. In the 1840s, the country was invaded and defeated by the United States, which demanded and received roughly one-third of the remaining territory of Mexico, from which were formed the modern states of California, Nevada, and Utah, and most of Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado (see Mexican-American War).

In the 1860s the country again suffered a military occupation, this time by France, seeking to establish the Hapsburg Archduke Ferdinand Maximillian of Austria as Emperor of Mexico, with support from the Roman Catholic clergy and conservative Creoles. This Second Mexican Empire was fought off by then-president of the Republic, the Zapotec Indian Benito Juárez, with diplomatic and logistical support from the United States and the military expertise of General Porfirio Díaz, also of part Amerindian heritage. General Ignacio Zaragoza defeated the French Army (arguably the most powerful in the world at the time) at the city of Puebla on May 5, 1862 (celebrated as el Cinco de Mayo ever since), though after his death the city was lost in early 1863 following a renewed French attack which penetrated as far as Mexico City, forcing President Juárez to organize an itinerant government. Napoleon III of France, Emperor of France, imposed Maximilian as Emperor of Mexico from 1864 to 1867. In mid-1867, following repeated losses in battle to the Republican ("Liberal") Army, Maximilian was captured and executed, along with his last loyal generals, in Querétaro. From then on, Juárez remained in office until his death in 1872.

After Juárez's death, Mexico experienced economic growth under the conservative and pro-European rule of Porfirio Díaz. Foreign investment allowed the development of the oil industry and the construction of the railroad system all across the country. This period of relative peace and prosperity is known as the "Porfiriato". His mandate, however, was mostly undemocratic and benefited the middle and upper classes, while the Amerindian indigenous population continued to live in precarious conditions. Growing social inequalities, restricted freedom of the press, and his insistence to be reelected for a fifth term led to massive protests. His fraudulent victory in the 1910 elections sparked the Mexican Revolution. Revolutionary forces defeated the federal army, but were left with internal struggles, leaving the country in conflict for two more decades. The creation of the National Revolutionary Party (which later became the Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI), in 1929 ended the struggles, uniting all generals and combatants of the revolution.

During the next four decades Mexico experienced impressive economic growth, and historians call this period "El Milagro Mexicano", the Mexican Miracle. However the management of the economy collapsed several times afterwards. Accused many times of fraud, the PRI's candidates held posts of almost all public offices until the end of the 20th century. It wasn't until the 1980s that the PRI lost the first state governorship, an event that marked the beginning of the party's loss of hegemony. Through the electoral reforms started by president Carlos Salinas de Gortari and consolidated by president Ernesto Zedillo, by the mid 1990s the PRI had lost its majority in Congress. In 2000, and after 70 years, the PRI lost in the celebrated presidential elections to a candidate of the National Action Party (PAN), Vicente Fox


Main article: Politics of Mexico

The 1917 Constitution provides for a federal republic with powers separated into independent executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Historically, the executive is the dominant branch, with power vested in the president, who promulgates and executes the laws of the Congress. The Congress has played an increasingly important role since 1997 when opposition parties first formed a majority in the legislature. The president also legislates by executive decree in certain economic and financial fields, using powers delegated from the Congress. The president is elected by universal adult suffrage for a six-year term and may not hold office a second time. There is no vice president; in the event of the removal or death of the president, a provisional president is elected by the Congress.

On July 2, 2000, Vicente Fox Quesada of the opposition "Alliance for Change" coalition, headed by the National Action Party (PAN), was elected president, in what are considered to have been the freest and fairest elections in Mexico's history. Fox began his six-year term on December 1, 2000. His victory ended the Institutional Revolutionary Party's (PRI) 71-year hold on the presidency.

The three most important political parties in Mexico are the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the National Action Party (PAN), and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD).

Political divisions

Main article: States of Mexico
See also: Mexican state name etymologies.

Mexico is divided into 31 states (estados). Each state has its own constitution and its citizens elect a governor as well as representatives to their respective State Congresses.

Map of Mexico
Map of Mexico

Federal District

The "Distrito Federal" or Federal District is a special political division in Mexico where the national capital, Mexico City, is located. It has limited local rule, only recently have its citizens been able to elect its Head of Government (officially, neither a mayor nor a governor), and members of a Legislative Assembly. Mexico City's metropolitan area overflows the limits of the Federal District.

Important cities

The following is a list of the biggest Metropolitan Areas of Mexico in order of population:

  1. Mexico City (24.9 million)
  2. Guadalajara, Jalisco (4.7 million)
  3. Monterrey, Nuevo León (3.6 million)
  4. Puebla, Puebla (2.6 million)
  5. Tijuana, Baja California (1.3 million)
  6. León, Guanajuato (1.2 million)
  7. Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua (1.2 million)
  8. Toluca, México (1.2 million)
  9. Torreón, Coahuila (1.1 million)

Population figures according to INEGI (National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Information), 2000.


Main article: Geography of Mexico

Situated in the southwestern part of mainland North America and roughly triangular in shape, Mexico stretches more than 3000 km (1,850 miles) from northwest to southeast. Its width is varied, from more than 2000 km (1,200 miles) in the north and less than 220 km (135 miles) at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the south. Mexico borders two major bodies of water, the Pacific Ocean (with the Gulf of California between the mainland and the Baja California peninsula) to the west and on the east the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea that lead to the Atlantic Ocean. Here are found coastal plains, whereas central Mexico consists of high plateaus and rugged mountains, including volcanoes, the highest of which is the Pico de Orizaba at 5 610 m.

The terrain and climate vary from rocky deserts in the north to tropical rain forest in the south. Mexico's major rivers include the Río Bravo del Norte (Rio Grande) and the Río Usumacinta on its northern and southern borders, respectively, together with the Río Grijalva , the Río Balsas , the Río Pánuco , and the Río Yaqui in the interior.


Main article: Economy of Mexico

According to the World Bank, Mexico has the highest per capita income in Latin America and is firmly established as a middle-income country. Since the economic debacle of 1994-1995 the country has made an impressive recovery, building a diversified economy and improving infrastructure. However huge gaps remain between rich and poor.

Mexico has a free-market economy with a mixture of modern and outmoded industry and agriculture, increasingly dominated by the private sector. The number of state-owned enterprises in Mexico has fallen from more than 1,000 in 1982 to fewer than 200 in 1999. The administration of President Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León (1994–2000) continued a policy of privatizing and expanding competition in sea ports, railroads, telecommunications, electricity, natural gas distribution, and airports which was initiated by his predecessors Miguel de la Madrid and Carlos Salinas de Gortari.

A strong export sector helped to cushion the economy's decline in 1995 and led the recovery in 19961999. Private consumption became the leading driver of growth, accompanied by increased employment and higher wages. Mexico still needs to overcome many structural problems as it strives to modernize its economy and raise living standards. Income distribution is very unequal, with the top 20% of income earners accounting for 55% of income.

Following 6.9% growth in 2000, real GDP fell 0.3% in 2001, with the US slowdown the principal cause. Positive developments in 2001 included a drop in inflation to 6.5%, a sharp fall in interest rates, and a strong peso that appreciated 5% against the US dollar. Trade with the US and Canada has tripled since NAFTA was implemented in 1994.

Mexico has opened its markets to free trade as no other country in the world, having lifted its trade barriers with more than 40 countries in 12 Free Trade Agreements, including one with the European Union. However more than 85% of the trade is still done with the United States. Government authorities expect that by putting more than 90% of trade under free trade agreements with different countries Mexico will lessen its dependence on the US. The government is pursuing to sign an additional agreement with Mercosur.


Main article: Demographics of Mexico

With an estimated 2004 population of about 105 million, Mexico is the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world (and the second most populous country in Latin America after Portuguese-speaking Brazil).

Mexico is ethnically and culturally diverse. About 60% of the population is Mestizo (mixed European and Amerindian), 30% is Amerindian or predominantly Amerindian, and 9% is of European descent (includes Spanish, Russian, French, Polish, German, Italian, or British). The remaining 1% includes Black, Lebanese, Turkish, Chinese, and Japanese groups.

Mexico is the country where the greatest number of U.S citizens live outside the United States. This may be due to the growing economic and business interdependence of the two countries under NAFTA, and also that Mexico is considered an excellent choice for retirees. A clear example of the latter phenomenon is provided by San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato. According to some estimates, U.S. expatriates account for almost half of the city's population.


Mexico is predominantly Roman Catholic (89%), with 6% adhering to various Protestant faiths and the remaining 5% adhering to other religions, or no religion. Some of the country's Catholics (notably those of indigenous background), syncretize Catholicism with elements of Aztec or Mayan religions.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) enjoys a growing presence in the major border cities of northeastern Mexico. Judaism has been practised in Mexico for centuries, and there are estimated to be 100,000 Jews in Mexico today. Islam is mainly practised by members of the Arab, Turkish, and other expatriate communities; Mexico's Muslims number only a few thousand or less.


Spanish is the official language of Mexico and is spoken by most citizens. About 7 percent of the population speaks an Amerindian language. The government officially recognizes 62 Amerindian languages. From these Nahuatl, and Maya are each spoken by 1.5 million, while others, such as Lacandon, are spoken by less than 100. The Mexican government has promoted and established bilingual education programs in indigenous rural communities.

English is widely spoken along the U.S.-Mexican border, in big cities, and in beach resorts. It is also very popular among the young, and the majority of private schools offer bilingual education.

With respect to other European languages brought by immigrants, the case of Chipilo, in the state of Puebla, is unique, and has been documented by several linguists like Carolyn McKay. The immigrants that founded the city of Chipilo in 1882 came from the Veneto region in northern Italy, and thus spoke a northern variant of the Veneto Dialect. While other European immigrants assimilated into the Mexican culture, the people of Chipilo retained their language. Nowadays, most of the people who live in the city of Chipilo (and many of those who have migrated to other cities) still speak the Veneto dialect spoken by their great-grandparents (amazingly unaltered), making the Veneto dialect an unrecognized minority language in the city of Puebla.


Main article: Culture of Mexico

The name

Mexico is named after its capital city, whose name comes from the Aztec city Mexico-Tenochtitlán that preceded it. The Mexi part of the name is from Mexitli, the war god, whose name was derived from metztli (the moon) and xictli (navel) and thus meant "navel (probably implying 'child') of the moon". So, Mexico is the home of the people of Mexitli (the Mexicas), co meaning "place" and ca meaning "people".

When the Spaniards encountered this people and transcribed their language, they naturally did so according to the spelling rules of the Castilian language of the time. The Nahuatl language had a /ʃ/ sound (like English "shop"), and this sound was written x in Spanish (e.g. Ximénez); consequently, the letter x was used to write down words like Mexitli.

Over the centuries, the pronunciation of Spanish changed. Words like Ximénez, exercicio, xabón and perplexo started to be pronounced with a /x/ (this phonetic symbol represents the sound in the word "loch"). The /ʒ/ sound (as in "vision") represented by the letter j (usually g before e or i) also started to be pronounced this way. The coalescence of the two phonemes into a single new one encouraged scholars to use the same letter for the sound, regardless of its origin (Spanish scholars have always tried to keep the orthography of their language faithful to the spoken tongue). It was j/g that was chosen. So, modern Spanish has ejercicio, ejército, jabón, perplejo, etc. Another example is the old spelling of Don Quixote which is now Don Quijote. The old pronunciation is maintained in French "Quichotte", and the English form maintains the spelling while reading it with its English value.

Proper nouns and their derivatives are optionally allowed to break this rule. Thus, although xabón is now incorrect and archaic, and, alongside many millions of people called "Jiménez", there also are plenty called "Giménez" or "Ximénez" — a matter of personal choice and tradition.

In Mexico, it has become almost a matter of national pride to maintain the otherwise archaic x spelling in the name of the country. It is regarded as more authentic and less jarring to the reader's eye. Mexicans have tended to demand that other Spanish-speakers use this spelling, rather than following the general rule, and the demand has largely been respected. The Real Academia Española states that both spellings are correct, and most dictionaries and guides recommend México first, and present Méjico as a variant. Today, even outside of the country, México is preferred over Méjico by ratios ranging from 10-to-1 (in Spain) to about 280-to-1 (in Costa Rica). Also, in the placenames "Oaxaca" and "Xalapa", the x is pronounced as /x/; in "Xochimilco", however, it sounds as a /ʃ/.

A cultural side-effect of the fact that Mexicans use México /'mexiko/ and Spaniards sometimes use Méjico is the occasional boiling-over of negative sentiment towards the old colonial oppressor. The mere act of using the j spelling is interpreted by some as a form of colonial aggression. On the other hand, some Peninsular scholars (such as Ramón Menéndez Pidal ) prefer to apply the general spelling rule, arguing that the spelling with an x could encourage non-Mexicans to mispronounce México/Méjico as /'meksiko/ (as is generally the case in the English-speaking world).

In the Nahuatl language, from which the name originally derived, the name for Mexico is Mexihco (IPA /meː.ɕɪʔ.kɔ/).

Miscellaneous topics

Further reading

  • James D. Cockcroft, Mexico's Hope: An Encounter with Politics and History, 320 pages, Monthly Review Press 1999, ISBN 0853459258 - leftist view of mexican history
  • Enrique Krauze, Mexico: Biography of Power. A history of Modern Mexico 1810-1996, 896 pages - Perennial 1998, ISBN 0060929170 - standard work by a renowned mexican author
  • Julia Preston and Samuel Dillon, Opening Mexico: The Making of a Democracy, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2004, hardcover, 608 pages, ISBN 0374226687 - recent history since the massacre of 1968 told by two journalists
  • Joanne Hershfield, David R. Maciel, Mexico's Cinema: A Century of Film and Filmmakers, SR Books 1999, ISBN 0842026827 - comprehensive survey
  • Michael C. Meyer, William H. Beezley, editors, The Oxford History of Mexico, 736 pages, Oxford University Press 2000, ISBN 0195112288 - 20 essays - covers also cultural history

External links


Information about Mexico

Mexican newspapers and news agencies

Last updated: 10-13-2005 14:03:31
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